Santharuban on staying ahead of the curve

1 year ago

We are half way through 2019, and it’s always a good time to gauge the pulse of leading personalities who are in the industry.

Marketing Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Etika Holdings SVP of Marketing & Alternate Business, Mr Santharuban Thurai Sundaram, and explore his thoughts on the current state of affairs in the FMCG industry.

When asked about the journey so far in 2019, Santharuban was very pleased to note that the first half of the year has been great, with growth across multiple categories and an overall commercial trajectory that befits a very positive first half to the year.

There has been talk about how the sugar tax could affect businesses in the FMCG line, but Santharuban was quick to dispel any confusion regarding the matter.

“The sugar tax would specifically affect the soft drink companies, and at Etika Holdings, we have long embarked on healthier products with lower sugar such as Pepsi Black and Wonda Zero Max, and we think that overall the impact of the tax will be minimal in the long term,” he said.

Moving on to the state of advertising and branding in the marketplace, specifically on the digital front, Santharuban did have a few pointers that he wanted to get out there in terms of meeting consumer’s expectations.

Some of the brands under the Etika Holdings umbrella.

“These days, predicting consumer attention is always getting more challenging, even as technology becomes more pervasive in connecting all of us together,” he added.

He also feels that advertising agencies also need to evolve in how they set out marketing campaigns in a media landscape that will see a merging of traditional mediums and digital content.

“It’s all about eyeballs these days, even smaller brands have a fighting chance to get their message out there, and give bigger brands a real run for their money,” he explained.

He cites the rise of influencers and brand ambassadors as a good thing in this regard, and a company like Etika Holdings is always laser focused on exploring these partnerships in the future.

As always, Santharuban feels that one of the biggest challenge that a company like Etika Holdings faces is about keeping up with consumer preferences.

“Take the bubble tea phenomenon, for example, who could have predicted the kind of craze that is now surrounding it,” he said.

Using the ‘bubble tea’ analogy, he said that for big monoliths like Etika, reacting to to such a phenomenon and consumer trend by from a new product development standpoint becomes a huge challenge as ensuring the logistics, manufacturing and R&D can be dynamic, nimble and agile is really something that is tough when compared to smaller, niche players.

Of course, the company is very data-driven in all of its initiatives, and with audience targeting, marketing programs with rewards and personalized communication, its does it utmost to keep up with the trends of the day.

“You always have to make data based decisions in this line, but in my personal opinion, there is still a huge human factor that is in play,” he notes.

He believes that advertisers need to take a certain ounce of risk, as data is a historical reflection of a trend that has taken place, and while we can use these figures to predict the trends of the future, the market place and consumers, unfortunately do not operate in a linear trend.

So when it comes to predictions and foresight, data just can’t be the only source.

At the end of the day, Santharuban believes that for a company like Etika Holdings the challenge is customization for the consumer, and the ability to react to smaller demands but also cater to the masses too.

“It’s a dual reaction, and to be the preferred brand, you have to be the best in both worlds, especially when consumer loyalty is at it’s lowest today, so keeping with the trends and maintaining excitement within the category and marketplace in which you play in, is key” he concluded.

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