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    Six recent 'indovations' based on feedback from the local consumer

    Synopsis

    Henry Ford sent out one key signal to brand custodians: listen to the consumer and tweak your product or service according to what you hear.

    When Henry Ford said 'employers only handle the wages, it is the customer who pays the wages,' he sent out one key signal to brand custodians: listen to the consumer and tweak your product or service according to what you hear.

    Ignoring such reactions from the market place can be disastrous, particularly in a market like India, which has distinct tastes and unique needs. ET takes a look at six such recent 'indovations' based on feedback from the local consumer.

    Cool Customers

    When Panasonic India wanted to expand into the volume segment of air-conditioners, the maker of consumer electronics and appliances conducted a feasibility study among middle income consumers who had fitted window ACs in their house; the team also met non-users who didn't have ACs but aspired to buy one.

    “The idea was to understand their lifestyle (including the size of the house), usage patterns, and features they expected but that weren’t available,” explains Panasonic India managing director Manish Sharma. Big AC dealers were also surveyed to understand the trade’s view, the competitive scenario, requirements of the stores as well as consumer behaviour in them.

    Panasonic then went on to establish a Volume Zone Marketing Research Center in India to gather more customer insights. The centre’s researchers visited households to gather feedback and identify gaps that could help in developing a tailor-made product for India.

    The Indian arm of the Japanese consumer electronics and appliances maker zeroed in on a couple of key insights: one, window ACs are noisy, noisier than the more expensive split ACs; and they tend to block valuable window space. “This feedback suggested that we had to give consumers the benefits of a split AC at a lower price point,” points out Sharma.

    With this challenge in mind, cross-functional teams in Panasonic across R&D, manufacturing, design, product planning, sales & marketing worked together to generate a basic concept of a box-shaped split AC. From market survey to design to product development took around 16 months.

     
    Result: a brand called Cube was launched in January 2011. Today, says Panasonic, the Cube is an integral part of its AC line-up, and accounts for roughly a fifth of the company’s AC sales. Panasonic is now considering a launch of this product in south east Asian markets.

    Plenty in Store

    When LG was looking to launch a well-differentiated refrigerator, it turned to its potential customers for help. After an initial round of market research, the third-party experts along with specialists from LG’s R&D, design and marketing teams directly interviewed the customers to understand their needs.

    Despite the rash of refrigerators in the market, customers still had a few needs that weren’t being addressed. LG was quick to seize the opportunity. For instance, in a country that has a large number of vegetarians, LG produced refrigerators equipped with a large vegetable tray to hold more vegetables; and a convertible box with independent temperature control for vegetables and fruits.

    Another insight led to the development of a ‘beauty & care box’ as many Indian consumers tend to keep their cosmetics and medicines in the fridge to keep them cool amidst humid conditions.

    While LG doesn’t share the exact figures, it says such innovations have helped increase refrigerator sales by about 30% since 2009. Models customised for India are also being exported to markets in the Middle East.

    Veg Delight

    Australian brand Cookie Man first set up shop in India in 2000. Over the past 12 years, the brand has changed a lot of things as it gets a better sense of what customers want. “Because of the way we operate and sampling that occurs each day – across every store – we are able to get instant feedback. All customer inputs are recorded at the store level and fed back to us by our franchisees,” says Pattabhi Rama Rao, president, Australian Foods, the company that owns the Cookie Man brand in India.

     
    Based on feedback, Cookie Man was quick to ensure that all its products are 100% vegetarian. Customers also wanted more than just cookies, which is why Cookie Man recently launched ice creams, puffs and brownies. The Cookie Man R&D team and food technologists discuss information received from customers to develop products that are in line with market demand.

    The recently launched ‘no-added-sugar’ category — only for India — took over two years to perfect. “Over 25,000 man-hours of work went into the making of the no-addedsugar cookie,” explains Rao.

    The no-added-sugar cookies, first launched in February 2012, are now available in four variants across India. Rao estimates that the ‘healthy’ category of the Cookie Man offering will constitute about a fourth of sales in a year.

    Stilettos on the Pedal

    When Honda Siel Cars India (HSCI) launched the Brio compact in September 2011, its stylish exteriors and spacious interiors helped it stand out in the clutter of small cars in the Indian auto market.

    “When our engineers visited target markets in India to observe the traffic environments and talk to people about how cars impacted their lifestyles, customers consistently talked about three key needs: a feeling of presence (the show-off value of the car), a spacious interior and high fuel economy,” says Jnaneswar Sen, senior vice president (sales & marketing), HSCI.

    Less visible, however, are some small but highly-effective modifications made keeping customer requirements in mind. For instance, during the development stage, Indian women were taken to Japan to simulate entries into and exits out of the car when clad in a saree.

    Doors and seats were accordingly designed, to make the Brio more accessible to women dressed in the traditional Indian attire (as well as to men in mundus, veshtis and dhotis).

     
    The second insight was the need for a fabric that breathes for the car interiors — an important factor considering the hot and humid conditions and the tendency of people to wear half-sleeve shirts. Honda was keen to ensure that contact of skin with the interior fabrics would not rub the consumer the wrong way.

    Honda researchers also concluded that Indians are almost fanatical about symmetry, be in buildings or in furniture laying patterns at home. “Our researchers even visited the Taj Mahal to see the symmetry in the monument,” says Sen. The cockpit of the Brio has been symmetrically designed as have the length and width of the car and the dimensions of the wheelbase

    Kitchen Designs

    When Philips, a brand once virtually synonymous in India with audio systems, forayed into household products, consumer engagement was an imperative. When, for instance, the company was looking to develop a range of kitchen appliances, customer feedback played a vital role.

    “Customers wanted a kitchen solution that gives undisrupted performance, is easy to use and is durable with a compact design that fits easily into smaller Indian kitchens,” says Genevieve Tearle, marketing director for domestic appliances, Philips India.

    In a survey before developing its Daily Collection Mixer Grinders range, Philips discovered that a shift to smaller urban homes and kitchens was driving a need for compact mixer grinders. The trend towards open kitchens also meant that consumers are increasingly looking for better-designed mixer grinders that add colour to their kitchens.

    After the initial inputs came in, Philips connected with consumers in two phases during development of the product. The design and colour choices were finalised with customer feedback. And just before the official launch, the products were placed in homes for about four weeks to track the consumer experience.

     
    The Daily Collection of Mixer Grinders was launched just before Diwali 2011. Tearle says that the mixer grinder was one of several new product introductions like toasters, juicers and blenders and tea and coffee kettles. The house hold products portfolio accounts for a little over a fourth of Philips India’s sales.

    Eureka Moments

    Eureka Forbes’ pioneering direct sales model has an added advantage — it works as a two-way channel, allowing customers to respond. “Over the years we have constantly taken feedback from consumers to develop, as well as tweak, our product portfolio in India. Through our direct sales team we have direct access to consumers, which is invaluable,” says Marzin Shroff, CEO, direct sales, Eureka Forbes.

    If you’ve ever wondered why Aquaguard water purifiers also play musical tunes, well it’s because customers wanted them. With good reason: the machine is pre-programmed to play a tune once the purification process is over. Eureka Forbes also heeded feedback for an increase in space below the tap to fit a bottle against just a glass.

    A product being tested currently by Eureka Forbes is Geneus, a purifier that allows you to adjust the taste of water. “Water tastes differ because of the level of total dissolved salts (TDS) in the water; it is possible to adjust the levels of TDS in Geneus,” explains Shroff. He adds that a new product takes about one-and-half years from drawing board to production.
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