Thursday, February 28, 2008

The King of Good Times spills beans

Kingfisher CEO, Dr Vijay Mallya on day 1 of the World Effie Festival made everyone wait almost two hours to hear him speak about creating a brand personality, truth is, it was worth the wait.

While The King of Good Times declined to be interviewed by the press after his presentation, Mallya shared the story of Kingfisher's successfull branding in India - the genius behind it, the luck involved - and why branding is sacred to him.

I have to admit I came into this Thought Catalyst session not knowing too much about Kingfisher and Mallya (except that he has been dubbed "the Indian Richard Branson" by the media) so forgive any factual inaccuracies that may appear in this post which I am doing for the benefit of our readers who didn't get to go...

"Selling alcohol or an airline seat is no different from selling consumer goods," Mallya said at the WEF. "You need to understand your consumers". With that in mind, Mallya set about on his task to make Kingfisher beer a success. Before he launched the brand, Mallya had to define who his target audience was and what got them excited - what are their expectations? Hanging around colleges and pubs in Bangalore, he did his own market research by talking to consumers and found out that they thought beer was refreshing, and a summer drink, but not exciting.

"There was no draw, no consumer pull...I looked at the brands out there and none were appealing," he said. So he started building a brand with personality and pushed the idea of selling a lifestyle - The King of Good Times was born.

He did admit that there was a fair bit of luck involved as well, unknown to him at the time was the fact that India had a young demographic and every year millions of Indians reached a drinking age.

To support his idea of selling the Kingfisher lifestyle, the beer became, and still is, a force supporting the local fashion industry. From there, Mallya moved the brand into the direction of sports sponsorships. In India, cricket is a religion but Mallya hardly had the money nor burning desire to sponsor the Indian national team. Instead he went with the West Indian cricket team which according to him was "a better brand fit". The West Indians are known to 'have a good time' on and off the pitch it seems. At the 1995 World Cup, going against his team of marketers who told him that sponsoring the West Indian cricket team (who are more than decent side on the pitch) was a bad idea especially if India were drawn as opponents, Kingfisher sponsored the West Indians. In that same year, Kingfisher became internationally known when the brand sponsored the Benetton F1 team.

Then when Kingfisher asked consumers to choose the name for its new airlines, the vote overwhelmingly swang for Kingfisher to be the name of the airlines. The brand that was born as a beer but pushed as a lifestyle was deemed good enough by consumers for it to seamlessly become an airline brand.

"You won't see consumers naming a plane Heineken," he said.

To make this long story short, the Kingfisher airline brand lived up to the brand promises the lager version was built on - experiencing the good times. The airlines became the first in India to offer personal video screen entertainment to all passengers because "Indians love entertainment". When the competition jumped on the bandwagon, Mallya upped the services to offer 'live' entertainment on the flights - meaning passengers could keep track of the stock market while watching CNBC live or watch the criket live as well.

Anyways this is part of the story on how Mallya became known as The King of Good Times, something he has grown fonder of over the years.

"There's no harm in being a cheap and cheerful brand ambassador rather than paying some Bollywood star to be one," he said.

Mallya went on to talk about more of the brands under his company's umbrella but before i wrap up, let me leave you with some more quotes from him which give an insight into his definition about branding.

"We must talk to the brand. The brand must talk back. There has to be a debate. It can't be a one way traffic where the marketer or creative director decides, no this is the colour for this and this is the something for that. I've seen many make this mistake. Branding is sacred. We brand every brand in our umbrella. We know that in India consumers in the North-East are different from the North or the South for example. We have to tweak our message to fit each market," he said.

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