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Marketing: A Different-iation Ball Game

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Established in 1980, JG Hosiery is an apparel manufacturer with popular brands Macho, Amul Comfy, Sporto and Zoiro under its umbrella. Through its gamut of offerings, JG Hosiery has been providing its customers both good quality products and value for their money. The company has also launched its lifestyle retail division that caters exclusively to both Sporto and Zoiro. Its athleisure brand Sporto caters to the mid-premium market. Recently, Sporto innovated on the popular polo t-shirt to launch, what it claims, is ‘the perfect polo’, after having researched and worked on a number of aspects, creating an absolutely wrinkle-free material with great colour retention properties, and a modern fit & design, especially around the neck area. We spoke to Ninad Umargekar, Chief Marketing Officer, JG Hosiery, to understand what went into identifying issues that existed with the polo t-shirts available in the market and how they envisioned creating ‘the perfect polo’.

“The journey began with making our polo t-shirts better than everything in the market. We realised that there were quite a few brands that had polo t-shirts available around the Rs500 price point, and there were brands that had them available at a price point of around Rs1,000. At the price point between Rs500 and Rs1,000 there wasn’t really any brand that had full ownership of the polo t-shirt. The other opportunity was that this is a year-round product. So we identified the places where we could truly improve the product and make it look even better,” he says. In the new & improved polo t-shirt, the material and width of the collar have been altered to ensure it never bends at the edges; the width of the placket has been narrowed down to give the t-shirt a slimmer profile and the length of the garment has also been altered to suit all body sizes.

Ninad, a business and brand strategy leader, has two decades of experience in building brands and delivering strategic business growth. He helps us understand how, over the years, the marketing dashboard of brands has evolved and what has worked best for JG Hosiery. “We have traditionally been an innerwear company, and a mass market innerwear company at that. What has worked very well for us is understanding how to create that one big splash in marketing via a television campaign, apart from keeping a stronghold on the retail network, the multi-brand outlet network and doing good branding within those outlets. But, the moment we got into athleisure, fashion marketing was very different. Athleisure may have started off as being purely functional but today, athleisure is fashion. Fashion marketing is extremely visual driven, so that is something that we’re changing about ourselves, starting with what our packaging will look like or what the brand narrative is going to be. Sporto’s campaigns are visually driven; they are very young and vibrant,” the CMO says.

Sporto showcases its collection at India Fashion Forum 2022

He believes that fashion marketing is different in the sense that it does not depend on that one big consumer insight-based communication as is prevalent in other categories. Differentiation in fashion is created mainly through how the brand looks. Most consumers in fashion buy a product if they like what they see and not what they hear. Ninad says that it is also crucial for fashion brands to know the right channels for marketing. “It’s important that you have your own channels. Being present in a multi-brand outlet isn’t really important from a fashion point of view because a multi-brand outlet is where clothes are just stacked. It works very well for the underwear market because that product is packed in a box and those boxes are stacked in those multi-brand outlets. And customers who walk in know exactly what they want or are at least close to knowing exactly what they want. There isn’t much interaction and experience. It’s important that we create experience because fashion needs people to spend time looking at colours, looking at shapes of the garment, looking at what fits them best or what colour looks good on them. That experience, unfortunately, is very difficult to create inside those small multi-brand outlets present in the local bazaars. So we’ve started the journey to make our own exclusive brand outlets. We’ve also embarked on the journey to push harder on large-format stores,” says Ninad.

“Being present in a multi-brand outlet isn’t really important from a fashion point of view because a multi-brand outlet is where clothes are just stacked. It works very well for the underwear market”

He adds that across India, especially in smaller towns, there are a lot of large-format stores coming up because one, rentals are very high in bigger cities and two, bigger cities have become saturated. Retail entrepreneurs have thus realised that large-format stores in smaller towns are a big opportunity. JG Hosiery is also looking to push hard on its digital marketing channels this year.

Challenges Today’s CMOs Face
Fashion marketing is not bereft of challenges. Ninad believes that like every other category, at a basic level, fashion, too, faces the challenge of relevance as well as differentiation. And if you plot any marketing initiative for any brand on these two axes and you are in the top right corner, you’re a winner. “Fashion has always been about differentiation more than relevance because relevance can be achieved when you create an acceptable garment. I think the fight is more about creating differentiation for the brand as well as the product. The digital marketing game is getting very challenging with the discounting culture almost throughout the year. Now consumers just don’t buy if there are no discounts. That is a big problem; you’re diluting your own brand by doing that. Hence, maintaining the equity of the brand has become a huge challenge. The other challenge on the digital front is that its return on investment (ROI) is becoming poor. You have to spend a lot more now to get the return you once enjoyed,” he explains. Thus, building a digital-first brand that assures good ROI has become a big challenge.

“Fashion has always been about differentiation more than relevance because relevance can be achieved when you create an acceptable garment. I think the fight is more about creating differentiation for the brand as well as the product”

The formula earlier may have been cracking a television commercial that would help build the brand, but that formula has now disappeared, believes Ninad. Today, digital marketing is also not only about creating content, but creating content that is highly relevant and highly differentiating continuously or at least more frequently.

Customer or Competitor: What drives Marketing?
Ninad says that for JG Hosiery, marketing is primarily need driven. “We do a market research for all our launches. We also do market research for opportunity tapping. So, these are the two key driving principles for our market research. When you think about it, it is also our sales team and/ or our visual merchandising team that does market research for us. They go out and collect data constantly. You can’t do just one research study once a year; it has to be done continuously and that’s what we do. But, our approach to market research is largely opportunity spotting than anything else,” he shares.

Lastly, fashion is something that will never die but keep on evolving. “We’ve got to be on our toes and we’ve got to ensure that we are ready for the future and we are doing everything possible constantly to stay in consumers’ hearts,” concludes Ninad.