Tête-à-Tête with Marketing Guru Harpreet Tibb

Mantra was in conversation with Kellogg’s former CMO - South Asia, Mr. Harpreet Tibb about MBA in India today and life in the FMCG Industry.
Having done your MBA from IIM Calcutta and having spent more than two decades in the industry, let’s start off with the scenario today.

We generally hear from our faculty and other experienced personnel that we as MBA pass-outs get saturated by our corporate jobs as we rush for money and not our interests. Do you think something is going wrong in the development of the students at top B-Schools?

Well it is an interesting time as we see the younger generation of MBA’s jumping jobs every 2-3 years in the pursuit of gaining new experiences and salary hikes. The perspective seems to have changed from gaining depth of experience to width of experience and wanting it all NOW. This is like a double-edged sword – while one gets richer with new experiences, the lack of experience in staying the course and growing business over a longer period of time becomes a handicap as you go forward in your career. Hence it is important for B-schools to get those senior professionals from the industry who have dug in their heels and built businesses over longer periods of time.

Having spent more than 2 decades in the industry, what do you think is the right approach for a prolong and successful career at the top?

My mantra has always been “Leave your footprint for others to follow” - Nurture your brands or businesses in such a way that the future generations of leaders remember you and cannot forget/erase your contributions. “Don’t be short term focused, always create long term value for your brands and businesses that you run”

What according to you are the most important skills that any manager should possess in order to survive and thrive in an increasingly demanding business environment?

Today business leaders have to deal with the VUCA world, one that is volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous. Hence one will need to be nimble, have the right tenacity to deal with the everyday pressures, be humble to course correct, in case things are not working out and always be ready with a plan B. This will help you tackle the uncertainties that lie all around you. Collaboration and Open Innovation are the new ways of doing business and one will need to be a great team player to take advantage of the power of many.

Let’s now switch to the industry which has taken up a large part of your career, the FMCG industry.

You have masterminded some of the industry’s most acclaimed campaigns; Kissanpur and Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetna being some notable ones. What is the thought process that goes into conceptualizing such campaigns?

Well as I said earlier “Leave you footprint for others to follow” – you need to think long term rather than short term when you are keen to conceptualize such long term equity building campaigns. Secondly keep the consumer at the heart of all your decision making and find a role for your brand in improving people’s lives. When we conceptualized Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetna it was all about saving lives and during Kissanpur we wanted people to again experience the joy of the real world as the world was becoming full of virtual experiences. Always remember that your idea is as good as the execution – hence you need to spend a lot of time in planning and executing these campaigns.

A number of your campaigns have had a rural or a CSR flavor attached to them. Is it a marketing tactic to tug on the heart-string of the consumers or a conscious effort towards the upliftment of the deprived sections of the society?

My purpose in life is “Doing well by doing good to the society around us”. Hence, I have always managed to find roles for brands that not only allow brands to flourish but also solve a genuine problem in people’s lives, in the society around us.

In an industry where customer loyalty is quite low, how does a company keep abreast of the changing customer preferences and sentiments?

Keeping the consumer, shopper and customer at the heart of all your decision making is the key to remaining relevant and winning in the market place. I have always tried to inculcate the habit of spending time listening to all our key stakeholders and seeing them operate in their respective domains. In fact managers are not allowed to contribute to business decisions if they do not earn their right or their consumer license.

How does a company like an HUL or a P&G with such a diverse product portfolio, mine consumer insights in today's market?

Well the principles of consumer insighting have not changed. The digital explosion has resulted in consumers spending more time on social media and leaving their digital trails behind. Hence marketers and insight managers now have multiple data points to mine and triangulate to pick up new trends and opportunities for brands to leverage. Data analytics is an exciting new dimension that has been added to marketing team’s skill sets in today’s times.

With a number of product categories already cluttered by numerous brands, how does a brand manager create a distinct identity for his own brand that can be differentiated from the rest of the offerings in the market?

Yes, it is far tougher today to establish a new brand in the market place especially in a cluttered category. But let’s look around us – there are many brands in the world’s top 5 brands that have been created in the last decade or so. These brands never existed some time back. So, the trick continues to be, finding a relevant product idea. A proposition that solves a real consumer need in a unique manner. The emphasis is on solving a real need and hence marketers need to work harder to identify such consumer needs.

In your opinion, which are the key trends in the market today that could go on to define a company's fortunes in the coming years? 

In my view the core marketing concepts are not going to change – what we are seeing today is the way we apply them in a digital world, a world that is far more connected and spending more time on devices rather than the real world. In the past, we produced television ads but today’s generation watches more videos on YouTube rather than a 30-sec ad. Hence the challenge is to create a new 2-3 min video content that follows the same principles of brand advertising – it needs to attract eye balls, needs to communicate the core message, needs to establish the brand idea and the idea needs to be scalable across different advertising touch points. In 2015 we created a great YouTube campaign called Kelloggs wale Guptaji Ki Family to drive consumption of cornflakes – it helped accelerate business and also became a google case study. It was the first non-TV campaign that worked as well as a TV campaign in driving business and building equity.

As we come to the end of our conversation, we would like to know, according to you, is marketing something that can be taught at a B-School or is it innate and not everyone’s cup of tea?

Marketing is an art but there is also the science of marketing that one needs to learn. Hence, very clearly while your B school can teach you the core concepts, your experiences will shape them for you and finally your gut will play a key role in guiding you to become a great marketer.

Finally, which for you were the most satisfying and challenging experiences in your glittering career in the world of marketing?

Well as I said earlier “Leave your footprint behind for others to follow” – you called out my two campaigns Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetna and Kissanpur in your earlier question – guess these campaigns have created an impression in your mind and other young minds on campus – hence I shall assume these to be the ones that are my most satisfying and challenging campaigns.

Thank You!

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