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Branding is a priority in the retail segment



– TM Suresh Kumar, Assistant Vice President – Marketing, Bharathi Cement

What is the history of your brand and how it has transformed over the years? How do you think your brand impacted your top- and bottom-lines?
The brand "Bharathi" was founded in the year 2009. It was the first greenfield project to come up in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. It was a 5 MMT project. We entered the cement industry at the time when either it was saturated or the industry production itself was quite high, and a lot of brands were there. Considering that timing of our entry was a strategic one, the company came out with a premium brand. Our strategy was quite clear; our offering had to be top class.

Some market samples were drawn for over six months from the important markets of Southern India. The samples were tested for physical and chemical properties, in three laboratories – NCCBM (Hyderabad), Civil-Aid Laboratories (Bengaluru), and our own laboratory. These samples were packed in such a way that coding was done properly. Afterwards, it was sent to the laboratory without a brand identification. For six months, on a month-on-month basis, we took out these samples.

We found out a pattern-properties and important aspects of cement and its chemistry-in these samples. We could set a benchmark above that. In fact, if you visit our plant, there is production line and then benchmark quality standards. That has been set based on this. Secondly, consistency plays a very important role in cement.

Each and every bag has to be of consistent quality. There is no compromise on any aspect – be it product, be it process, approach or the policy. We were the pioneer in certain aspects of the cement industry. To maintain the consistency of cement, we introduced robotic quality control. This checks quality at all the stages: raw materials, semi-finished products and finished products. At all the three stages, the samples are tested online at periodic intervals and the course correction happens.

Thirdly, it is laminated packing. When it was introduced, polypropylene laminated packing was the first-of-its-kind in the Indian cement industry. To prevent from loss and pilferage, it is also moisture resistant in humid conditions, and increases the shelf life, particularly in the retail segment, where cement bags are kept at the counters exposed to air. We have networked our plant with all the south Indian states and Maharashtra and all our warehouses (about 35 in each State) with SAP. So when our first bag of cement was invoiced, it was done online. This was another advantage ensuring accounting transparency in business. So, our dealer or customer will get all the statements online. The whole transaction is online. This was one of the biggest confidence booster as still many parts of the sector was unorganised. So, these things gave us an edge in the positioning of brand Bharathi cement in the market as a premium brand.

What are the most interesting brand messages you have conveyed for cement? How it has played out when compared to your competitors at that time?
"Three times better" was our tagline. This is the three aspects that I have highlighted now. South Indian actor, Suriya was our brand ambassador at the beginning, who was synonymous with south Indian film industry. The representation of the brand stood up to the standards. The brand was very well promoted with a mix of branding activities, outdoor, as also our strength was technical support service. For e.g. normally cement is sold and the companies/ people will forget about it. But in our case, a technical team will approach a mason or an engineer or a building contractor, and they will explain the best usage practices of cement. This awareness is very important.

Cement production is technologically a superior thing. But what about the usage?
There many standards are not followed. We imparted that awareness and education to the end users and influencers. We have created mobile technical advisers, equipped with all the basic testing facilities for cement at the site. Any customer opting for concreting and any important construction work could avail of this facility. It will be manned by our qualified technical engineer.

What factors played a strong role in your branding exercises – what worked and what not?
When the brand was launched, "three times better" was our underlying statement. In manufacturing, we had the best technology and machinery in the world. Our plants have the latest technology in the world. Our three aspects caught the attention of the customers. Our whole advertisement and brand promotion campaign has been on this. It was very well planned and well executed to date. Because in all the markets, it was led by a team of professionals.

What are your premium cement brands and how do they promise to deliver better value over and above normal cement? Can you cite examples of value creation for company through premium branding?
In cement, first is consistency. It plays a very important role in branding and we have always scored better over our competitor. Superior quality is guaranteed throughout the year and in every bag. This has given us the advantage. It is followed by technical services on the ground. They have created a value in the minds of customers.

How you have taken advantage of introduction of PPC and PSC in building your brand?
In all the Indian cement markets, the trend of usage of blended cement, namely PPC and PSC, is on an upward trend, and we gave the best quality of the blended cement. We sourced fly ash and also the slag from the best sources. Our blended cements are [in fact] more popular in the markets than the typical OPC of the competition. We have recently introduced one more superior product called Bharathi Ultrafast, which is again a blended cement. It is like the best of both the worlds. It gives you the strength of OPC, and durability of blended cement, with a fast setting ability. Our thrust has always been on blended cements, because they are environmental friendly. Technically-blended cement is far superior because of low heat of hydration. We can produce a dense concrete by using blended cements.

Brands are said to create value for the company owning it. How did your company handle brands of companies you had acquired or transition of brands?
This is a greenfield project and it is a new brand. We have taken care of the brand like how we nurture and take care of a baby. It is like planting a sapling and making it to grow into a tree. That has been the culture in this in growing this brand. The brand has grown well and we are entering 10-year soon.

How relevant will cement brands be in India after, say 20 years, particularly when bulk cement use is rapidly growing in urban centres?
I would like to address this point in two parts. Cement is sold in two segments – retail, and project and infrastructure segments. Talking about the projects segment, the popularity of ready-mix concrete is increasing due to various reasons.

For roads and other massive infrastructure projects, cement is used in bulk. So branding may not be a very important aspect at that point of time, because it becomes a B2B product. In Indian retail segment, branding will always prevail. Because the customer will value a superior product by its brand name.

Of course, you need to keep adding value additions to your products and services. We have come out with Bharathi Mitra app, which is basically for influencers like engineers, architects and masons. Today, life runs on mobiles. Login to the app and place one’s requirements, and there is a choice of products, features and benefits, and list of dealers and stockists available. A single contact point, offering reward points as well. We had added value in product with Bharathi Ultrafast. That will help keep the brand fresh in the minds of people, sustaining the brand. The retail segment is unlikely to diminish totally in terms of perception even if it does in terms of volumes.

To what extent branding is a priority for Indian cement companies, when cement is considered to be a commodity? Is ad spends a gauge or any others reflect it better?
Cement is a highly-technical product. By usage also, there is a lot of technology and standard procedure of usage; whereas when it comes to the market, it is considered to be a commodity. Unless we show the value to the products or services, it will be continued to be looked upon as a commodity and it will not enjoy any premium or preference. In fact, purchase itself is a premium. From this perspective also, it is even more important that the brand equity is sustained.

Value-added services like technical support on the ground will always add value. We have made it mandatory that each and every dealer that has been appointed has visited our cement plant. He is taken through the whole manufacturing process and quality control. I can say it is untouched by hand as it is a fully automated plant. So our customers, engineers, architects and masons have seen it. They already know how it is produced. That is an important point for the customer to have confidence in us.

The other thing is the policies and practices. As long as we keep it transparent, and highest accountability, I think it would sustain. This and SAP have helped sustaining this confidence. So, branding is definitely a priority in the retail segment. Even in the project segment, brand identity will help.

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Delhi to hold FCC’s India Roads Conference on 12th Oct




To be hosted at Hotel Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi, the conference will witness more than 25 experts, policymakers, and industry leaders discussing innovative technologies, sustainable practices, and funding opportunities that promise to revolutionise the road construction landscape in India.

Mumbai (India)

FIRST Construction Council (FCC) – an infrastructure think tank – will be hosting the 13th India Roads Conference (IRC) on October 12, 2023 at Hotel Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi, to explore new opportunities in the road construction business. To be hosted as a part of India Construction Festival 2023 (ICF 2023) along with Construction World Global Awards 2023 (CWGA 2023) and Equipment India Awards 2023 (EI Awards 2023), IRC 2023 will focus on transforming India’s road infrastructure by presenting an unique platform for networking, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration. 

India’s road development sector is poised for unprecedented growth, housing one of the largest road networks in the world, spanning over 6.3 million km. The National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) forecasts a substantial investment of Rs 111 trillion in infrastructure projects during fiscals 2020-25, with a a significant portion allocated to the road sector. Against this backdrop, the 13th India Roads Conference intends to discover the abundant market opportunities, the latest trends, and how the industry can capitalise on this thriving sector.

Renowned experts, policymakers, and industry leaders will converge to discuss innovative technologies, sustainable practices, and funding opportunities that promise to revolutionise the road construction landscape in India. Some of the confirmed speakers for IRC 2023 are Lt. General Harpal Singh, Former Engineer-In-Chief, Indian Army; Dr Manoranjan Parida, Director, CSIR-CRRI; Ajay Kumar Mishra, President, Dilip Buildcon; RK Pandey, Former Member Projects, NHAI & Former ADG, MoRTH; SK Nirmal, Secretary General, India Roads Congress; Premjit Singh, CEO – Transportation, Welspun Enterprises; TR Rao, Director (Infra), PNC Infratech; Hardik Agrawal, Director at Dineshchandra R Agrawal Infracon Pvt Ltd, Thumu Karthik, CEO, LivSYT (DevIndia Technologies); Pawan Kant, CEO, LTIDPL IndVIT Services Ltd (IM to IndInfraVIT Trust); and Palash Srivastava, CEO, IIFCL Projects among others.

The roadmap of the future

India currently has one of the largest road networks in the world, spanning over 6.3 million km. Of this, around 2 per cent are National Highways, 3 per cent are State Highways and the rest are part of the district and rural road network. Over 64.5 per cent of all goods and 90 per cent of passenger traffic move by road. 

India has seen significant growth in its road network over the last five years, as the government has given priority to this sector. For the financial year 2022-23, the Central budget allocated more than Rs 2.70 trillion to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). The importance attached to the sector is also evinced by the fact that it accounts for approximately 18 per cent of the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). Various state governments are also developing critical road corridors as a catalyst of economic development. Lately the focus has been on road safety, green initiatives, digital transformation and augmentation of funding sources.

Explaining the significance of IRC 2023, Pratap Padode, President, FIRST Construction Council, said, “India, not China, has the second-largest road network in the world after the US, spanning about 63.32 lakh km. NHAI awarded total projects of 6,003 km with a value of Rs 1.26 trillion during FY23. A provisional target of constructing about 13,800 km has been set for 2023-24. This presents excellent opportunity for all the stakeholders in the sector. India Roads Conference 2023 will explore ways on how to build a robust, safe road network by using latest technologies while meeting environment norms.”

In line with the market trends, experts during the India Roads Conference 2023 will deliberate on following relevant topics:

  • Shaping regulations for safe and sustainable roads 
  • Revolutionising road construction with technology
  • Accelerating road infrastructure with better financing opportunities 
  • Safer roads: Innovative designs for enhanced safety 

Attendees can gain valuable insights from dynamic panel discussions, insightful keynotes, and cutting-edge innovation showcases. Thus, by participating in India Roads Conference 2023, delegates can stay ahead of industry trends, forge valuable partnerships, and contribute to building safer, greener, and more efficient road networks.

IRC 2023 is supported by Tiki Tar and Shell India (Silver Partner), Tata Hitachi (Equipment Partner), PNC Infratech Ltd (Associate Partner), and LivSYT (Technology Partner).

About India Construction Festival 2023

Organised by the FIRST Construction Council in collaboration with Construction World and Equipment India magazines, the 9th India Construction Festival (ICF) stands as a cornerstone in the construction and infrastructure industry. India Construction Festival serves as the single largest platform for celebrating India’s remarkable infrastructure journey, bringing together all stakeholders in the industry under one roof. This comprehensive approach fosters collaboration, facilitates knowledge sharing, and creates networking opportunities that are pivotal for the growth and development of India’s infrastructure sector. ICF 2023 will comprise three major events: 13th India Roads Conference, 11th Equipment India Awards and 21st Construction World Global Awards.

About FIRST Construction Council:

FIRST Construction Council (FCC), an infrastructure think tank established in 2003, focuses on providing the latest updates on the construction industry in India, and is dedicated to promoting its causes and needs. FCC provides a platform to promote the adoption of best practices and be the torchbearer for all policy initiatives that are needed to enhance the importance and welfare of the construction industry and the industry’s unified voice. FCC also hosts conferences/events like India Construction FestivalMetro Rail ConferenceInfrastructure Today Conclave 2023, etc.

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Assessing the Role of Branding




ICR looks at differentiating factors that influence the branding decisions for cement companies and the impact of messaging and brand positioning on the customer’s mindset.

Branding gurus will say that the purpose and intentionality of branding is to create an image in the minds of the consumers and the connected community at large, which could be much more than the mere product on offer (with its features and characteristics). The image, once firmly entrenched in the minds of the interested people, would augur well to create a sense of trust and loyalty, the hallmark of connectedness with the ‘idea’ that exceeds the sum total of what the product offers. This trust, loyalty or the bond establishment is at the core of creation of a brand as an asset that would provide cash flows many years into the future. If one wants to measure the value of a brand, one would need to look at the net present value of future cash flows that the brand-asset would end up coalescing, which could only happen when the right actions are directed to ward off competition and a stability is provided to the continuing engagement with the final consumer, either directly or in conjunction with various intermediaries.
Some of this would simply flow from the community to which the customer is part of. In the case of cement, this starts from the building and construction engineers, the architects, masons, builders, dealers, channel partners, partners in the community, which could include the government and regulatory agencies as well, where the product in question is being used. The place could eventually become part of the greater whole, the region or the country, if the product is integrated into a large bundle of choices put into one that transcends the locale.
Product positioning If we want to direct our attention into cement branding, we can hardly ignore the fact that cement remains a commodity, which by definition means that differentiation possibilities are minimal.
Harold Hotelling’s paper, Similarities in Competition (1929) for products that are commodities, gave us the mathematical proof that in markets for selling such products, one would see them being sold as close to each other as possible. This explains why in local markets you have commodity sellers like vegetable sellers or fish-sellers selling in the same place, sitting next to each other, side by side and not far apart from each other. This is because the customers would want to minimise the cost of logistics (the cost of connecting becomes the only differentiating factor, which the customers want to minimise).
The exact opposite of this would be when two dis-similar items are to be sold that are highly differentiated. The proof of this is provided in Jean Tirole’s seminal book, Industrial Organization, the ‘position’ of these two selling items will be as far apart from each other as possible. Here, the cost of connecting is where the maximum differentiation will lie and that is going to be the pivotal factor in making the two items dis-similar from each other.
Thus, creating a unique value proposition in a commodity would be to make that commodity appear as a different identity when compared with a similar commodity. This identity cannot be simply the product features, attributes or specification, but an identity built on an idea that makes a unique connection with the consumer.

Leading by example
How on earth could we create a unique value proposition through branding of this commodity? That is where cement branding has been the most successful model among almost all commodities.
But cement is lucky in some respects as it can be packaged and once you package it, what is inside loses its meaning and what you end up seeing is the package that can be used to replace the product inside. The package assumes the identity of the product, no matter how similar or dissimilar what is inside, one could end up creating an image of what you want the ‘interested party’ to believe it to be. This could be a way of initiating the branding exercise in cement, or what we call the ‘tip of the iceberg’, which is in the packaging of the product. But we will see that it is a very small part of what the total brand is all about.
Furthermore, trust can only be established over not one but many transactions that look at the value that stems from painstakingly creating the ever-expanding pie of the future. This is no splash in the pan, but a continued engagement that must rely on all signals that the people on both sides would be happy to be a part of.

Making the message work
Cement brands, no matter how different they are, have been able to create their unique value proposition or niche in the market. You have some leaders in the Indian market that built their brand on the appeal it creates on the engineers, architects, masons and the builders; they are the community who will influence the bulk of the buying of cement. With taglines ranging from the ‘Engineer’s Choice’ and ‘Giant Compressive Strength’ to ‘Cementing Relationships,’ and with the central idea of trust as a theme, the brands have evolved to dominate their own individual space. The continuity of the messaging and complementing such themes with actions on the ground, building partnerships that resonate on these themes is where these brands have progressed and prospered.
Messaging to the consumer on the product quality, durability and strength have been the dominant theme among the local communities. These have remained the final conversation that cannot be avoided when the eventual buyer, the individual house owner and the builder combine to make the final choice with the influencers of all kinds. Consistent messaging that lives up to the expectation and stays with the combine when the product is in use for many more years, would be the foundation to build on. But these may not be the only messaging, as prices could become the bone of contention, sparking messaging like ‘Not Cheap’, stating that the perception could be wrong about the value of the product.
Some brands have got rebranded, for example Grasim got merged with L&T Cement and came up with their overarching value proposition to be the ‘Engineer’s Choice’, a path-breaking branding that has catapulted them to the top of the league. But making the company and its values be aligned to the messaging is where the actual scoring happens. The customer’s trust stems from the overall experience of buying that is weighed against the sum total of promises made and the actual experience tallied against them. It would be wrong to appeal to some specific attributes while strengthening your brand, you could dilute the attention required on every other aspect that you hold the promise to.

Influencing the customer
The economic impact of a brand, simply summarised, would be the effect of the brand in the customer’s buying decision. The customer in this case is just not the buyer, which could be different in different cases, but a whole lot of influencers – from institutions, government, community, the common home buyer, builder, architect or the engineer or the dealers, the effect of the brand must be looked at in all these constituencies. Building trust on such a wide group of people cannot be made with just messaging alone. It can only be built through long hard work on all the aspects we just discussed, where quality of product and service, packaging, price, tradition, delivery on promise, all could play a
vital role.

-Procyon Mukherjee

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Economy & Market

Impactful Branding




Advertising or branding is never about driving sales. It’s about creating brand awareness and recall. It’s about conveying the core values of your brand to your consumers. In this context, why is branding important for cement companies? As far as the customers are concerned cement is simply cement. It is precisely for this reason that branding, marketing and advertising of cement becomes crucial. Since the customer is unable to differentiate between the shades of grey, the onus of creating this awareness is carried by the brands. That explains the heavy marketing budgets, celebrity-centric commercials, emotion-invoking taglines and campaigns enunciating the many benefits of their offerings.
Marketing strategies of cement companies have undergone gradual transformation owing to the change in consumer behaviour. While TV commercials are high on humour and emotions to establish a fast connect with the customer, social media campaigns are focussed more on capturing the consumer’s attention in an over-crowded virtual world. Branding for cement companies has become a holistic growth strategy with quantifiable results. This has made brands opt for a mix package of traditional and new-age tools, such as social media. However, the hero of every marketing communication is the message, which encapsulates the unique selling points of the product. That after all is crux of the matter here.
While cement companies are effectively using marketing tools to reach out to the consumers, they need to strengthen the four Cs of the branding process – Consumer, Cost, Communication and Convenience. Putting up the right message, at the right time and at the right place for the right kind of customer demographic is of utmost importance in the long run. It is precisely for this reason that regional players are likely to have an upper hand as they rely on local language and cultural references to drive home the point. But modern marketing and branding domain is exponentially growing and it would be an interesting exercise to tabulate and analyse its impact on branding for cement.

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