A decade of change and innovation for India's beverage industry
Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, Chief Communications Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages HCCB
Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, Chief Communications Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages shares a few themes that would unrave...

A decade of change and innovation for India's beverage industry

Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, Chief Communications Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages shares a few themes that would unrave...
  • We bring to you a series of columns from industry experts, looking back at the last 10 years
  • The columns will explore how the media, marketing and advertising industry has transformed in the last decade
  • Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, Chief Communications Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages shares a few themes that would unravel themselves in 2020 and things that would continue to remain the same.
Just the other week, I was reading an article which debated whether the new decade starts at the end of 2020 or at its beginning. So when Business Insider called upon the new decade and asked me to look back on the last 10 years as well as towards the next 10 years of the beverage industry, the first thing that crossed my mind was – has there ever been a decade of such pronounced contradictions which are complementary.

Among the things that strike me is, how much have things changed and yet remained the same. A decade of seeming contradictions which have happily converged to a point where they appear synergistic. As we enter the next decade, I guess the following themes will unravel themselves much more.

1. The era of the omni-channel
Take this for an example. We knew that traditional brands will need a strong digital presence, given how quickly technology has got us all wrapped around. But that online brands would need a physical presence, is a theme that we discovered only towards the latter half of the decade. It has now become clear that brands need to be omni-channel. By implication, marketing needs to be relevant to the audience of that channel, even if there are synergies that could be leveraged, across channels. Therefore brand communications must hold itself accountable to generating transactions – offline and online – versus merely building brand love. Let us pause to think of how many large companies including those in the beverage business, have either amalgamated or eliminated the role of CMOs for Chief Growth Officers, Chief Commercial Officers etc.

2. Physical connect will still have a premium
The second theme, which was a contradiction when it began but now seems very obvious, is that in a world which is increasingly skewed to the virtual, there is still a premium on building the physical connect. The challenge is to now find those quiet corners/niches where the consumers can be found in their physical being. Haven’t we already noticed how many art festivals, design exhibitions, literature festivals, holiday trails, have atleast 2-3 beverage companies as their patrons/sponsors. An example from my backyard is that of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), the corporate brand, being a partner with the Mysore and Gujarat Literature festivals, while Coca-Cola – the product brand – is a partner with the Serendipity Arts Festival.

Now, this doesn’t mean that finding the right consumer is any easy in the digital space, but atleast discovering the relevant profiles, is more or less taken care of, thanks to big data and smartphones.

3. Technology is core, not an add-on delight!
A third theme that has revealed itself during the decade is how technology features as a core part of the consumer offering. 10 years ago, we thought technology was an add-on, or a fancy feature above the core offering. However technology has conveniently mutated itself from being a differentiator to an enabler. For example, based on my personal preference and my last few orders, tech is already giving me a choice of the beverage that I am most likely to consume again. However, as my predictable choices are on display, the same technology is also willing to offer me an assortment of drinks that others of my ‘kind’ would have consumed over the last couple of hours. No fuss! So as a communications person, what should be my bets on communicating the predictable versus the popular? A decision that we will have to make more of, in the next decade.

4. New + old – is the new normal
A fourth theme that is still in the churn, quite literally, is that for a country that is getting increasingly comfortable in experimenting with the ‘new’, is also very easy with its roots and heritage. There are enough and more examples of turmeric teas, tandoori chai, zeera flavoured carbonated drinks and much more that are doing as well as an Appletiser or SmartWater. This theme is manifesting across segments and marketers are using the notions of nostalgia, pride, wisdom, giving back and so on as narratives to leverage this dichotomy. So far it has worked. My bet is that this will remain a focal point of the next decade. Marketers will do well to think of other virtues that coalesce this broad theme of – go back to go forward!

5. Customisation versus consistency, or both
The final theme of the decade has been the interplay of customisation versus consistency. For a generation that likes its coffee with a dash of milk, 0.5 mm of foam, half a spoon of chocolate, some latte but a strong blend, to think that we also happily accept gallons of chai made by robots, is very intriguing! Layer this with the phenomenon of what we are now calling ‘social effect’ or ‘recommendation economy’. Our decisions are increasingly being influenced by how many of the others are trying or buying the same choice. It appears that for a marketer, the choice between customised versus consistent is no longer binary. Perhaps real-time data analytics can save the day, if not the decade! So expect a lot of unexpected narratives, revised campaign creatives and rebalancing of spends.

- By Kamlesh Kumar Sharma