Back in the black, tyre brands are banking on innovation & convenience to woo consumers
After 8-9 months of severe COVID-19 and lockdown impact across industries in 2020, the last couple of months saw India Inc gearing up to embrace the new normal. The automobile industry, too, is showing signs of recovery after a sluggish performance for some months. This is also giving a boost to the tyre industry as demand in the OEM sector also looks positive. Ad campaigns of some of the leading tyre brands like MRF and Ceat Tyres are very visible on television channels as well as in print, and we are also seeing a pick-up in marketing and promotional initiatives.
Analysts expect the tyre industry to maintain the growth momentum owing to an improved outlook for the auto sector, strong rural demand and increasing personal mobility trend. There are many people who do not want the risk of travelling in crowded public transport, which has pushed the sales as private mobility has become important. Robust replacement demand, improving demand from the OEM segment and favourable policy initiatives are expected to augur well for the tyre industry as well. Demand is improving gradually in the tyre sector on the back of healthy growth in the replacement market and gradual recovery in the OEM segment month on month. Government restrictions on tyre import would support growth in the Indian tyre industry.
Low involvement category
The mechanics and dealers continue to be important influencers in the tyre purchase process. While there is some top of mind recall of the most advertised tyre brands among the consumers, but ultimately to know the additional features and which tyre to buy people trust their mechanics, while the tyre dealer plays the role of the key influencer. Incidentally, even the driver of your car could be one of the influencers.
The same holds for engine oils and lubricants. One hardly remembers which brand of engine oil one is using for their car as people tend to trust their mechanic or the petrol pump or service centre where one gets their vehicle serviced.
However, today the purchase behaviour is slowly changing, especially with two-wheeler riders, when it comes to choosing tyres. The young drivers and riders of today are far more knowledgeable and sure about what they want for their vehicles. So, while there is some shift happening, the mechanics and dealers are still the key people involved in the tyre purchase process.
Being a low involvement category, one need to push that much extra to make the brand communication forceful and which will move the customer. Most of the tyre brands have been strongly focussing on safety and durability along with some functional attributes such as stronger grip for a very long time now. One of the reasons for this could be that there is no distinct product differentiation. Most brands today ride high with celebrity cricketers and recently we witnessed one of the brands signing up a Bollywood celebrity to promote their high end premium tryes.
However, the communication pegs and core messaging in the two-wheeler category are slowly changing to reflect the new age rider’s preferences and the focus is now also on the emotional aspects behind buying a two-wheeler and a two-wheeler tyre. While the four-wheeler tyres are still depending heavily on performance driven brand communication, it is high time the four-wheeler tyre brands also shift their line of communication to bring the customer closer to the brand and in the purchase process of buying a tyre instead of totally trusting their mechanic or car dealer.
Speaking to Adgully, Amit Tolani, CMO, CEAT Tyres, noted that business has bounced back well after the initial lockdown phase and this momentum is likely to continue in 2021. He further said, “Post lockdown, we have seen pent-up demand in the 2-Wheeler segment. The markets – semi urban and rural markets for 2-wheelers – have opened up and we see demand continuing from here, beating earlier sluggishness. In 4-wheelers, the economy segment, that is, hatchbacks, smaller cars, economy sedans have seen a surge post lockdown basis the safety concerns associated with shared vehicles and public conveyances and people’s aversion towards it. This has resulted in increased OEM demand and is driving the OEM tyre demand for us. In the Replacement segment, demand is back to its normalcy (pre-COVID-19 levels) and the restriction on import ban by GOI, has helped the overall Indian tyre industry.”
Speaking about CEAT’s strategy, Tolani said, “Our services have evolved to being more convenience in the lives of the consumers. We have introduced services like Shoppe appointment to avoid queues at Shoppes, home pickup and drop services, tyre fitment, wheel alignment and balancing services at home. These initiatives were designed to provide convenience and to ensure optimal safety of our consumers.”
Directionally, CEAT is geared towards enabling its consumers digitally. The tyre manufacturer has introduced a chatbot on its site to address product and service queries. Going forward, more digital initiatives are planned to bring consumers closer by addressing their needs. In terms of brand communication, the underlying theme is safety and CEAT’s aim is to make its communication more relevant to its target audience. “We will continue to focus on safety both while planning initiatives and while designing brand communication. Quite a few initiatives are underway which are aimed at precision marketing. When it comes to reaching out to the consumers of today, through adoption of new-age technologies, we aim to reach out to audience as deterministically as possible,” Tolani added.
Expressing his views with a positive outlook, Deepak Gulati, Chief Marketing Officer, Bridgestone India, stated that by all indications the economy is expected to pick up in 2021 and a lot more depends on the benefits that the Union Budget of 2021 will bring with it. “As far as the tyre industry is concerned, it is my view that we will see a steady growth in both OE and after-market sales. The rural economy is picking up and this would be a stimulus for demand for Tier 3 and 4 towns. Increased input costs are going to be a major challenge for the industry and to balance it with the end consumer pricing is even a greater challenge. The industry will go in for higher levels of Pay per kilometre schemes and both the industry and the end fleet customer will see greater dependence and emphasis on Technology-enabled Tyre Management as-a-service (TMaaS) solutions to drive profitability. We should also see enhanced customer experience online through more integrated Omni-channel strategies,” he added.
According to Gulati, the events of the past few months have seen a greater dependence on a digital connect with the customer. Brand communication has, therefore, also seen a major shift towards digital communications. Speaking about some of the measures adopted by Bridgestone India, he said, “One of the first such communications that we undertook was our contactless programme for customers who wanted to purchase tyres. We announced the launch of Contactless Tyre Servicing platform called ‘BookMyService’, the platform enables customers to take an online appointment in a few clicks, making them spend less time in outlets with these pre-planned visits. We also launched a doorstep delivery and fitment service called “SelectOnWheels” to help customers get tyres fitted from the comfort of their homes. The brand communication has also evolved to drive the most relevant brand values in the current COVID-19 environment, showcasing Bridgestone’s commitment to our stakeholders and society at large.”