Uma Tal­reja

The Brand Reporter - - EDITORIAL / CONTENTS - shweta.mulki@afaqs.com

With 19 years in re­tail, Tal­reja, who is now the chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer at Shop­pers Stop, knows this game well. “In re­tail, the best time to un­der­stand con­sumers is the week­end,” she says.

On a Sun­day morn­ing, Uma Tal­reja is in the midst of su­per­vis­ing a shoot for Shop­pers Stop’s lat­est fes­tive cam­paign. She’s used to such ‘on-duty Sun­days’. “In re­tail, the best time to un­der­stand con­sumers is the week­end,” she smiles. With 19 years in re­tail, Tal­reja, who is now the chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer at Shop­pers Stop, knows this game well. Be­fore this, Tal­reja was di­rec­tor of strat­egy and chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer at Ray­mond - helm­ing its dig­i­tal jour­ney.

Tal­reja’s other stints in­clude be­ing the mar­ket­ing head at Burger King and Trent (West­side), as well as brand head for Aditya Birla’s ‘more’ super­mar­kets. She be­gan her ca­reer as a prod­uct man­ager at Shaw Wal­lace in 1999, and joined Shop­pers Stop in 2002 in mar­com - spend­ing over five years in the com­pany. It’s full cir­cle now.

“There is pos­i­tive nostal­gia for the brand - the ques­tion is when new gen­er­a­tions en­ter this brand, how will that nostal­gia cre­ate a kind of trustee­ship rel­e­vant to the next gen­er­a­tion?” won­ders Tal­reja. Shweta Mulki caught up with her to talk re­tail. Edited Ex­cerpts:

Con­sumer data in the dig­i­tal era - how do you in­ter­pret it to­day ver­sus a decade ago?

Firstly, in a busi­ness where you are manag­ing a con­sumer brand, that data is very dif­fer­ent from a busi­ness where one is a con­sumer touch point. I’m an in­sight and con­sumer-cen­tric­ity per­son. At Shop­pers Stop ear­lier, I learnt to put the con­sumer at the heart of the busi­ness - that re­quires data-driven think­ing. While re­search can give you di­rec­tional in­put (what con­sumers are say­ing/think­ing), you have to merge that with real data to see the story in the num­bers.

What’s changed is that you now map the con­sumer in a con­tin­uum, as they switch be­tween off­line to on­line and be­tween search/ so­cial/re­search/shop­ping. And you need to add con­sumer speak (from own and ex­ter­nal chan­nels) and use it to drive in­no­va­tion. It’s like be­ing on an ob­sta­cle course - rac­ing against com­pe­ti­tion and things be­ing flung at you si­mul­ta­ne­ously by con­sumers. You are try­ing to lead the con­sumer in a time when the con­sumer is ahead of you!

As CMO of Burger King, you over­saw its launch ops in In­dia and put up its ‘Whop­per’ burger on eBay (a global-first in­no­va­tion), how was the launch ex­pe­ri­ence?

Launch­ing an iconic global brand in In­dia, it was im­por­tant to recog­nise and recre­ate that ‘brand love’ here. Burger King was bring­ing in a set of prod­ucts and how to lo­calise some­thing like the Whop­per’ with equal re­spect for the brand’s es­sen­tial val­ues and the con­sumer, was a big learn­ing. Sec­ondly, this cat­e­gory is about ‘real ex­pe­ri­ence’ - you con­sume it in­ti­mately (like make-up). In this space, peo­ple queu­ing up dur­ing launch was a thing, but we wanted cus­tomers to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence - not wait in end­less queues. In QSR, kitchens are struc­tured to a cer­tain process - we fig­ured out op­er­a­tions and made full-ca­pac­ity cal­cu­la­tions (how many burg­ers could we make in a day). I then de­cided to ser­vice that sup­ply, by sell­ing it in ad­vance on­line. eBay bought into the idea and it was sold-out in a day. We had a launch cam­paign, but here I was only solv­ing a prob­lem.

At Ray­mond, how was the ex­pe­ri­ence of tak­ing a legacy brand onto its dig­i­tal roadmap? You launched a site that was ‘a con­sumer-first plat­form, not brand first’...

While Ray­mond is a much-loved con­sumer brand, it was a B2B model; pri­mar­ily sell­ing goods to trade which, in turn, was ser­vic­ing cus­tomers. Us­ing dig­i­tal, we could make that B2B model con­sumer-cen­tric by cre­at­ing a chan­nel that we could own and con­trol. First, we used the web­site as a con­sumer-first plat­form to gain in­sight. Sec­ondly, the fran­chisees had a com­mon billing sys­tem, which we used to launch a sin­gle coali­tion loy­alty pro­gram across the busi­ness. We built a com­plete data ar­chi­tec­ture, mar­ried that to point of sale, gave it the front of a loy­alty pro­gramme for con­sumers, and used that data for fur­ther de­ci­sions.

Shop­pers Stop rev­enues haven’t been great but it’s also on the path to be debt-free by 2019, mainly due to di­vest­ments (Ama­zon’s stake). So is this a turn­around year?

It’s still a tran­si­tion year with al­most all new lead­er­ship. It in­volves fo­cus on pos­i­tive re­sults for our stake­hold­ers, ef­forts to un­der­stand the con­sumer’s ex­pec­ta­tions bet­ter, en­sur­ing our brand mix and prod­uct as­sort­ment, meet re­quire­ments, and redesign­ing mar­ket­ing strat­egy. We have a steady on­line-to-off­line model that we’ll grad­u­ally build to scale. The turn­around will come once we are fully pre­pared for large-scale im­prove­ments.

And omni-chan­nel as a strat­egy, is a given?

What’s im­por­tant is us­ing tech­nol­ogy plat­forms to im­prove con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ence. Omni-chan­nel helps de­liv­ery, avail­abil­ity and con­ve­nience, so ev­ery­one will adopt it, but the dif­fer­en­ti­ated ex­pe­ri­ence you build on top of that is key.

Is ap­parel your main fo­cus and is beauty grow­ing? Also, what’s in store for pri­vate (in-house) brands?

Ap­parel is a sig­nif­i­cant portion of our busi­ness, but non-ap­parel is ris­ing fast and beauty is a crit­i­cal area. We are the num­ber one off­line beauty re­tailer - all part­ner­ships are crit­i­cal here - that in­cludes manag­ing the Es­tee Lauder group re­la­tions in In­dia. As for pri­vate brands, we’d want to change that con­cept to ‘favourite’ brands and cre­ate the same love for it as that of the mas­ter brand.

The black-white brand­ing was dis­tinct once; how do you plan to stand out to­day?

We will re­tain the black and white feel, as the con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tion of ‘mod­ern-so­phis­ti­cated’ is still there. The par­ent brand needs a deeper look and we are ad­dress­ing that. Like ev­ery other brand, we’ve had to lean on sales pro­mo­tions and of­fers, but there’s a shift we are mak­ing to fo­cus on the ‘joy of shop­ping’ - that’ll merge back into strat­egy. Cam­paigns will also fo­cus on new ser­vices like ‘Per­sonal shop­pers’.

How do you ap­proach creative? What are the mes­sag­ing chal­lenges in multi-brand re­tail?

Creative is not just about art and copy, it’s about prob­lem-solv­ing. A great idea means noth­ing if it’s not do­ing some­thing for the cus­tomer. Re­tail is driven by oc­ca­sions and fes­ti­vals - that’s chal­leng­ing but it’s also eas­ier to sched­ule and lad­der that com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“Ap­parel is a sig­nif­i­cant portion of our busi­ness, but non-ap­parel is ris­ing fast and beauty is a crit­i­cal area.”

UMA TAL­REJA

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