Experiential Marketing Is A Powerful Tool In Our Marketing Arsenal

Read this exclusive interview with Amit Gheji, Head of Marketing, Gulf Oil Lubricants India Limited as he shares valuable insights into Gulf Oil's marketing approach and talks about evolving trends in the sector

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In this exclusive interview with Amit Gheji, Head of Marketing at Gulf Oil Lubricants India Limited, we delve into the dynamic marketing strategies and brand initiatives that have positioned Gulf Oil India as a prominent player in the Indian market. Gheji shares valuable insights into Gulf's marketing approach, emphasising the brand's commitment to consumer-centric engagement and its unique positioning in a diverse and competitive landscape. Additionally, Amit provides valuable perspectives on the challenges and opportunities Gulf Oil India faces, as well as the evolving trends that are expected to shape the future of experiential marketing in the lubricants industry.

Excerpts:

Can you provide an overview of Gulf Oil India's marketing strategy and its key focus areas in the Indian market?

The automotive lubricants market is a large and complicated market with varying consumer cohorts from bikers or car owners to a trucker or tractor owners. While people unfamiliar with this industry often perceive the Gulf as a single brand, it isn’t possible for one single brand to cater to such a diverse set of consumer/customer segments meaningfully. Yes, at a brand level, Gulf is one of the most iconic brands with a rich history and legacy of more than 100 years and a presence in more than 100 countries worldwide. And it does have its core values of quality, endurance and passion, of being cool and iconic. The brand itself is an enabler brand which helps its customers be unstoppable in their journey towards their ambitions.

But we also have sub-brands in each segment which specifically cater to those individual consumer types. A biker for example looks for Instant pick-up (acceleration) in their bikes on his everyday commute, while a trucker looks for maximum protection for his truck engine for the longer life of his truck engine. Accordingly, we have a Gulf Pride and a Gulf Superfleet which deliver those as brand and product promise to those consumer segments. So if I were to sum up Gulf Oil India’s marketing strategy, it is to put the human behind the wheel first. Rather than stop talking about protection and performance delivery to the vehicle engine. In a category which is saddled with just product claims, Gulf aims to be a brand that is loved by consumers thanks to a deeper connection we forge with him/her. Our much-appreciated IPs like Gulf Pride Pick-up-your-dream or Gulf Superfleet Surakshabandhan are a testament to this.

Even at a partnership level, Gulf associates with ambassadors or teams with shared values. Be it the legendary MS Dhoni or other Indian cricketing stars Hardik Pandya, Smriti Mandhana or one of the most successful teams Chennai Super Kings. Our rich motorsport legacy of course continues with new tie-ups with the Williams F1 racing team, even as we continue to be partners with McLaren on the automotive side globally. On the business side, we have strong partnerships with many renowned automotive manufacturers (OEMs) and also on the B2B side with reputed companies across various industries.

Our key focus in the Indian market is to drive Consumer preference for the brand over different business and consumer segments.

Gulf Oil has a rich history and legacy. How do you balance the brand's heritage with modern marketing approaches to stay relevant in today's market?

Gulf’s rich history and legacy are about innovation and the winning spirit. Be it the innovation of the first drive-through fuel station in the world or the participation and winning in the endurance race of 24 hours of Le Mans. We continue to innovate even in today’s market and the winning spirit is embodied in everything Gulf does even today. An example of these would be our multiple industry-first marketing initiatives like “VR Ride with Dhoni” for which we received our first Effie win or the award-winning mobile-based audio engagement platform ‘Jamora Tesan’ for truckers. These are modern marketing approaches to stay relevant with customers. The ‘VR Ride with Dhoni’ was a completely out-of-box sales pitch to bike mechanics – who are purchase decision influencers for bike engine oil. It allowed the mechanic to experience the brand promise of “Instant pick-up” while enjoying a bike ride as a pillion rider, virtually, behind/with none other than MS Dhoni as a rider!

Truckers are constantly on the move and hence finding the right media plan for this consumer segment is a tough ask. But mobile is something that is constantly with them during their travel. Not all truckers would own smartphones, but they like consuming music and entertainment en route. The germ of Jamoora Tesan idea was precisely this – a call back from a toll-free number which delivered a 10-minute audio capsule of trucker stories, education about truck maintenance & other tips and songs – all delivered by a trucker-cleaner Jodi as sutradhar and launched years before podcasts became a trend.

The historical winning spirit of Gulf is reflected in today’s partnerships that it has with champions like Smriti Mandhana, Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings – all grand winners in their own ways. The rub-off that the brand gets from these sporting associations is unparalleled.

Sustainability and environmental concerns are gaining importance. How is Gulf Oil India addressing these concerns?

Acknowledging concerns about the environmental impact of oil, we are actively addressing ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) considerations. Our investment in EV charging infrastructure signals our commitment to change and be future-ready, even though it will take time. While lubricants and internal combustion engines remain essential, we are taking steps to reduce plastic usage, with some of our recent product packaging featuring 60 per cent less plastic. Our involvement in lake conservation projects and CSR initiatives like road safety demonstrate our commitment to responsible practices. We aim to be recognised as a humane brand that cares not just about vehicles but the people driving them.

The automotive industry is rapidly evolving, with trends like electric vehicles and autonomous driving. How does Gulf Oil India adapt its marketing to stay aligned with these changes?

The automotive industry is undergoing rapid evolution, including the rise of electric vehicles and autonomous driving. At Gulf, we adapt our marketing strategies to align with these changes. While lubricants and internal combustion engines remain relevant, we are also investing in future-readiness, such as charging infrastructure. Our commitment to reducing plastic usage and engagement in CSR activities demonstrate our responsiveness to changing environmental and social dynamics. Additionally, we are expanding our focus to the riding culture, recognising the importance of the human element behind the wheel in this evolving landscape.

Furthermore, Gulf has introduced EV fluids designed for superior electric vehicle performance and innovative hybrid mobility solutions to facilitate sustainable mobility. In the past year, we launched EV fluids for two major OEMs, Piaggio and Switch Mobility. These strategic partnerships, combined with collaborations with companies like Omega Seiki Mobility, Altigreen, and Virya Mobility, have solidified Gulf’s position as a prominent player in the EV fluids market. This demonstrates our dedication to staying at the forefront of the automotive industry's transformation towards electric mobility and sustainable solutions.

Gulf India’s marketing, needless to say, will also adapt to these changes over a period of time. It will reflect the future readiness of the company/brand and showcase our efforts by highlighting products and services which will make a positive difference in the future.

Customer engagement is crucial. What strategies or programs does Gulf Oil India employ to foster a strong and loyal customer base?

We at Gulf place significant emphasis on customer engagement through a range of strategic initiatives. We've fully embraced digitisation, creating a comprehensive digital ecosystem for our distributors, retailers, mechanics, and various consumer segments. With the introduction of our flagship apps like Garage Mitr, Unnati, and Masterscan, we've empowered our business partners to strengthen their connections with customers while offering rewards and incentives to enhance loyalty. Recognising the low-involvement nature of the lubricants category, we've developed highly targeted digital marketing campaigns that provide engaging and informative content about our product offerings. 

This approach has led to exceptionally high engagement rates across our social media platforms and other digital channels. Our "Jamoora Tesan" podcast, tailored for truckers, further reinforces our brand's presence and connection with our audience. Our ‘Suraksha Bandhan’ initiative with truckers has earned us a lot of brand love. This is into its 5th year now where every year/season we do something meaningful and highly impactful for the trucking community in the realm of protecting the trucker – be it vaccination or health insurance or a portable water filer. This and other such initiatives across product and consumer segments have generated a lot of brand loyalty towards Gulf.

Dedicated teams also focus on nurturing relationships with OEMs, conducting campaigns, and providing training to align our products with updated norms and usage requirements. Our enduring partnership with Chennai Super King continues to be a cornerstone of our customer engagement efforts, helping us build lasting loyalty and deliver value in the highly competitive lubricants industry.

Data and analytics are transforming marketing. How does Gulf Oil India leverage data-driven insights to refine its marketing strategies and campaigns?

Data and analytics are crucial to our marketing strategy, fundamentally transforming how we approach our campaigns. We've harnessed the power of consumer data to dive deep into our audience's psyche, gaining invaluable insights into their preferences and behaviour. These insights serve as the cornerstone for crafting highly personalised and relevant campaigns that resonate on a profound level with our target demographic. Moreover, data-driven analytics allow us to continuously fine-tune our marketing strategies, measure campaign effectiveness, track key performance indicators, and pinpoint areas for enhancement. This iterative process ensures that our marketing efforts remain not only efficient but also consistently aligned with evolving customer needs and industry trends, reinforcing our position as industry thought leaders. Additionally, anticipating customer needs has become a hallmark of our data-centric approach. 

By analysing historical data and monitoring emerging trends, we've acquired the ability to proactively adapt our strategies, innovate our product offerings, and cater to customer demands even before they become mainstream. Through various digital touchpoints, such as social media, email marketing, and website analytics, we capture and leverage invaluable customer data to deliver personalised communications, targeted promotions, and tailored recommendations. Having said this, we recognise that data ethics and privacy are paramount. Our data-driven approach is underpinned by a commitment to responsible data usage, stringent compliance with regulations, and unwavering protection of customer information. 

We strike a delicate balance between personalisation and data protection, building trust with our consumers and fostering long-lasting relationships. In summation, data and analytics are at the core of Gulf’s marketing, propelling our strategies, and enabling us to deliver exceptional value in the fiercely competitive lubricants industry.

Looking ahead, what are the key marketing challenges and opportunities you see for Gulf Oil India in the Indian market?

Looking ahead, Gulf faces both significant marketing challenges and promising opportunities in the Indian lubricants market. On the challenge front, the lubricants industry in India is evolving amidst changing political and economic landscapes. The industry has seen multiple price increases over the last few years and consumers more than ever before are now looking for more value at the same price or moving to a lesser brand/price position. Marketing in the Indian lubricating oil industry demands a delicate balance of price sensitivity, brand awareness, and customer trust. Through marketing, we are ensuring we communicate and demonstrate the value of our products and brand to ensure stickiness to the brand.

Gulf also of course stands to benefit from a growing Indian economy, where the Make in India initiative and Digital India program are fostering innovation, skill development, and a robust manufacturing infrastructure, potentially increasing demand for lubricants. Additionally, the shift toward higher quality base oils and compliance with emission norms offers opportunities for Gulf to differentiate its products and cater to the evolving needs of customers in the automotive and industrial sectors. In conclusion, while Gulf faces challenges in the dynamic Indian lubricants market, it can leverage these opportunities by embracing innovation, maintaining product quality, and building strong customer relationships.

What role does technology play in enhancing and personalising experiential marketing efforts? Are there any innovative technologies or tools that you've found particularly effective in this regard?

Technology plays a pivotal role in elevating and customising our experiential marketing endeavours at Gulf. It enables us to craft immersive and personalised experiences that resonate deeply with our audience. One of the standout technologies we've harnessed is AI-powered personalisation, which allows us to engage in real-time conversations with consumers, providing instant answers and tailoring experiences based on their preferences. Projection mapping has been another game-changer, enabling us to transform ordinary surfaces into captivating canvases for interactive storytelling during our events. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have been instrumental in recreating thrilling adventures and immersing our customers in memorable experiences. Wearable tech, including smartwatches and AR glasses, enhances personalisation further by guiding attendees through events with content tailored to their individual interests. Lastly, multi-channel integration empowers us to bridge the physical and digital worlds, extending the reach of our campaigns globally through live streaming and social media engagement. Ultimately, technology empowers us to create magical, tech-infused experiences that leave an indelible mark on our audience, setting new standards for experiential marketing in the lubricants industry.

Experiential marketing can sometimes be resource-intensive. How do you determine the ROI (Return on Investment) of experiential campaigns, and what metrics do you prioritise when assessing their success?

In this industry, experiential marketing is both – an essential and a powerful tool as part of the marketing arsenal. On the automotive side, mechanics and garages are key purchase decision influencers and our Consumer Value Propositions (CVPs) on various products or sub-brands are best explained to them in a show-and-tell manner. Mass media doesn’t help beyond a point with this influencer set. You need to demonstrate your product quality across stringent parameters, but in an easy-to-understand manner as the mechanics are not formally trained or fully educated. This direct/one-on-one marketing helps them to convince themselves, retain the product benefits and pass them on to end-consumers in case of a discussion around the engine oil brand to be used. The only way to track ROI on such campaigns is to track mind measures for the brand, while of course simultaneously ensuring newer mechanics/garages come into our sales & distribution fold. Our brand track research not only covers end-consumers but also mechanics and retailers which gives us a deep dive into how positively disposed each of the key purchase decision influencers is towards the brand. We track top-of-mind awareness as well as purchase consideration for the brand.

Even in the case of B2B customers, our presence in high footfall and reputed exhibitions is an exercise in Experiential marketing. Gulf’s stalls in such places ensure the visitors are engaged and have an immersive experience of the brand and the product-service offerings we have for them. Our world-class global R&D centre in Chennai also boasts of a customer experience centre where we showcase everything right from the rich history and legacy of the brand to the product propositions through engaging demonstrations. We are proud to have hosted many reputed OEM and B2B partners and customers at this centre.

As marketing channels and consumer behaviours evolve, how do you see the future of experiential marketing evolving, and what trends do you believe will shape its landscape in the coming years?

In the ever-evolving landscape of marketing, Gulf envisions the future of experiential marketing as a dynamic realm where brands must seamlessly blend innovation and authenticity to engage their audience. We believe that the convergence of physical and digital experiences, marked by the rise of hybrid events, will continue to play a pivotal role, allowing brands to connect with consumers both in-person and virtually. Personalisation, driven by data insights, will become more crucial as customers increasingly seek tailored and relevant experiences. Furthermore, the integration of cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence will take centre stage, enabling brands to create immersive encounters that bring their products and services to life. Sustainability will be an essential component, with brands demonstrating their commitment to eco-friendly practices through experiential marketing. Collaborative ventures with partners and businesses will also gain prominence, expanding brand reach and enriching customer interactions. Additionally, trends like multisensory experiences, art installations, social media amplification, inclusive experiences, a focus on local communities, the use of micro-influencers, and the gamification of experiences will further shape this dynamic landscape. These trends will allow Gulf to not only build lasting connections with customers but also stay at the forefront of experiential marketing innovation, creating memorable and impactful brand experiences.



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