How ITC won over the Indian classroom


Remember the time when buying notebooks meant going to a stationery shop and asking the vendor to give a 100-something pages single ruled notebook?  It became a branded affair when ITC stepped into the Indian classroom in 2003 and redefined the way Indian students connected with the maker of their notebooks. Realizing the huge consumer base for their products, the brand penetrated through the Indian classroom, and stayed! In conversation with EE, Karan Kumar, ex-Marketing Manager ITC’s Education & Stationery products business and now General Manager – Marketing Lifestyle Retailing Business Division, ITC, shares how ITC Classmate has established itself as one of the most trusted Indian stationary brands.

“As a personal thought, I would like to state that experiential has changed the way the Indian consumer interacts with the brands and associates himself with them. Brands today need to give customers a little more than just the product – with so many options in the market, how does one differentiate himself from the others? The answer to this is through experiential,” says Karan Kumar. What led ITC to change the way Indian students bought stationery was the way they presented their products to the consumer – making them interactive and fun at the same time. With their 'Classmate Ideas for India Challenge’ campaign, Classmate’s Get Set Score Challenge, and ‘Follow your heart’ campaigns – ITC reached out to its target audience to understand what they really want and then delivered the same to them.

“What we understood at ITC was that every child is unique. We discouraged rote academics, and wanted to encourage children to become successful in line with their own strengths. And that’s what all the campaigns that followed got their base from,” says Karan Kumar. The winning factor of ITC came from their focus. They focused on the minutest of details like the different ways people hold their pens and even gave an opportunity to their target audience to design the shape of a pen that gave them the best grip. Just like there is uniqueness in the way a person thinks, there is uniqueness in the way a person writes. On the contrary, the ‘Follow Your Heart’ campaign was a pan-India level, on-ground initiative that the brand executed for the sole purpose of brand positioning. It had a panel of four extremely successful women, all representing alternative careers – Mahrukh Inayet, an anchor on Times Now who has started her own school for anchors; VJ Juhi Pande of Channel V, Dipika Pallikal.,world Number 10 in women’s squash and Soha Ali Khan, who was in the corporate world before she became an actor. These individuals made choices by following their heart. “Not for a moment are we dissuading students from studying hard, but telling them that if your true calling is somewhere else, we are there to help you. This is what we wanted to tell them,” says Karan Kumar.

When it comes to children, the marketing techniques require a lot of tact while also keeping in mind that the marketing is done in a responsible manner, which if not complied, can always backfire. Every brand has the objective to sell as there is no other way a business can survive. In order to push the sales of the product, back in 2011 ITC launched Classmate Man of the Match wherein the target group earned runs on purchase of Classmate stationery products. Participants with the most number of ‘runs’ got a chance to meet Yuvraj Singh, brand ambassador of Classmate, in person and be gratified with Pune Warriors India merchandise, the IPL team that Classmate partners. As part of the campaign, branded tent cards were placed at 56 Café Coffee Day outlets across the country to drive communication. In the digital space, mainly Facebook & Google were leveraged to promote the activity by running and promoting the contest online. Additionally, email marketing and mobile phone based SMS marketing platforms were also leveraged – 28 lac SMSes were sent across cities filtered according to age-group 15-25 and the database was oriented from sources like schools, coaching classes and colleges. Classmate created a campaign microsite that encouraged participants to register for the contest on making their first purchase and thereafter subsequent purchases made by individuals had to be uploaded on the site to earn ‘runs’.

In a nutshell, it takes more than just plain simple selling when it comes to establishing a brand. And in today’s world, what’s really important is the way a brand interacts with its target audience. “Brands have to change the way they interact with their customers, making sure that they give their customers an experience they remember while also being sensitive to their needs,” says Karan Kumar. Create customer advocacy, because nothing else matters more than their final word.

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Classmate itc Karan Kumar stationery

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