While staying true to its herbal roots, Lotus Herbals has launched a range of new products and entered into categories such as baby care range, professional makeup range and is now targeting the millenials with IKKAI, the range of organic skincare products. In conversation with Pitch, Nitin Passi, Joint Managing Director, Lotus Herbals, talks about the brand, talking to millennials in their language and why as a beauty company they are targeting sportspersons and also betting on IPL
When Lotus Herbals started 26 years ago, it was a pioneer in the herbal natural cosmetics space. Since then, the segment has grown dramatically with more players entering. How do you differentiate yourself?
Our biggest differentiator is research and development. We have introduced a range of innovations, in terms of formulas and concepts, which are relevant for our new age customers. For example, 15 years back, we were the first company in the country to introduce sun protection; we tested our products and labelled it with the sun protection factor (SPF) number. Eight years back, we were also the first company to introduce an organic skincare summer product range, Phyto-Rx which is free of preservatives, artificial colours and fragrance. We also pride ourselves in successfully communicating our innovations to the Indian consumers and making them realise the relevance of our product in the subcontinent’s climatic conditions. Our consumers are value sensitive and we provide the best quality product at a very reasonable price. So, innovation and affordability are the two key differentiating factors for Lotus Herbals.
What is your strategy to stay ahead of competition?
Typically, we spend anywhere between Rs 40 and Rs 70 crore on advertising and also spend additionally on promotions. We prefer to take up high impact properties on TV. For example, we were the beauty partners on Indian Idols on Sony Entertainment Television and recently associated with the channel for Super Dancer Chapter 3, which is one of the top three properties on Indian television. For the last couple of years, we have been associated with the The Indian Premier League (IPL) and also sponsored the Delhi Capitals team this year. All these associations have played an important role in increasing the brand awareness level among customers.
The beauty industry is still under penetrated in the country. If you look at the per capita consumption of personal care products, it’s amongst the lowest in world. So, I see tremendous opportunity and when the market grows, I believe we will clearly be a beneficiary by default.
Speaking of IPL, Lotus Herbals recently launched a sunscreen for sportspersons and you also are into sports sponsorships. Why is a cosmetic brand giving this much attention to sports?
Lotus Herbals, as a brand, speaks to millennials. Today, the youngsters in India are health conscious and actively into sports, with marathons, swimming, tennis and soccer gaining huge popularity among the youth. However, the youth are unaware about the damage caused by UV rays. Sportspersons spend a lot of time outdoors and are continuously exposed to UV rays and the normal sun block does not work for them. Professionals take good care of their skin, but the normal kid or any person, who plays is still not using sports sun block. It’s a challenge to educate them and sports sponsorship helps here. Also, IPL is the number one sports property in the county and our association has contributed to the brand visibility.
Do celebrity endorsements contribute to the brand image? Also, who is your current face?
We do a lot of celebrity endorsements and it does contribute to the brand image. Celebrities like Fatima Sana Shaikh, Shilpa Shetty and Huma Qureshi have endorsed Lotus Herbals. In fact, some of them personally our products and if you visit the social media pages of some celebrities, you see that is not only the celebrity but also their family members who use Lotus Herbals and this inspires the consumer too.
Currently, we are in the process of introducing a new face for our brand. She is a big Bollywood face, who stands for a lot of things that Lotus Herbals stands for. She is known to for her healthy lifestyle, she practises yoga, and is an environmentally conscious person who is into natural products.
What is your take on Influencer Marketing?
We take influencer marketing with a pinch of salt. Personally, I’m not a very big fan of paid influencer marketing; unless and until that influencer clearly mentions that it is a sponsored post. There are still no rules in India regulating this sector. On numerous occasions the influencers fake the gratification and this is damaging to their, as well as the brand’s, reputation if their claims are not true. However, despite not being a fan, I know that influencer marketing works and we do tie up with some influencers.
Lotus launched a baby care range called baby+. The theme for that campaign was adoption. What was the strategy behind it?
We wanted to communicate to our consumers that you don’t need to have a biological baby to start a family and that an adopted baby is as important as a biological baby. The mindset of the society needs to evolve. Today, we see a lot of people are having problems conceiving. Also, if you talk about the LGBT community, I’m pretty sure in the next one or two years they will be able to legally adopt babies and raise them as good citizens. As a brand that is pro people, it’s our responsibility to bring forth the changes we would like to see in society; in terms of the thinking, and that is why this campaign was developed.
This was a cause marketing campaign. Today, how important it is for a brand to associate itself with a cause?
Cause marketing is very important for beauty brands, especially because there is so much of science involved. For a campaign to appeal to the consumer, it must emotionally connect with them. Beauty is not just about the physical aspect but also about emotions. From that perspective cause marketing is probably the most important element in the marketing mix. Looking ahead, we will focusing a lot more on cause marketing versus the conventional product marketing.
You launched a professional makeup range called Proedit. What was the reason behind going into professional range?
What we observed in makeup was that basically, the customers loved our products, but they wanted a certain kind of expertise. Consumers found our products to be good but believed that we were not experts. So we collaborated with some international makeup experts, and developed the Proedit range. This is a fantastic range for the consumers and is priced keeping affordability in mind and I believe that Proedit is going to be a big success.
What was the strategy behind the launch of IKKAI?
Few years back, we found that most brands don’t talk to the millennials in their language and also don’t stand for things that they believe in. Most skincare brands, including ours, have been around for a few decades and have been used by people who are 25 years and above. Young adults, aged 16-21, starting their professional career do not relate to these brands. That’s because these brands are either on the science platform or an emotive platform, but they are not on the youth platform.
Internationally, many brands are talking to the youth in a very different language and they have a very strong product side story. IKKAI was built on the same fundamentals, understanding that the youth want something different, something affordable, but at the same time, a product that was organic, natural that they could relate to. That’s the reason we coined the phrase “fun organics mission” or “fun organic beauty”, this was the genesis of brand IKKAI.
Do you plan to extend beyond beauty and possibly venture into the wellness segment in the near future?
The lines between beauty and wellness is getting blurred. Beauty is no longer just physical, it’s also a state of mind, and your own sense of well being. At the moment, we still not in services and just do the product marketing but we have many that are being developed keeping the overall wellness of consumers in mind.
What is your growth strategy looking ahead? Are you looking at organic or inorganic growth?
Our growth strategy is based on multiple pillars. We are expanding our product portfolio distribution and are exploring new age channels of sales, which is in digital and e-commerce. We are also looking at directly reaching out to the consumer through our own website and other channels.
Every company has two kinds growth strategy, organic and inorganic. Acquisition is part of our in-organic strategy to grow the business. As and when we feel there is a right fit we will definitely pursue it and will make an announcement at the right time.