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Time to change ‘just a mobile brand’ perception: Spice Global’s Chhavi Leekha

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Chhavi Leekha, Group President, Brand and Corporate Communications, Spice Global

Chhavi Leekha, Group President, Brand and Corporate Communications, Spice Global

A conglomerate claiming to serve more than 2.5 crore customers across the world in sectors like Mobility, Finance, Healthcare, Entertainment, Reality and Hospitality, Spice Global has many brands such as Saholic, Wall Street Finance, Saket City Hospital and Si2i that are used but unknown to the consumer to be a part of this giant. Chhavi Leekha, Group President, Brand and Corporate Communications, Spice Global throws light upon the different verticals Spice Global has, its journey and its future plans for the country.
What is Spice Global’s marketing strategy in the country, taking its various subsidiaries into consideration?
Our role and marketing syndication is all about strategic and process reorientation of the group’s perspective in the market. Most of the people and stakeholders have seen us as a mobile-phone led group; that is a perception that has to be changed, altered or expanded. Spice is in a lot of other areas: finance, entertainment, hospitality and our role has been to give an entire cohesive look and feel about the company to the market and its stakeholders. We have looked at all channels, old and new media, leverage and cross leverage it at the same time to ensure that we are talking about this synergised look of the company. Spice is not just a mobility company anymore and the world needs to know about it.

Can you throw more light on your ‘process reorientation’?
We mean to have a centralised umbrella company, Spice Global, that would be recognised internally and externally. The reorientation process is already underway. Initially, nobody knew Spice Global as an umbrella company. Today there is a website that we have, that tells people that there a centralised corporate company that sits on top and takes care of all these verticals and there is a whole process and thought behind doing what we are doing in the areas we are in.

Is mobility where you started from? What has been Spice’s Journey?
Spice per se has been a Dr BK Modi venture and Modis have been big in India from a pre-independence era. Yes, we started from the mobility area, we were a network company called Spicecom which is there in Punjab and Karnataka. In 2008, we sold those off and when the country was moving to 3G we decided to move away from that arena. We have moved to a different segment of mobility now: Devices, VAS and Applications. We felt that there is enough mass and meat there to grow expand and bring in innovation. We have also rebranded our logo recently. It is for giving the company a renewed vigorous look, the 3D rendition is for the people to know that we are a futuristic company looking into bringing in technologies, services and solutions, which are future based. We are trying to foresee what the customer wants and moving forward, try and fulfil them.

What would be your communication strategy for letting people know about your different verticals?
We use the regular communication channels but we cross leverage a lot of our resources, internally; using the devices that we have on the mobility side, using the M-health option, cross leveraging across the company and also new media. This is where we reach out to our stakeholders and say that we have changed and are here to service your needs. Others of course have been traditional media going out and talking to people, annual reports mailers etc. We haven’t really done a Spice Global ad campaign and that does not make sense. Today, we are an investment firm and we need our key stakeholders to know that we exist. We do a lot of digital medium communication and that is where our forte lies.

How do you localise content in other countries where you have a presence?
We are a home grown company, but Spice Global is from Singapore. The company went into a pan India to a pan Asia mode in 2008-09 when we moved away from the network communication business to leverage our Apps and VAS. That is when we moved from India to be an I to I (Indonesia to Ivory Coast) company. We acquired key brands in these countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. For example in Indonesia, we picked up Nexian and we worked and joined hands with the local players to establish further foothold. We have picked up key brands in these areas and we have worked with them as partners to establish ourselves in those countries.

How do you position yourself in the market today in terms of the perception of your stakeholders?
Spice Global is an investment firm, which does smart investments in areas that show promise and would add to the future of the country and the globe for that matter. For example in India, healthcare is a big lacuna. We saw scope in that and had a prime property lying with us in the heart of the Delhi city in Saket. Hence, we decided to move that into a world class hospital, leveraging technologies across the world bringing them here so that people have great medical facility. Yes it made business sense but it made social sense also. Similarly, in entertainment, in a Bollywood crazy country, we launched Spice-Studios and co-produced ‘Oh My God’ last year and are soon going to launch a TV series. There are other opportunities like Spice-Cinemas, which makes business sense but also provides a need to the Indian masses. Moving onto the finance side, we have Wall Street Finance and are also applying for a banking license. We look at a smart investment, so we pick and chose potential areas, some of which are led by us or they are our companies, but others, that are in markets like Thailand and Indonesia, where we joined hands with them and went into the market.

From a lay man’s view realty, finance, hospitality can be linked to an investment fund as you mentioned, but where does mobility come in?
Some of it I would say is lineage because it is comes to us through Spicecom, which was into mobility. We are coming from a networking background but moving into devices. For example we are joining hands with Cool-Pad from China and bringing Android led smartphones in India. Similarly, in VAS we are developing applications and have customers who are mobile operators. Similary, the retail store, Spice HotSpot doesn’t retail only Spice handsets; it has different brands.

Do you have a consolidated marketing budget or a separate budget for every vertical?
All of them being separate body entities have a separate body budget, which are planned as per their resources – what they want to spend and what kind of inflow do they see. Certain percentage of that they dedicate to the marketing. Every vertical is very different but it would be right to say that it is somewhere between one to two per cent. The maximum spends depends on the lifecycle of that vertical. Today, if Saket city needs investment for it to be built up, you will see marketing dollars going there, in comparison to digital which is established and is done with its initial bit of marketing.

In India who would be your core target audience in lieu of your various verticals?
For mobility we would be looking at Tier I, II; when we get smartphones we would be looking at Class A Tier I, SEC A and B. Our devices start at Rs 1,500, we also look at SEC C in Tier II and III cities, rural areas would be big consumers for me. Like for the Saket city hospital, I would be reaching out to the top echelons. While my trust my GMMH would be looking to provide charitable amenities to low income class people. Entertainment is a free for all, it is spread out.

Does having so many verticals create a clutter amongst your consumers?
I wouldn’t say so, today you have got Tata steel, Tata cars etc, it still got the Tata stamp which signifies trust. Each of these verticals have their core competencies and values and while we maybe in segregated areas, people do not necessarily see a synergy of ideas but they might see synergy when a brand stands for FIVEO (fearless, Imaginative, Vibrant, Energetic and an Open brand) and you will see this idea permeating across all these verticals. Beyond that, is the brand’s autonomy.

You have a lot of brands in the market that people don’t know, how do you create a connect with Spice Global as an umbrella corporation for all these brands?
When I came in, my first job was to let people know what we are and stand for. What all belongs to the company, we are slowly getting there. It has been a long journey and I would say that we are 60 per cent there, still a 40 per cent gap left to be covered. We are slowly rebranding and synergising our brands. There are times when you take a brand forward and times when you hold them back.

Talking from an international perspective, where does India stand in Spice Global’s eyes?
I would say India is the heart of the business, that is where it started and that is where it resides. Mobility is the one that we have been able to permeate different markets wit,h but the rest of the business is still sitting here. But yes moving forward we are moving towards international tie ups, talks are on for the healthcare sector, entertainment sector. Slowly and steadily the aim would be to permeate other businesses into international markets.

Which are the markets you are focusing at right now?
We are into Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia already. Singapore is big for us because we are listed there and Philippines and adjoining markets are important. In the near future, ASEAN is the right descriptor. For Middle East, there have been some talks, again in the mobility vertical. I don’t think we are interested in the west; we have let the west handle the west. We see our core strength in the ASEAN market which we understand and have operated in this market.

How are you leveraging the digital platform for marketing?
There is a huge scope of digital, anybody can use a clever hash tag to vote, connect, popularise and there is no limit to what you can do with that. When you cross leverage that with your traditional media, you have an ad running on TV and then you can provide a Twitter handle where people can comment. It is like using all aspects of communication together. That for any marketer is important. We are on twitter, we have a YouTube channel, we have Facebook which we are slowly building on and we have launched a new website which is a one stop shop for the entire company.

Mobile marketing is big now, how are you leveraging that, since you have a stronghold in the Mobility business?
More than mobile advertising we are using mobile app led marketing. From a mobility aspect reaching out to your mobile customers is the easiest thing to do. There are specific apps that connect users to us. For example Saholic, which is our property on the digital, is where you can buy apps and devices. We use channels digitally that can be used by all mobile operators.

Do you focus on ATL more or BTL?
It is a mix of both for example, mobility does a mix of both, Saket City is ATL; also Realty and Finance would be BTL. It all depends on the vertical.

Mobility is known more than any other vertical, what is the chunk of business it brings to the pie?
1-2 per cent is the spends in marketing and since mobility is big, the 1-2 per cent out of the revenue is also big. Having said that, the major portion of the revenues still comes from mobility since other ventures are still in a nascent stage and are in the process of establishing themselves in their domains.

What are the future plans for Spice Global?
From the entertainment side, we are tying up with Alt Group that will bring the ultra luxury night club called pangaea to India. We are getting into TV serials and also tying up with an oriental fine dining restaurant called ‘Nom Nom’ which we will launch in India. As far as technology goes, we have tied up with Formation8 for strategic investments in start-ups and technology driven companies. On the financial side, we are going in for a banking license. The devices side, we are tying up with Cool-Pad which is the third largest handset manufacturer in China, which we will bring as joint partners to India.

What would be your key challenges in the Indian market today?
It is not only in the Indian market but it s the ever growing evolving taste of the consumer, especially a growing field like mobility. Every device becomes old the moment I buy it. It is not a challenge per se, but it is something that keeps all the companies on their toes. The other challenge is getting people to know our brands. I do see the curve moving up but it is a long journey. Lastly, the environment that the government creates is a bit challenging with paperwork and permits pending with elections coming up soon.

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