Maruti Suzuki: India’s top car maker looks to shed its value-for-money tag

Armed with young brand ambassadors, newer retail formats and the technological edge, the automobile major hopes to shed its ‘value for money’ image.

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Furthermore, the share of digital in the company’s media mix has increased exponentially.

Maruti Suzuki India’s (MSIL) premium dealership format, Nexa, has had a successful run in the market. The automobile company is further strengthening its distribution moat by revamping its dealerships on three parameters — technology, design and customer experience. MSIL is upgrading its existing dealerships to the Arena format — aimed at facilitating a dynamic, trendy, social and connected car buying experience — and migrating its pre-owned car network to the new True Value format, which focusses on first-time buyers. In the last one year, it has opened 184 Arena showrooms and 180 True Value outlets. The company has also sharpened its focus on the mass segment and the youth.

“Splitting Nexa and Arena is a great strategy,” notes Amit Kaushik, MD (India), Urban Science, a Detroit-based auto consultancy firm. “MSIL’s real strength has been in the mass segment. This is a timely upgradation of the retail channels catering to this segment and also shows its promptness towards dealing with the competition.” To appeal to young buyers, the company has, for the first time, roped in younger brand ambassadors. Actors Varun Dhawan and Rajkummar Rao endorse Arena and True Value, respectively. However, portraying a ‘young’ image does not come easily for a 35-year-old brand.

“Most of our young customers are third-generation buyers. Their expectations are different. Also, with competition coming in, consumers are becoming discerning. That is why we are changing our marketing and retail experience for young and evolved buyers,” says RS Kalsi, senior executive director (sales and marketing), MSIL. A significant portion of MSIL’s sales comes from its loyal customer base. The upgradation of existing channels is aimed at attracting new buyers, according to analysts, but MSIL perhaps needs more work on its marketing and product strategy to appeal to the youth — a segment that is not loyal to any brand. In fact, experts estimate that 70-75% of True Value customers upgrade to new vehicles in one or two years.

It’s all about the experience

Most OEMs — be it Mahindra, Hyundai or Tata Motors — are working towards creating an engaging customer experience. For example, Hyundai Motors plans to introduce experiential retail in all its showrooms in India under its Global Dealership Space Identity programme. With nearly 75% car buyers in India researching online before they decide on a purchase, providing a seamless online and offline experience will be key. At Maruti Suzuki Arena, customers who register on the website can start their journey seamlessly at the showroom by entering their mobile number on the navigation portal. The showrooms are equipped with car configurators to enable customers to electronically personalise cars by mixing and matching accessories. “More than 184 out of 2,211 showrooms have been upgraded to Arena. In two years, we plan to upgrade all our showrooms,” Kalsi informs.

Product portfolio and reach are MSIL’s core strength. “Maruti Suzuki has close to 2,500 sales points; Hyundai has around 700, while Tata Motors has around 600,” notes Kaushik, adding that the dependence on real showrooms will lessen with the adoption of digital, and concepts like pop-up stores and virtual showrooms will gain prominence.

Changing marketing lingo

Apart from getting young brand ambassadors aboard, MSIL has a renewed focus on design, technology and engineering. The strategy seems to be working. N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research, says, “The four retail channels of MSIL (Nexa, Arena, True Value and Commercial) are very good ways of creating specific environments for the target audiences to engage and experience the brand. Having Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan and Rajkummar Rao as ambassadors helps build better stickiness, which the Nexa success has already proven.”

Furthermore, the share of digital in the company’s media mix has increased exponentially. “Earlier, the focus was more on TV and print, but we are now looking at one-to-one communication with consumers, focussing on platforms like YouTube and OTT,” Kalsi shares. For example, it is looking at more efforts like The Alto Story video ad that ran on YouTube last year. “The aim is to change the positioning in the mass segment from ‘value for money’ to style, technology, engineering and dynamism as the core pillars.”

The big challenge for MSIL, experts say, will be to meet the changing customer expectations. “It is not just about selling the product based on features; it is about supplementing consumer lifestyles. The challenge will be to shift from a product-based selling approach to experiential selling. Being a big company, implementing this shift would be tough for Maruti,” says Kaushik Madhavan, VP, mobility practice (automotive and transportation), Frost & Sullivan.

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