How BIC Cello is focusing on omni-channel marketing and meaningful portfolio choices to gain market share
Tanveer Khan, Director, Marketing, BIC Cello IndiaBIC Cello
Children across all ages and a segment of adult audience have also taken to coloring to engage themselves as they are s...

How BIC Cello is focusing on omni-channel marketing and meaningful portfolio choices to gain market share

Children across all ages and a segment of adult audience have also taken to coloring to engage themselves as they are s...
  • The time following the lockdown has been difficult for the stationary industry, since educational institutes and offices have remained closed.
  • Tanveer Khan, Director, Marketing at BIC Cello India tells us how the brand has been making smart portfolio choices and focusing on expanding its presence online to ensure its products can reach it consumers, at home.
Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi first announced the lockdown, none of us would have thought that we would still be dealing with the pandemic, more than a year later. The last one year has been challenging for businesses across segments and the stationery segment is no different.

With the closure of schools, colleges and offices, and the rapid digitalization of courses, the industry was hit hard.

According to Technavio, the global consumer stationery retailing market is expected to grow by $6.35 billion during 2020-2024. However, according to experts in India, the industry has witnessed a decline of around 35%, owing to the closure of educational institutions across the country.

During a normal year, the industry witnesses a peak in demand during the months that schools re-open, the beginning of financial years and even during the festive months. However, last year things were subdued and despite the hope that this year will be better, the increasing Covid numbers tell us that we are still a substantial amount of time away from normalcy.

So how is BIC Cello, a prominent player in the stationary segment dealing with the situation? We spoke to Tanveer Khan, Director, Marketing at BIC Cello India, to find some answers.


Q) With students not going to school for close to a year now, how have things changed for you as a brand?
The interim closure of educational institutions has not only impacted the education sector but other ancillary businesses including the stationery segment. The industry witnessed a decline of approx. 35% in 2020 versus 2019 in Traditional Trade sales. We also noticed a similar trend for our core business i.e., writing instruments. However, because of growing internet penetration and shift to digital mediums, we registered an increase in demand for our writing instruments, arts and craft product segments on all key e-commerce platforms.

From a business standpoint, we anticipate recovery in traditional trade in the second half of 2021 with gradual opening of schools, colleges and offices.

Overall, with an increased focus on education and a growing young population, the outlook remains strong for the stationery segment in India.

Q) Did you have to completely rethink how you approached consumers in the last one year and increase more presence online rather than offline?
The biggest takeaway for us from 2020 was the importance of having a balanced portfolio that reaches consumers through multiple channels. Building a robust omni-channel presence which leverages our full portfolio has been part of BIC Cello’s strategy and 2020 only accelerated our actions in this direction.

We increased our investments substantially to engage with e-commerce consumers last year. We will continue to focus on strengthening our omni-channel marketing this year and provide consumers with a seamless experience no matter where they are.

Q) Schools, colleges, and offices being shut also meant both children and adults had more time at home. Did you see that result in an increased demand for certain segments of products for you, like DIY, arts and crafts etc?
The pandemic and the resultant lockdown have been difficult for everyone. More so for parents, who have been scrambling for resources to keep their kids engaged in productive activities.

As part of a recent survey that we had conducted in December 2020, we found that the average spending on school supplies shot up from Rs 8,000 to 20,000 or more, primarily due to investment in electronic items, while a significant dip of Rs 5,000 seen in stationery.

Staying at home has given children time to pause, refuel and spend quality time with their parents. They are expressing themselves creatively through offline activities, such as colouring and drawing along with their parents. An interesting trend to note here is that colouring was not only limited to younger kids, but children across all ages and a segment of adult audience also took to colouring to engage themselves. At BIC Cello, we are proud to provide families and children with essential tools they need for learning, working and self-expression, and we hope we can continue to help spark a little joy and imagination during these difficult times.

Q) What has your strategy in 2021 been, in terms of ensuring that the business impact of another lockdown like this is minimal?
We have been able to accelerate growth in our arts and colouring segment along with e-commerce business. We turned to moment marketing and trending conversations to get our message across our audiences. 2020 was all about molding the brand to create relevant conversations around different occasions to engage our consumers. For instance, we created content on our colouring range – ColourUp on digital and social platforms, giving a chance for our audience to engage with the brand from the comfort of their homes. We also shared topical content and provided people with ideas on how to keep children busy by giving wings to their imagination with our art and craft range. We teamed up with Disney’s ‘Imagine That’ last year, where Harun Robert, who is popularly known as Rob, (anchor) showed children interesting and exciting ways to create things creatively with Cello ColourUp Colouring range.

Having said this, we have been working towards building a robust e-commerce portfolio by introducing new products across segments. Lastly, we have been monitoring the situation on-ground and working with our trade partners in ensure right assortment availability across channels.

Q) What has your broader marketing strategy been? How have you made sure you come to your consumer's minds whenever they think stationery?
At BIC Cello, our marketing strategies have been simple. We want our products and our communication to connect and resonate with our consumers.

To be able to achieve this, we follow a two-pronged approach:
Segment Focus –Our robust portfolio has a wide range of stationery products which include ball pens, gel pens, fountain pens, roller pens, permanent markers, whiteboard markers, colour markers, office & school stationery, and diverse coloring range which we launched recently. Product innovation and a diverse portfolio that answers consumer needs are key to building a strong brand. BIC-Cello products play a key role in the development of students’ intellect and creativity. We engage with our consumers on key occasions such as exam time, summer break, back to school, etc. to help them develop their skills and creativity. While we are market leaders in the pen segment, we will continue to develop & expand our colouring and marking range to strengthen the Joy Of Expression.

Channel Focus– Trade: When it comes to trade channels, we aim to Build a robust omni-channel presence which leverages our portfolio. This involves innovating and promoting the right assortment with the right visibility across all channels like Traditional Trade, Modern Mass, eCom, etc. Media: We command the highest level of consumer awareness in the stationery segment which is a reflection of our ability to smartly use various media channels. We choose media channels as per the objective of the activity we want to carry out. We use mass media channels, like TV, outdoor, etc., for generating awareness for new products/segments. We use digital channels, to increase our brand consideration and engage with consumers in a meaningful way throughout the year.

Content Focus -Strong engagement is driven by integrating meaningful content & product performance. For example, for Cello ColourUp colouring range, our social handles push a lot of content around unique ways to engage & inspire children through DIY activities. We focus on educating consumers on the importance of creating the right environment for children, using crayonsto spur creativity and improve motor skills, that will fuel their cognitive development.

Q) How have consumer preferences evolved and how have you as a brand made sure you could adapt to these changes?
We observed radical shifts in consumer behavior last year. To understand the changes better, we conducted an in-depth survey across India to assess the impact of the pandemic on parents and their children’s education. The survey results revealed interesting insights on how Indian parents coped up with their new role as home-tutors as well as their key concerns right from increased costs of school supplies to managing children's screen time.Staying at home gave parents a lot of quality time to spend with their children. A large fraction of parents admitted that screen time has significantly increased for their kids and that they were trying to engage their children more with offline activities, such as coloring, to help them express their creativity.

Additionally, the rise in digital content and influencer marketing around stationery products has led to more awareness and understanding of exciting options available in the market. Gone are the days where stationery was viewed as a functional and low involvement category. Today, our audiences are choosing stationery as a style and personality statement and are open to experimentation with brands of high price-points. Therefore, our focus is to further develop our digital footprint and continuously engage with our audience, to further ideas on learning & creativity using our stationery range.

Q) What kind of investments are you thinking of making this year on marketing?
At BIC Cello, our media channel investment has always been a healthy mix of TV, print, outdoor,online and digital mediums. Because of the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns, we have calibrated our media investments vs previous years, we will move away from outdoor spends such as billboards, metro and bus station advertising and switch to channels to reach our consumers at home.

The pandemic has impacted consumer sentiments negatively, it has set the base for creating inspiring, meaningful and purpose-led communication with consumers. Our communication approach is to make more creative and engaging content which will allow us to make deeper connections with our consumers.

Q) Going ahead, what will your key focus areas be to make sure you are able to capture a larger market share?
We believe our omni-channel approach, supported by meaningful portfolio choices, will help us gain share. We are the leaders in the pens segment, and we aim to expand our leadership to other stationery segments. Consumers have adopted digital as a communication channel and e-commerce as a preferred channel for purchase. These will continue to be a key focus area.

Q) In the global scheme of things, how important is the Indian market for BIC Cello and what kind of investments can we expect in the country?
India is a critical and exciting market for us at BIC. India’s growing education sector offers tremendous growth potential for the local stationery market. India has nearly 300 million students, which is equivalent to a country altogether. These includes school-going children, graduate and post-graduate students using stationery equipment. The increasing number of schools and offices, coupled with improved standard of living, will result in more people purchasing stationery products and it will aid the shift from buying cheap poor performing stationery products to higher priced good quality products.

With impetus by the Government of India through policies like National Policy on Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, I can firmly say that this sector will see a sustained growth in the coming years.

BIC Cello will continue to build in market capabilities in India, we are evaluating enhanced levels of investments behind both customers and the consumers.