Post-pandemic, the world is spinning much faster than one could have expected. What would have happened five years down the line is happening in just one-third of the time. Safety has become more important for consumers than trust. They are more inclined towards brands that are safe than the brand they can trust. Consumers want a brand with purpose, which means, a brand that is making a difference to the community. And to match these changing consumer expectations, the brands are continuously evolving.
“At Kiehl’s, experience is the most important thing. However, this experience changed due to the pandemic. Nowadays, customers either need an affirmation from influencers or family members, or they want to experience it themselves. To cater to these consumer needs, we have introduced a service where customers can book 30-50 minutes of consultation with an expert free of cost. From the comfort of their home, customers will be able to learn about their skin type, resolve their concerns with trained experts who will guide them and help them buy products,” states Santosh Kumar, DGM, Kiehl’s India.
“We associated with many wellness influencers, yoga instructors, and nutritionists, so things which we were not doing earlier we started doing post-pandemic. We also did a shoutout on social media where we stressed upon how consumers need to take care of themselves and their skin and that worked well for us,” he adds.
Resonating the same thoughts, Dr. Ipsita Chatterjee, Head - Innovation Development & Brand Strategy, Lotus Herbals says, “The traditional school of thought was brand building through physical retail, distribution models like GTMD, and B2B models like a salon. So, Lotus has always been a pioneer in innovation in terms of products and business models. We conglomerate with about six brands with different distribution models and different channels. We were in the pipeline of going to a digital-first economy with one of our premium brands which was launched during the pandemic, which was Lotus Botanicals. That accelerated because of the pandemic, for sure. The idea was to cater to the younger audience, talk to them in their language and bring in product innovations that they would want to apply to their skin. It was done with the intention that all the beauty consumers in the country should have one Lotus product from the Lotus umbrella. Although usually, the process would take one and a half years for planning and innovation, we launched the brand in 3 months of planning.”
“Currently, we would like to confine the D2C model only because we already have good legacy brands and younger generation brands on the physical front as well. However, we are also hypermarket retailers, so we would probably introduce D2C in the future,” she adds.
To combat the lull period during the pandemic, Lotus Herbals adopted some popular strategy models like cold callings. It created virtual consultations and salon consultations. It opened an exclusive club for beauticians called I am Lotus Professional because the salon industry was one of the worst-hit industries during the pandemic. Through that club, it trained, engaged, and recruited them as its affiliates and influencers. That’s how the brand learned and sustained.
“We also opened an exclusive boutique outlet with our recently acquired brand, Soul Tree. We also like to take pride that we were the first brand in the country to launch a 100 percent solar-powered beauty and wellness store. It is a zero plastic store without any use of artificial fixtures or furniture. We have also used reclaimed woods, so the sustainability factor remains high. We didn’t have to shut any of the doors; we maintained it, generated revenue, and kept the households of our employees running,” Chatterjee asserts.
Betting Big on Ayurveda
Due to the pandemic, things have evolved like building immunity and many herbs, which we were not aware of earlier; we know about it now.
“Inatur is basically nature coming from Ayurveda and aromatherapy. We are making these products not just of Ayurvedic formulations; but we use essential oils along with commonly used Indian ingredients. We don’t use any artificial fragrances, and we use pure essential oils in our products which means you are more rested and calm when using these products. Times are changing, and Ayurveda is going to be a way of life. It has a strong future not only in India but also abroad. Inatur is not only sold in India; we have distributors who are retailing it online and offline outside India. We have orders coming from smaller towns of India, so this is how far and vast things can go and how far and wide knowledge is going. People want natural products, value for money, and lesser products on their households' shelves,” says Pooja Nagdev, Founder & Director, Rising Sun Aromas and Spirituals Pvt. Ltd Session.
New Ways of Reaching Out to Consumers
Whereas, a brand like Lakmé Lever employs four principles in its business - purpose-driven, future-fit, consumer-centric, and everything else agnostic.
“We have always stood for our ecosystem, so when the pandemic hit, our first thought was what can we do to protect the most affected people. Our franchisee partners got soft loans from us, we extended liquidity, etc. We trained our teams and we designed a completely different customer journey. We have salons in 160 towns, and we had to shut down 4 salons because they were not able to carry safe customer journeys. We have been in the D2C business for the last 42 years, but we also set up an online delivery channel, online consultation, but we only did that so our existing teams could get an additional source of revenue. We have always believed in the power of the ecosystem, so rather than setting up our academies, we collaborate with Aptech. Likewise, we partnered with various brands, so we reached out to Bombay Shaving Company. They have a fantastic portfolio; they are like-minded, they care about customer service, and they work closely with them to develop SOPs. So, what we are offering now to our customers is a complete experience from hair to styling. Then, of course, we have Dermalogica that takes care of skincare. The whole principle is to strengthen your core,” states Pushkaraj Shenai, CEO, Lakmé Lever.
Post-Pandemic Location Strategy
Location plays an important role in the success of any brand as it helps to address the right catchment and right set of consumers.
“Kiehl’s came to India through L’oreal, so initially, it was opened only in metro cities because of the audience that we were catering to. If you look at our distribution, we’ve five doors in the North, three in the West, one in Kolkata, one in Chennai, and one in Hyderabad. It is fragmented, and we have the touchpoints where we feel that there is the right audience. We are present at limited doors, but our service and reach ensure that we are giving our consumers a number of experiences,” states Santosh Kumar.
“We work in a hybrid model; we are a branded house and a house of brands. It depends on which brand is planning to open and where. The strategy is similar to what it was earlier; for example, if we talk about Tier-II or Tier-III cities, we have Lotus Herbal that caters to it well. Suppose a brand belongs to the luxury or premium segment like our recent acquisition Soul Tree, then the strategy will be more similar to Kiehl’s or any luxury brand. When we have limited doors because of the kind of TG we cater to and the kind of experience we want to give, it is difficult to replicate a luxury store with the limited real estate propositions available in Tier-II or Tier-III cities. If you talk about exclusive boutique outlets that majorly have Lotus Organics plus our 100 percent organic brand, then metros are our priority. Tier-III is majorly restricted to GTMD. Lotus Professional is present in 200 cities and about 15,000 salons across the country scattered over Tier-III, Tier-II, Tier-1, and metros,” adds Dr. Ipsita Chatterjee.