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Brands need to stay relevant to customers in the changing times: Kedar Lele, HUL

At WPP Commerce 2022, Kedar Lele, ED Customer Development, HUL & Head of CD- South Asia, explained how brands can successfully connect consumers, customers, and commerce to drive growth

In a rapidly changing market environment, the only thing brands have to be cautious about is remaining relevant to consumers and customers, said Kedar Lele, ED Customer Development, HUL & Head of CD- South Asia. He was speaking at the WPP Commerce 2022 held on Wednesday.

Lele delivered a presentation titled Consumer, Customer, and Commerce: A Connected Approach. To drive growth, how can brands successfully connect consumers, customers, and commerce?

He started off the session talking about the legacy of HUL and the purpose that guides the company. “At HUL, we have discovered our purpose, and it’s to make sustainable living commonplace. HUL is a 150-year-old brand and is the market leader with a share of 90 per cent of the business. It is also an employer of choice across sectors. Nine out of 10 households use one or more of HUL brands,” he shared. 

Taking the conversation further, Lele then talked about the vast opportunities that India offers to marketers and how brands can stay relevant. “There is ample room for growth not only in the FMCG sector, but in all categories. If you live in India and own a business, you are in a growth business. And if you’re not growing, it’s because you’re not doing something correctly,” noted Lele. 

He continued, “In an environment that is shifting so quickly, the only thing that we have to be cautious about is staying relevant to our consumers and customers. Times may have changed but nothing has changed about consumers, and marketers still crave those personal moments of interaction. Just that now we do this sitting around in our rooms and using a smartphone.”

Talking about the changing times, Lele shared that for a company like HUL, at a point, it became urgent and essential to start looking at business in the new environment.

“We are a bunch of large brands which people love. Earlier our business was very lenient. But today, a consumer is interconnected, and there are new languages. So we realised that we needed to reimagine this large company, and relook at the ecosystem, which could be consumers, customers and operations. And then all of this should be based on data tech analytics.”

According to Lele, efficiency is the key factor in any business, especially FMCG.

“In the FMCG business, the first thing you need is a good product that consumers like, and then it’s a game of efficiency. Be extremely efficient, otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to sell shampoo sachets for 50 paise and Re 1 for the last 30 years, and still make nearly the same money over time. If you have decided to serve the needs of consumers across the width and length of the country, you’ve got to be efficient,” he shared.

Lele also spoke about the connected customer ecosystem that they have built at HUL.  “We are a multi-channel organization, which ultimately sells to consumers. Everyone who gets our products into the value chain of sales to the shoppers is our customer,” explained Lele. 

He further mentioned that local kiranas or the neighbourhood retail shops have become the centre of conversation these days, and all investors want to unlock the kirana space. That is why HUL has connected its e-commerce initiative ‘Hamara Shop’ with local stores. 

“When we are sitting in boardrooms, anything that’s unorganized, is considered to be inefficient. But we believe that neighbourhood retail will be around for a long time,” mentioned Lele.

“During the times of Covid, most neighbourhood retailers faced lot of challenges. The major one was about deciding how to stock the store with the appropriate assortment. How does he anticipate changes in consumer demand?”

“India is a nation of shopkeepers. So we have to make sure that the retailer’s provide employment and work well,” he added.

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