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Goafest 2017: Change is possible when one takes risks, says Patanjali’s Balkrishna

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GOA: Who would have thought that in the advertising and marketing world of suited-booted  and/or casual linen chic people, a simple robe clad guy would turn out to be dude? Well, who would have wagered a few years back that Patanjali would be a starred speaker at India’s annual advertising, media and marketing convention and have a houseful of corporate execs hanging on to every word, some of which were spoken in chaste Hindi? Desh badal raha hai (or, the country is changing), after all, in ways that the countrymen and women are still grappling to come to terms with.

"The nation is ours, the children are ours, life is ours. We must take care of it ourselves. Always remember, for the world, India is just a market place (but) for us it’s our home. Change is possible only when one is willing to take risks,” Patanjali Ayurveda CEO Acharya Balkrishna said with a straight face, but with a confidence that comes from the realisation that some of the top global FMCG companies were feeling the heat of Patanjali’s unrelenting advertising and marketing blitz.

The oozing confidence found other outlets too. Without giving a second thought, Balkrishna took on a competitor. “ Patanjali set up a factory in Tejpur in Uttar Pradesh where Dabur too was setting up its factory. In 120 days, Patanjali built up the factory with same workers who were (earlier) working for Dabur,” said the Nepal-born Balkrishna, regarded as the No. 2 in the Patanjali group hierarchy, just next to its yoga guru founder-turned-entrepreneur Baba Ramdev.

In the FMCG space, some of the Patanjali Ayurveda products that have eaten into the market share of established global and Indian companies include Dant Kanti (toothpaste), atta or flour noodles, multi-grain and plain flour for rotis or Indian bread and Kesh Kanti (hair oil), apart from other categories where Patanjali products are giving a tough competition to the likes of Dabur, ITC, P&G Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever India.

“Patanjali Ayurved has turned out to be the most disruptive force in the Indian FMCG market...it witnessed a whopping annual growth of 146 per cent in fiscal year 2016 grossing a turnover of US$769 million, whereas its peers, including ITC, Dabur, Hindustan Unilever, Colgate–Palmolive and Procter & Gamble struggled to get a growth much less than double digit,” an Assocham-TechSci research report has stated.

So, what’s the secret of Patanjali in a country that had been dominated by established FMCG players, especially as its founder Ramdev’s antecedents have been questioned at various times?

Pointing out that the Haridwar-based company doesn’t  follow any marketing strategy, depending more on “product quality” to attract consumers, Balkrishna played with a straight bat on the opening day of Goafest 2017 yesterday: “Treat your customers as your family members and everything (else) will fall into place. We want to change the impression that made-in-India products are not of good quality.”

If some of these home grown homilies were not enough to rub it in to much-experienced global players, Balkrishna told the audience at Goafest that "duniya ke liye Hindustan ek bazaar ho sakta hai, humare liye Hindustan humara ghar hai" (for the world, India may be a bazaar, but, for us, it's our home) and change was possible only when one was willing to take risks. Hmm! Hang on, there was more for those willing to listen and the numbers were astounding.

“Toothpaste is meant to clean teeth, but nowadays ads say you can get a girlfriend using the right (tooth) paste,” Balkrishna said with his tongue firmly in cheek, adding, “humare liye humari maryada sabse badhkar hai, sales na ho toh bhi thik hai" (for us, self-respect and respect for our culture is paramount, and not sales of products).

However, Balkrishna did not wander into controversial areas where ASCI, in the past, has hauled up Patanjali for misleading advertising or the court cases against it or filed by the company itself relating to product advertsing and claims.

A fitting tribute to Patanjali’s efforts also came from a competitor. “'Patanjali has shown us marketing methods we never knew," graciously admitted ITC's divisional CEO - foods business Hemant Malik, while speaking at another time of the day.

As a parting shot to urban India -- many of whose representatives were at Goa -- Patanjali’s Balkrsihna told the gathering that Indians "should eat according to the six seasons because our body changes in every season” as do its requirements. “The problem in India is that people in rural (areas) are healthy, but people in metros have nutritional deficiency,” Balkrishna  explained.

Other speakers for the opening day included Mobikwik co-founder and director Upasana Taku and ITC’s Malik.

According to Malik, “Communication is the not the only pillar for branding”  as there are brands such as Facebook, Amazon and Google that have changed the world. “It's all about the product differentiation. We are the only carbon-positive company in the world,” Malik spoke about the shift from hierarchical collectivist culture to individualistic.

After being hit by currency demonetisation, where everybody was struggling with liquidity crunches, the mobile payment companies were the one making profit, according to Mobikwik’s Taku, who added, “Humbling and the most fortunate event of 2016  is demonetisation. We have the fortune to have been able to transform India into digital. Mobikwik has 55 million users and 1.4 million retailers in India.”

Taku highlighted some points. In last 10-20 years, telecom has changed in India in a big way. “Till now 14 per cent of cashless transaction has been done in India post-demonetisation, which will go grow to 30 per cent by the end of 2017 and it will grow 30- 40 per cent in two years. I truly believe it’s the era of mobile wallets, and won’t deny that demonetisation has sped up the journey,” she explained.   

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