Best foot forward

Topics Bata India

Thomas G Bata Former CEO and family council president, Bata Shoes (left) with Rajeev Gopalakrishnan. Bata is developing clutter-free designs for its flagship stores.
Bata is a household name in India, but despite an unmatched brand recall its “value-for-money” identity has not helped appeal to youths who are willing to splurge and associate with premium products more than ever. The Swiss shoemaker, present in India for over eight decades, is therefore focusing more on evolving the brand Bata to encompass style and fashion as well, besides raising advertising spends and improving customer experience in retail stores.

Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, president, South Asia, Bata Emerging Markets, points out the company is developing communication across touch points to convey Bata’s point of view on style and fashion. “We are also doubling our advertising budget for 2017. In the recent past, we have launched a range of stylish collections like the hand-crafted premium European Collection in men’s dress space, the Naturalizer range for working women and Power walking and running sports shoes with memory foam and tunnel technology,” he says.

Since the company operates in the retail space, the point of truth remains the store, he adds. “A good customer experience turns a casual customer into a loyal one. We are investing in breathtaking store windows where we are communicating our latest flagship collections, trained stylists to recommend collections, in-store music and other measures that appeal to all senses of our customers. The consumer experience is also measured for continuous improvement of our store-service.”

He explains that Bata’s new flagship store design is unique and clutter-free in terms of its aesthetics and visual impact — all-white European inspired décor, with white contemporary furniture. “To engage our younger customers, it’s imperative to use social media interestingly and hence content like wardrobe curation posts, DIY videos on colouring and maintaining shoes, fun contests et al are being done.”

As per Icra, in value terms, the Indian footwear sector was estimated at Rs 50,000 crore in 2015, including a domestic market of Rs 32,000 crore. Both the unorganised and organised markets were estimated to have an equal size in value terms. Reportedly, Bata has 15 per cent share of the organised market.

Recognising that more than half of India’s population is below 25, Bata India has lined up major launches in youth-oriented spaces. Its sub-brands like Power is touted to combine world-class technology with style trends and North Star offering canvas collections in psychedelic colours. Gopalakrishnan says the Bata brand, too, has undergone a transformation with more contemporary styles and increased fashion quotient to appeal to youths, while sticking to its core philosophy of delivering great style and comfort at a “wowing” price.

According to the company, Bata continues to enjoy the leadership position in the organised branded retail segment. It has a wide portfolio targeting multiple demographics via categories such as women, children, youth, sports and men.

“We are also focussing on our accessories category, like bags, belts and wallets, as we see a growing trend of consumers opting for multiple footwear ownership and accessories for different occasions,” says Gopalakrishnan.

Ayan Banik, head, brand strategy, Cheil India, argues that footwear today has become a part of one’s fashion. “Fashion is something that comes from either haute couture, through fashionistas, or street culture. Mainstream street fashion culture is defined by today’s youth. As a result, for any brand to be considered mainstream lifestyle the youth need to champion it.”

He believes Bata faces a problem similar to what Kodak did, having been a household name for ages. While GenX may have grown up on Bata, for millennials, it has the baggage of a fuddy-duddy brand. Bata also enjoyed the position of being the only foreign branded mass footwear company in India earlier, today many players including local unbranded ones pushed by e-commerce are redefining street culture, Banik adds.

N Chandramouli, CEO of Trust Research Advisory, also stresses the distinct challenge of remoulding a value-for-money brand in order to lure today's youth. Even though Bata sells high-end footwear through sub-brands, the company itself is viewed as a mass brand. “To be more relevant to the youth, segmentation based on different target audiences is not enough, because youths today are extremely brand and status-conscious. From the age of 12, children decide what they want to buy. It has to be a brand that is truly aspirational and appealing to the youth.”

Bata, he adds, has to adopt a strategy that focuses on aspirational branding in order to define “Who am I?” and understand the 12 to 25-year-olds clearly.

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