Pitch CMO Summit 2010 : Case Study – Wagon R

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Shifting Gears

Shashank Srivastava

Brand:  Wagon R

Case Study: Repositioning to stay relevant        to an evolving audience

Presented by: Shashank Srivastava,  Chief General  Manager, Marketing,  Maruti Suzuki


The challenge
Threat from competition
With increasing competition Maruti Suzuki’s leadership position was threatened with the successful entry of the Korean auto-brand Hyundai (in 1998) in India. In fact, in 2001, Hyundai Santro became the second largest selling car in the country, outshining Maruti’s Zen.  Maruti Suzuki, thus, realised that Zen alone cannot dominate the A2 segment, which was (and continues to be) the largest in the Passenger Vehicle market. The company then launched Wagon R as a flanker to take on competition.  The challenge for this brand -  launched in December 1999 – has been to stay relevant to the changing consumer mindset and attain and maintain leadership in the A2 segment (A2 segment currently accounts for around 65 per cent of the two million cars sold annually).

When Maruti Suzuki saw Hyundai’s tall boy Santro gaining acceptance in India, it launched its own tall boy Wagon R. Initially, the car didn’t do well and there were very few takers for it.

Growing tall
But the team at Maruti didn’t lose hope.  In 2003, Maruti brought in some product changes  in Wagon R and an year later, repositioned it as a car for smart people. This became the turning point for brand Wagon R. Since then, it has been continuously reinvented in terms of product and positioning to stay relevant to the target audience and maintain its footing in the competitive environment.

In the initial three to four years, Wagon R’s positioning was changed quite frequently. The brand Wagon R began its journey as a ‘Car full of ideas’. The following year it was positioned as a multi activity vehicle (MAV). But even that couldn’t change things for Wagon R. In 2001, the company again changed the brand’s positioning to ‘Interesting people inspired engineering’. But none of this really worked any wonder for Wagon R and it kept lagging behind Hyundai’s Santro.

Strategy and implementation
Staying relevant
The turning point came in 2004. The company realised that Wagon R’s core consumers were informed buyers who looked for quality, engineering and utility rather than just the looks of the car. Thus, Wagon R was repositioned as a car ‘For the Smarter Race’.

It is important to note here that prior to this Wagon R’s positioning was focused on the product. But this was the first time when the marketing mentors of the car made its positioning people oriented. Hence, MAV positioning was replaced by ‘SMART’ as a proposition. This really clicked with the consumers and the brand really took off from here. It gained traction in sales and consumer response and started rising to a leadership position. Along with the positioning change, changes at product level were also kept intact to meet the customers’ changing needs.  The launch of Wagon R DUO (in 2006), which was marketed as India’s first car with duel fuel option, is an example of that.

But as the brand sales were zooming northwards, so was the competition. There was an influx of brands in the segment: Tata Indica Vista , the new Santro and even Estello and A-star from Maruti’s own stable. There were more choices for the consumers and Wagon R was seen as an aging brand. It couldn’t match the competition on features. The problem was that Wagon R’s hardware wasn’t smart enough. Hence, the smartness criteria wasn’t relevant as communication platform. To tackle this, the company launched brand upgrades. But given the product, there was again a need to revitalise the brand and since Wagon R was the leader in sales, it was repositioned as ‘The Leader’.

Soon, the company realised that the leadership proposition based on sales will not be sufficient. There was a need for a long term perspective on the brand. That’s what brought the transition from fact based leadership to thought leadership. And in 2008-09, Wagon R launched the ‘Think Big’ campaign to reposition itself as thought leader. Also, for the first time a celebrity (R Madhavan) was roped-in to create extra buzz. Note that, this is the time when most of the auto brands had a celeb on board. Shahrukh Khan has always been the face of Hyundai, Toyota had Amir Khan, Chevrolet had Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee. Compared to this, Madhavan looks a little odd choice, but it was a well thought strategy. Madhavan helped Wagon R to gain momentum in South India, where this tall boy wasn’t as tall as in the rest of the country.

But if time changed fast earlier, it’s changing faster now! And so is the consumer! India is becoming younger by the day. The average age of a car buyer today is 33 years as against 39 years in 2002. And it’s going down further! The car buyer today has higher aspirations, esteem and status needs. The consumer wants not just a performing car but something that reflects style and sophistication. A car that gives a feeling of indulgence. To match this new consumer voice, Maruti launched the all new Wagon R in 2010. It has an additional dimension of luxury along with comfort, and the new positioning of ‘The Blue Eyed Boy’. The strategy is to build the ‘Flaunt Value’ of the brand emanating from the additional dimension of luxury for the new model

The results
The No 1 crown
The continuous repositioning of Wagon R ensured that it remains relevant to its consumers. With a slow start in 1999, it gradually paced up and became the most selling car in the category in 2007-08, outshining Hyundai’s Santro.
Reported by – Pallavi Srivastava

About the author / 

Abhinav Mohapatra

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