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Pitch CMO Summit 2011: Dettol – Sustaining a cult

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In the Rs 130,000-crore FMCG sector, Reckitt Benckiser is a key player with its cult brands like Dettol, Cherry Blossom, Disprin, Mortein, Durex, Colin, Harpic etc dominating the market. These brands have maintained their cult status over decades despite the changing Indian consumer preferences.

The challenge
In his 27-year long stint with RB, Chander Mohan Sethi,  Managing Director Reckitt Benckiser (India), has played a key role in driving these brands. At the Pitch CMO Summit 2011, Sethi talked about the challenge of keeping cult brands relevant to ever changing consumers.

But the cult brand picture is not all mushy. “Creating cult brands is difficult, sustaining a cult brand is Herculean.” He elaborates on the same by sharing the challenges that cult brands face. Clutter, competition and changing consumers make the task of marketers rather tough.

So for keeping cult brands relevant it is important to understand what makes these brands click with consumers.  For any brand to attain the status of a cult brand it is important to forge a human connection with the consumer by fulfilling their human needs (safety, social, esteem, self-actualization) and leveraging the higher-level needs.

Strategy & Implementation
Talking about cult brands, Sethi said, “Brands are spheres of influence, and the most strong, magnetic brands win in the marketplace. They get repeatedly chosen over the competition, not once or twice, but week after week, year after year. Cult brands win over generations that’s why they are cult.”

 

Chander Mohan Sethi, Chairman & Managing Director, Reckitt Benckiser

Continuous evolution
So what are the challenges in keeping a brand relevant over generations? “Challenge in keeping cult brands relevant is the changing consumer and what the consumer wants today and tomorrow,” says Sethi. For keeping cult brands relevant it is important to keep evolving as per the changing consumer needs but at the same time it is important to not move away from the core values of the brand.

So the perspective is that every marketer wants to bring a change but the question is what should be that change and how far a marketer should go away from the original knitting of the brand.

Sethi picked up the case-study of Dettol to explain what it takes to keep cult brands alive. Dettol came to India 78 years back. The brand started its journey in 1933 as an antiseptic liquid for cuts and wounds used in hospitals.

From there it has taken various forms such as bar soap, liquid hand-wash, shaving cream to hand hand sanitizer to cater to the changing needs of consumers. But even then, the core promise of the brand has remained the same that it fights germs and is best in doing so.

In Sethi’s words, “You have to modernise your brand but at the same time you have to be able to link back with the core essence of the brand.”

Strong Resonance and Brand Equity
Also to stay cult, a brand needs to build strong resonance with consumer and also have a very strong brand
equity over decades.

“Cult brands build resonance with consumers”, says Sethi, adding, “and Dettol has been doing exactly that.” To build resonance for brand Dettol, both rational as well as emotional routes have been taken. So on the rational aspect, it has been positioned as an antiseptic which is an effective purifier and cleanser. On the emotional aspect Dettol stands for trust. This rational and emotional impact together has made brand Dettol a trusted champion of health and that’s what consumer resonate it with.

Formidable brand equity is another very key element in building a cult brand and ensuring its relevance. A strong brand equity is a function of multiple things including strong and distinctive positioning, consistency in promise and in its delivery, holistic marketing activities, brand symbols, brand relevance, besides others. Take the case of Dettol: Dettol advertising, started in the 1960s, focused on educating families on the need for protection from germs while offering a solution to manage the problem of germs whenever and where ever they can. From the very first campaign of Dettol, till today, every campaign of the brand has a mother protecting her family. And this is maintained across board including TV & print campaigns, TV shows, outdoor activities etc.

Dettol’s brand elements have played a key role in further strengthening its brand equity. The name, slogan, symbols and the multi sensorial experience help the brand to reiterate its position as a brand that can constantly be trusted.

Laddering up
Along with changing times it is also important for cult brands to ladder up the value chain. Sighting Dettol’s case, Sethi says that the brand’s marketing effort was transformed from focusing on the brand to focusing on the customer. So, over time the emphasis for cult brands move from depiction of functional attributes/uniqueness to how the target consumer feels as a result.

Also being niche, aspirational and inspiring consumer’s lifestyle helps a brand carve its own niche in the consumer’s life and helps it achieve the cult status.

Results
And in the end, a cult brand benefits any marketer in many ways including:  consumers’ devotion, repeat usage, premium pricing and advocacy of the brand by users that lend to the charm of the cult brand.

In case of Dettol, one can easily say that from a brand initially used for cuts and wounds has today successfully evolved as a brand that has a place in every home in various forms.

About the author / 

Abhinav Mohapatra

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