Young Achievers – Varun Alagh, Brand Manager – Coke, The Coca-Cola Company

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In conversation with Varun Alagh, Brand Manager – Coke, The Coca-Cola Company

Varun Alagh, Brand Manager - CokePlease tell us about your professional & academic background. Can you also brief us about your role in your current organization?

Change has been the only constant in my life and I have embraced it every day. I graduated from Delhi College of Engineering armed with an electrical engineering degree but like most average engineers decided not to use my half knowledge to work and instead enrolled myself for a MBA at XLRI, Jamshedpur.

After spending 2 years at XLRI competing and collaborating with peers and specializing in Marketing, I joined India’s most prestigious FMCG company, Hindustan Unilever and underwent arguably the best management training program in the country for an year. My first job with which I started my corporate career was as the Area Sales Manager for Delhi NCR managing a team of 35 people& a business of 100 mn USD. After doing a 3 years stint in sales, I moved on to the marketing side of business as the Regional Brand Manager for Antiperspirants category for South Asia region.

After completing 5 years with Unilever I moved on to an assignment with Diageo India with high spirits. I managed the largest liquor brand in the world “Smirnoff” for India and gained strong insights into developing brands using experiential marketing, conversion based activations and digital media.

From hard drinks I decided to move to the softer ones but not just any, the most iconic brand in the world Coca-Cola. In my current job I manage brand Coca-Cola for India, I am responsible for business results for the brand, managing diets category & brand assets like Coke Studio, FIFA partnership etc.

What is your favorite advertising campaign in the present scenario?

I am head over heels for Coke’s advertising. If you ask me my number 1’s, they will all be Brand Coke campaigns from India’s Small World Machine to Argentina’s Coke Life to South Africa’s Share a Coke; each captures optimism that Coca-Cola stands for. Apart from our own campaigns, I like the Flipkart campaign for its ingenuity in using kids to play the role of grown ups to communicate that e-retailing with Flipkart is child’s play. Another great thing about the campaign was the consistency with which Flipkart has executed the campaign to communicate various messages throughout the last 2 years.

How and by what channels do you create an emotional attachment with customers to build brand loyalty?

Emotional attachment and brand loyalty to me is not built through any specific channel. It is built when consumers connect with the values that a brand stands for. Consumers are loyal to Coca-Cola because they at some level truly believe in a better tomorrow which is one of the core values of Coca-Cola. Over a longer term, consumers buy a brand not because of “What” brands sell or do but “Why” they sell them. If Apple was selling its “What”, it would have been just any other consumer durable brand but consumers believe in Apple’s “Why” of creating cutting edge design products which make a difference.

Do you think having a “Brand Character” is an important component of a successful branding strategy? Who is your favorite brand character?

I believe brand assets are an extremely important part of creating a sustainable and consistent brand identity. But when I say brand assets, I am not necessarily referring to Brand Characters/Mascots – they are a sub set of brand assets.

There is a theory in the marketing world called Brand Sense which refers to the fact that brands should consistently appeal to all senses of a consumer, be it sight, sound, touch, taste and even smell. So brands should try to create brand assets beyond just Logos to achieve the same.

In case of Coca-Cola, we take pride in being able to consistently drive our brand assets for more than a 100 years. Take for example, our Signature contour bottle which can famously be recognized even if broken into a 100 pieces or our brand colors, our signature tune and most importantly our logo. Amongst brand characters, my favorite would have to be Ronald McDonald who has been successfully used by McDonald’s to bring the brand values of its brand alive. 

What measures do you take to ensure a better brand positioning vis-à-vis your competitors? Cite one such example.

Positions are never better or worse to my mind, they are just different. All brands have certain inherent values around which they are developed. Brand owners have their own view of categories and consumers basis which they value & define segments in a market.

Positioning is a result of the amalgamation of above two. Once a brand is positioned in the consumers mind in a certain way through decades of marketing efforts, it should only expand in relevant spaces which are connected to its positioning. Success of brands over a longer term will depend on the size of consumers its positioning appeals to and the extent to which they believe in it.  There are quite a few example of this like the Thumbs-Up vs Pepsi battle for cola market in 2000’s.

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