Patanjali - The Feasible Strategic Response

The Feasible Strategic Alternatives

At the outset, let me clarify that I am not an FMCG player; my interest in the Patanjali case study emanates from the unique marketing riddle it presents; and its close similarity in some ways with my Trade Telecom Handsets, wherein two challengers have upstaged the established player/s. Being a keen student of Brand responses to attacks in my trade, I could see ready parallels and deep learnings to be had from the studying the rise of Patanjali, and the current responses of the attacked incumbents i.e. the established players.

As I have gleaned from my FMCG friends, the current responses include launching brands or sub-brands around the health parameter, Ayurved, etc; these are clearly not going to be adequate. I don’t deny the need for such variants in the product lineup, but these cannot be the core response for obvious reasons, as we saw in the previous two parts of this article. We need to go deeper, into individual product lines as well as absolute fundamentals of product usage, need fulfillment & marketing basics to look for answers

As a brand, what do you do when attacked? This is the core question, the first question that needs confronting. In the real word, this is a routine matter which is attended to on a routine basis. But the question is, what do you do when the conventional approaches as mandated by your organisation’s internal structures have been found inadequate? The very last thing to do – a witch hunt. The existing people have both industry as well as organizational knowledge, and are indispensable. They may need support, fresh blood etc; but that they are needed now more than ever is a given.

The next step is the most difficult to do, both  as an individual as well as an organization; accept that you have been beaten, and quite comprehensively. From this base the structure can rise; that, to my mind, is the only way : people, and humility in defeat. These two together open your mind to new thoughts and full realities. Beyond this, you need to understand the attacking product’s strengths, not just from a product or a brand offering, but a complete full picture, something I have termed the 360-degree approach. This should look at all variables : market realities, socio-economic-political changes, individual product lines and their precise usage etc. And one word here – this you cannot do until you yourself have used and experienced the attacking products

You are under attack; what do you do? How do you respond? The first response is always, almost always, tactical in nature; given that most managers do not become aware of the full nature of the threat until much later. These tactical responses are also vital – they buy vital time, defend counters, markets; ensure continued robust cash-flows, and thus cannot be discounted. But the strategic response needs to be properly thought about. What can that be in such  a difficult terrain? The answer – the core attacking army itself. You need to understand and highlight weaknesses in the Patanjali armour that can be attacked.

Let me take myself as an example : I personally do not like at least two products from the Patanjali stable – a bathing soap I have used, and its toothpaste. The reason? In the soap, its lathering is not very efficient, and lacks satisfaction for me; and secondly its perfume isn’t to my liking. In the toothpaste, I lack the freshness quotient that other toothpastes give me for long after brushing, giving a nice tangy fresh aftertaste that lingers for a long time. Note that both these are clear examples of core product benefits. That is what is needed : highlight weaknesses in the core product benefits from the Brand Patanjali.

The Patanjali Brand has used a very emotive and powerful appeal; that is why attacking it on its strength areas is not the answer. Your health or ayurved products will like as not do nothing; for two simple reasons – you lack the perception in the consumers’ minds, and the related associations. And two, there are other brands and products that offer similar benefits, and have done so for long. You have to accept that your Brand is going to lose some space – frankly, you have no option but to take your losses, and try to minimize using tactical measures like line extensions, discounts, trade maneuvers etc.

Identify specific areas to concentrate on – not on emotive or psychographic segmentation etc; but on hard-core product usage and benefits, like lathering of the soap, its perfume, the aftertaste of the toothpaste, effective cleaning of stains, and so and so forth. Consumer dissatisfaction, if and when it emerges, will start from core areas of product benefit. Why is the consumer using the product {not the brand}; what benefits is it giving? Are you able to identify current or future products that can beat the competitor Patanjali?

While you are advertising health, or beauty, or cleanliness, is the customer buying into your Brand communication? It is feasible that most consumers equate all soaps with cleanliness, meaning there is a chance that your pitch is getting fuzzy by the time it reaches the customers / consumers. Maybe they look at perfume, packaging attractiveness, pricing, or indeed lathering and smoothness as key benefits! The quick rise of the competitor is equally an strong indictment of the disconnect of your overall communication {I said communication, not advertising alone – communication is much  wider} with the target market!

Logic is the only answer to a strong emotive appeal and pitch; that, and time. Many people, or rather critics, have stated that quality needs looking at, etc. What will that achieve? In my opinion, focusing too much on alleged poor quality is counterproductive, as the target market is not going to buy into your pitch, seeing it as a vested one – given the emotive appeal in the background. And do remember  that typically quality is  a price-quality trade-off and not an absolute statement in itself.

The precise response can then be formulated on the back of extensive research on consumer usage experience of the competitor products from consumer samples drawn from all geographies and relevant demographic profiles; it may be expensive, but warranted as the choices and perceptions of consumers vary widely. Small samples wont do, regardless of what the statistical theory says regarding effectivity and representativeness of samples. My gut feel is multiple studies across target markets.

Thus, meeting core consumer needs and giving solutions to their needs is the way forward; understanding where Patanjali is not being as good as you can be. Be prepared to lose a little, so that it gives you learning and flexibility to launch a counter-attack at the appropriate occasion.  That, and as I noted above – time. If the attacking product is not meeting market expectations, your continued and steady focus on basics is bound to pay rich dividends, especially if combined with effective tactical responses to arising situations and a strong tactical defense. In short – back to the drawing board, and your first-year  Kotler book and basics in marketing and management… only basics are the answer in an emotionally charged atmosphere as is the current marketing case we are studying!


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