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NEW DELHI : Anand Narang, vice-president, marketing and customer services, Bata India, has been zealously making the iconic shoe brand more relevant for younger Indians. In an interview, he talks of the growing popularity of sneakers, scaling up online sales, and directing ad spending to digital platforms. Edited excerpts:

Did the pandemic affect Bata’s advertising budgets?

Covid-19 did actually change the marketing mix based on consumer behaviour. We had a temporary pause in the big above-the-line (ATL) campaigns. But we used this period to start building and transitioning from a multichannel to an omnichannel journey. When I say multichannel, it’s basically different channels—e-commerce, retail store—but there is not much interaction across the channels, so, the customer experience varies. We took the last 18-24 months to transition to an omnichannel player, which means you can search on one channel, buy the product from the other, or the same product is now available across channels. The customer experience is more consistent. Last year, 15-16% of our overall revenue was digitally enabled.

How much of your total ad budget did you move to digital media?

Three-Four years ago, digital was 10%. Two years ago, it went up to 15%. Today, it’s about 30-35%. So, the journey’s almost 3x, and we want to invest in digital channels because even the traditional consumer will buy in a store because of this research online.

You said revenue from digital sales went up to 15-16%. Do you see this going up as the pandemic subsides?

We don’t want to limit this. We’ll have to contextualize for the Indian market what this number could look like. But there is an opportunity for us to scale up the presence in digital channels.

This 15-16% contribution comes from different channels. First is our D2C website Bata.in with 5,000 plus styles that you can buy online. The second is partnerships with platforms like Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra, TataCliq, Ajio —nearly 10-15 marketplaces.

Then there is home delivery where you walk into a Bata store, and if they don’t have the size or colour you want, you place the order, and it gets picked up from another store or a warehouse to be delivered.

The others are shopping via WhatsApp or the store-on-wheels (started during the pandemic for condominiums), which are digitally enabled. We are in the process of setting up Facebook and Instagram stores.

What is brand Bata in the Indian context today?

When I joined (in 2016), the task was to transform the brand. I said, let’s look at the elements which actually go into making up a brand—customer experience, retail experience, and portfolio evolution. Over the last 3-4 years, the portfolio went from being very functional, durable, and everyday wear to slightly more fashion, sneakers, casual style.

Secondly, the stores were looking outdated. So, we launched the Red concept stores that were created in Europe and allow for better display and visual merchandising. We renovated some stores, and all the new ones are actually opening in this format.

Over the last 3-4 years, we’ve also started opening a lot more mall stores. The store size has increased, and they are in about 200-215 malls today.

Finally, we did marketing and picked the “Surprisingly, Bata" campaign. The brand has actually evolved from being a functional brand to more contemporary, more occasion-led and the choice of the millennial.

What role did the brand ambassadors play?

We got Kriti Sanon on board in 2018. We needed somebody who looks authentic, carries the same values and principles and doesn’t overshadow the brand. We tied up with her and others like Sushant Singh Rajput and even Smriti Mandhana for our Power brand. We used them to change the perception in a very honest way that Bata is not just a school shoe brand, but it has fashion, sneakers, and technology.

Some of these messages started resonating with the consumers, the footfall and conversions increased, and our ability to sell more premium products actually went up.

Why is the sneakers category growing?

‘Sneakerisation’ is a global trend. A couple of researches show that three years back, sneakers’ contribution was about 40% of the total footwear market. Today, it’s nearing 50%. And in the next three to four years, it will actually touch 60-65%.

The market shift is driven by multiple things. First of all, companies are becoming a lot more relaxed about what people actually wear. That’s why you see more casual outfits coming in. Covid has been a big trigger in this space, as people started buying products that they could use a lot more on multiple occasions. So, sneakers and casuals will actually become more dominant. For Bata, sales of casuals and sneakers went up 40% in 18 months. It’s a huge number. We have nine brands of sneakers and 300 styles. What we’re rolling out is Sneaker Studio within Bata stores, where we put up all sneaker brands in one place, so, the discovery becomes easier.

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