Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tata Nano Technology Marvel: The Need for Marketing Muscle

When Ratan Tata set out on a mission to have Tata Motors design and manufacture the world’s smallest four door micro car with a capacity to seat comfortably a family of five adults at a price of INR 100,000 (USD 2000 approximately) which is less than half of the price of India’s ruling small car, Maruti Suzuki 800, there was disbelief. However, when Nano was finally unveiled in the 2008 AutoExpo, its successful development was welcomed with rapturous applause. And, when it could not be manufactured in the originally envisaged green-field plant at Singur there was disappointment all round  that one of the best indigenous industrial marvels of India was being stymied. Well-wishers followed Nano’s manufacturing journey from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat and appreciated Ratan Tata’s commitment and gumption to commercialize Nano despite the multitude of challenges.

Post launch, however, Nano car did not exactly set the Indian car market afire. It was received with a rather tepid response, and the initial glitches did not help the car either in its image. Given that the pricing was attractive and the car was cute and spacious the inability of Nano to translate the consumer and corporate expectations into robust market demand and sales is intriguing. Nano’s maximum monthly sales has not exceeded 10,000 units while the sales have languished below the 1,000 units per month for most months since its launch in 2008. This compares with market leading sales of Maruti Suzuki’s  Alto sub-compact car at over 35,000 units per month.  In fact, there would be no comparison of a new product that had, or probably would have, its performance-price equation so favorable for the consumer.  It is somewhat strange that management schools have not yet thought it fit to analyze Tata Nano from a management perspective. This blog post seeks to fill a vital gap in this respect, hoping also to throw some useful pointers to make Nano a mega success, a feat that the car, Tata Motors and Ratan Tata richly deserve.
‘Design to demand’ variance
The primary reason for Nano’s failure relative to its potential can be traced to the huge variance between the concept that triggered its design genesis and the platform on which it was eventually positioned in the marketplace. The genesis of Nano can be traced to Ratan’s desire to offer an affordable and safe car for the typical Indian small family of a couple and two or three children, which otherwise travels riskily on a two-seater two wheeler. Given that a high end two wheeler costs INR 70,000, Nano as a five seater, four door car at INR 100,000, with all its features, had an unbeatable value proposition. Given that India absorbs each year 20,000,000 two wheelers the demand potential for Nano even on the basis of conversion of only 10 percent of two wheeler buyers into Nano buyers would have been huge. Nano would have easily become the largest selling car in the Indian car market had events gone right for the car, several of them in the management’s own control.
This potential has not been realized mainly because the company fought shy of converting its design inspiration into a marketing value proposition. Either because of the Tatas’ corporate ethic of not directly attacking competitors or because of casual hope that Nano would have its own natural demand pull,  the company never had an aggressive marketing campaign that directly appealed to the Indian small family, especially the young family, on a platform of safety and security. The dilemma for the Tatas would have been whether such a campaign would imply that its co-industrialists market two-wheelers as unsafe family transportation vehicles or that the India traffic system turns a blind eye to the overloaded Indian two-wheelers on the road. Independent of such conundrums, the important lesson for corporations from the Nano experience is that the original design genesis and the ultimate marketing platform must have a clear nexus and alignment. The other lesson is that marketing must rise above the paradoxes to deliver a clear product proposition to the consumer, without fear or favor, and without prejudice or bias.
Gross and subtle, Mind and heart
Whenever the design inspiration for a new product is extraordinary and out of the box, even if it is seemingly explicit, the challenge for the marketer increases manifold. Successful companies have focused time, effort and cost to market and institutionalize new concepts in the consumer mind. A classic example is that of Samsung launching a massive campaign for its large smart phone Galaxy Note as a phone cum tablet, ‘phablet’, with the unique proposition of a stylus to write and sketch. The company did not think that it was distorting its own smart phone and tablet markets that were growing exceedingly well under the Galaxy umbrella brand, nor did it think that it was cannibalizing its own smart phones or tablets. The power of unique technological concepts needs to be demonstrated to the marketplace, also positioned in the minds of the consumers and instilled in in a gross manner. In respect of Nano, the technological innovation of the product should have been demonstrated with unceasing and high-force campaigns rather than sporadic and low profile advertisements. Mind space can be secured only through powerful, explicit and rational delineation in respect of technological factors.
Gross campaigns need to be reinforced with subtle messaging too, particularly when the product really needs to change the segment proportion within the overall market, and wrest the overall market share in competition with a different group of products made by competition. Nano was indeed faced with the dilemma of challenging the two wheeler segment with a superior value proposition of safety of a micro four wheeler. Gross messaging would have not served the purpose, apart from possibly being a strict no-no for the Tatas corporate competitive behavioral philosophy. Emotional subtlety that appeals to the heart is the key to such messaging. Here again, we have the example of Cadbury positioning its milk chocolates as a ‘sweet’ for homely and auspicious occasions in competition with traditional Indian sweets. For the Indian small family, the concept of caring for the life partner and protecting the kids through the small car as opposed to leaving them to the vagaries of environment and turbulence of road traffic in a two wheeler would have been highly effective, for example. Equally, in a society where owning a car is considered to be a symbol of having arrived to a noticeable stage in life, owning a Nano car at the very early start of the career, independent of the relative affluence, would be an impressive value proposition. Subtlety impacts heart positively, which in turns influences the mind share of the buyer.
Value qualifiers
All marketing literature talks about value for the consumer being a function of price and features of a product. In respect of Nano, technology speaks for itself in terms of compact exterior and spacious interior on one hand and the power to drive and fuel to conserve on the other. Any additional value drivers must appeal to both the mind and heart, if the above gross and subtle messaging is accepted. Electronic braking system and front and side air bags would reinforce the safety tag. Experimental evidence of crash test safety would reinforce the safety image even further. An ability to upgrade Nano to a Manza sedan as the family evolves in life, through Tata exchange and finance schemes, could be another value driver. It would be important for the company to first develop a list of various additional features that could add value as a comprehensive list of value qualifiers, and then select value drivers which are appropriate to different groups of customers. For example, a 2 DIN music system will be a stronger value add for a couple while a safety kit as outlined above will probably be a more welcome value add for a couple with babies or kids.
The fundamental value creation, however, starts at the dealer point. The low price of Nano means that the turnover on Nano sales and service would be the lowest for the typical dealership in the Tata family of vehicles. This problem is further compounded by the initial strategy of having a combined dealership covering all vehicles, from cars and utility vehicles to trucks and buses. The implication for Tata Motors as also to all other automobile manufacturers in India is that dealership can no longer be considered just a point of sale. The infrastructure and organization for automobile dealership would need to extend vertically along the product value chain as a continuum of design, development, manufacture, distribution, sales and service. Ideally, Tata Motors would need to have completely different dealerships for cars and utility vehicles on one hand and commercial vehicles (light, medium and heavy trucks and buses) on the other. In each case, the product should receive the same level of care; for example a Nano micro car should receive the same attention as a high end Aria crossover and an Ace mini-truck the same attention as a high end Prima luxury truck. Value qualification by dealership should be an important component of Nano resurgence strategy.
From breakeven to breakthrough
Tata Motors which has received acclaim for being the pioneer in indigenous development of passenger cars and utility vehicles has been losing ground in that segment in recent years. This has been admitted by Ratan Tata himself in the annual shareholders meeting of Tata Motors.  The appointment of Karl Slym, a GM veteran who had a successful stint in GM India, as the Managing Director of Tata Motors has been indicative of the resolve of Ratan Tata to turn around Tata Motors’ fortunes in the passenger car sector. Hopefully, Tata Nano will be a beneficiary of his attention, given that Tata Nano car initiative is at crossroads. The car has certainly seen a revving up of sales in recent months.  However, even with the recently achieved monthly high of 10,000 Nano cars, the production level is below the breakeven point of 150,000 Nanos per annum. Breakeven should not be a concern, however. To utilize the current capacity of 250,000 Nanos per annum and the potential capacity of 400,000 Nanos at the 75 acre site which also has an adjunct component park, Tata Motors requires breakthrough strategies.
Tata Nano is more than just one another passenger car model. It represents the passion and creativity of the Indian Business and the innovation and skill of the Indian engineers to develop and manufacture a passenger car with a feature and cost profile that no other automobile company, global or Indian could ever conceive of and commercialize. More than the success of Nano as a car model of Tatas, far more is at stake for the Tata Group as well as the Indian industry. The author of the blog post hopes that Tata Motors would persevere and make an enduring success of Tata Nano based on an effective strategic format. The announcement by Tata Motors that it would take Tata Nano to the US at an appropriate price tag is indicative of the resolve of the management to take up the challenge by scaling even higher bars. As this blog post brings out, an integrated techno-marketing strategy, customized to the marketplace, is required to reposition Nano car for accelerated growth in India and also position it for successful entry into advanced countries.   
Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 24, 2012           

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