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C-SUITE Q&A: Suparna Mitra, Chief Marketing Officer, Titan Company Ltd.

With rising wealth,

Indians buy watches

for special moments

as well as occasions

 

Technology changes all aspects of the business

Suparna Mitra

Chief Marketing Officer

Titan Company Ltd.

 

Titan is a leading marketer of mass-market consumer lifestyle accessories, including watches, jewelry, eyewear, and fragrances. Suparna Mitra has served as the CMO of the Titan watches division for the past two years, and is responsible for product design and technology, product management, and marketing strategy for watches and accessories. Trained as an electrical engineer, she also has an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).

 

CUSTOMERS

 

Who are your key customers?

Women are super important to us. Almost 80 percent of our consumers are women because of the unique nature of the product. Jewelry caters almost 100 percent to women. Sales of watches and eyewear are about half and half, women and men. It’s not just about working women. It’s about the rising status of women in society and the amount of disposable income they have. We have a jewelry brand aimed only at working women. It’s called Mia. Women have a sense of freedom and empowerment and worth that was not there in the previous generation. We have a watch brand, called Raga, designed specifically for women, in contrast to most women’s watches, which are scaled down versions of men’s watches. That’s like treating your women customer as if she’s a smaller-size man, which she isn’t. We focus instead on the uniqueness of women and why they wear watches. It’s a generalization, but largely true, that men buy watches for status and women buy watches for adornment. Adornment is very primal.

 

What are some of the key market influences today?

Young people have been a strong influence on the market. The youth market is large, influential, and digitally sophisticated. But it’s a slippery slope. By the time that you figure out the youth market, it’s changed.  The youth market is so large and influential that marketers segment it based on mindset.

 

How does Titan segment the youth market?

We have a trendy youth brand called Fastrack. It is a fun brand about enjoying a unique stage in life. We also have a brand called Sonata that we are repositioning to appeal more to youth. It is about optimism and confidence and may appeal to people of less privilege but great ambition. The Sonata youth have fire in the belly.

 

What about the silver or senior market?

Someone who became our customer 30 years ago, when the Titan brand began, is about 50 years old now. Titan would have played a role in important moments of their life—a wedding, anniversaries, graduations. We find that these customers are more loyal and emotionally connected to the brand. And now they have a lot more disposable income. We are exploring how we can best reach out to these customers and connect.

 

How is your business split between urban and rural?

Around 50 percent of our business comes from the top 10 cities. We have a wide reach. We do see a rise in rural sales. But what’s actually happening is that the affluent areas are getting more affluent. And consumption is trickling down.

 

TRENDS

 

What major new trends are you seeing?

Over the past few years we have seen the emergence of the importance of moments rather than occasions. This phenomenon is happening across many categories. Occasions had been a big driver for us. We sell a lot of watches during wedding season because they make good gifts. And the festive seasons, like Diwali and a festival that celebrates the brother-sister bond, are important for sales. We see a huge spike on Valentine’s Day. These occasions remain, but moments are being added. People are buying watches for self-indulgence, for rewards, or just for an evening out—for reasons to celebrate and gift someone or yourself. There is also an aspect of retail therapy. Buying something because you feel good or because you want to feel better. The sales spikes remain, but a lot of mini spikes have been created.

 

Who are these customers?

They are not the superrich. These are people with good jobs, maybe in IT, for example. They are not making a huge amount of money, and they are not spending a lot of money on a per-item basis. This is not luxury shopping.

 

What other trends reflect how India is transforming?

There is rise in the importance of appearance—how you look, how you accessorize. This is a huge change from just five years ago. This tend crosses age groups, genders, urban-rural—every demographic. Everyone is spending a lot of time, effort, and money to look good. Economics in part drive the trend. Once people are confident that they know where their next paycheck is coming from, and they’re reasonably comfortable, they realize that appearances matter. Part of the trend relates to life stages—when people leave home or college and join the workforce, for example. You need the right clothes, the right shoes, handbag, and watch, and the right hair, and the right perfume. All these categories are booming in India.  Part of the reason is that the base is so low. Some people buying perfumes are buying them for the first time.

 

BRAND BUILDING

 

How has technology impacted the business?

We’ve seen a tectonic shift in the business model. Our business rests on three main pillars: products, marketing and communication, and retailing. Technology and digitalization has impacted all three pillars in irreversible ways. In products, we’ve already introduced quite a few smart watches. Smart watches provide an opportunity to engage with consumers because of the data. The purchase of the watch by the consumer is just the start of the relationship. We see how customers use the watches and that helps us make future iterations of the product more relevant.

 

How has technology changed marketing and retailing?

Social media is huge. In marketing that means a lot of community building and content creation on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or our own channels. Digitization has added complication. In the past, a new product introduction would have required print ads and TV commercials. Now, it’s more complicated. For example, we just launched a watch called Squadron, which is inspired by fighter jets. I’m creating content for communities that seem to be really interested in fighter jets. Instead of spraying everyone with a TV commercial, I can do much sharper targeting as well as get into conversation. In retailing, a lot of it is about influence. We have 700 bricks and mortar stores under our brands, and are in the process of enabling them for omni-channel. And we are present in about 7,000 multi-brand outlets. Our e-commerce sales are already experiencing triple-digit growth.

 

How does the dynamic between physical and online stores work in this category?

Young shoppers don’t need to put the watch on their wrist. They are comfortable buying online. In our research, we found that a large proportion of customers are quite comfortable buying online. And people are seamlessly going from one channel to the other. There is not typical journey for researching, shopping, and purchasing. That’s fine, so long as the customers are moving down the decision path. This comfort and familiarity online crosses demographics, but it’s higher for men than women, younger than older, metro consumers compared with consumers in smaller areas.

 

Is international competition a factor?

There is a lot of international competition. And it’s a constant battle to get the right product, design and price. It also requires having an emotional appeal and the right presentation in the retail stores and online. And there are a lot of consumers for whom an international brand works like magic. Because we are here and we see things earlier, that’s an advantage. This is the case with our brand Raga, for example, which we designed exclusively for women, and to match the sensibilities of Indian women. It would be almost impossible for an international player to pull off a brand like Raga.