Himalaya's big gamble

Marketing ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ products should be a cakewalk right? People want exactly what you offer — all you need to do is tell them about your range and where they could lay their hands on the products and voila! your products would fly off the shelves.

In reality, however, selling “herbal” products is a unique challenge. First, you’re selling to a niche market. Second, there are skeptics who would question the authenticity of the ingredients and raw materials you use. And if you happen to put a higher price tag, you’ve just about had it — both competitors and consumers will sneer at your products’ genuineness and efficacy.

So how do you, a relatively small and local brand, compete?

The answer lies in being proactive in everything you do and learning from both your and your competitor’s experiences.

That’s precisely how Himalaya is approaching the men’s grooming market — being cautious and applying insights picked up from the women and child care products markets. For the herbal cosmetics brand, the ride into the men’s grooming space was a challenging one. It entered the category in 2014, having established itself as a trusted brand in women’s grooming. But nearly three years down the line, Himalaya is now making some headway in the grooming market which comprises bath and shower products, hair care, skin care, deodorants and shaving products.

With the launch of the Himalaya Men Pimple Clear Neem face wash in 2016, it has cornered a 23 per cent market share in the unisex face wash segment — so far dominated by premium brands like Nivea and Garnier that are effectively also the leaders in men’s grooming. With its ascent in face wash, Himalaya is hopeful of making a significant dent in the fast-growing men’s grooming category.

According to Euromonitor, the Indian men’s grooming market is projected to touch sales of Rs 14,200 crore by 2020, up from Rs 7,500 crore in 2015. Currently, personal care contributes about 42 per cent of Himalaya’s total revenue of Rs 1,800 crore. The men’s portfolio is a relatively new entrant in the personal care pie and is growing at 80 per cent.

As Himalaya scales up its men’s grooming business, it’s going through an interesting journey of learning and unlearning key brand lessons from its experience of building the women’s product portfolio. To begin with, the profile and preferences of the two consumer groups are vastly different. Women’s grooming category is an evolved one, while that of men’s is still evolving.

What this means for Himalaya, explains Rajesh Krishnamurthy (pictured), business head, personal care division, Himalaya Drug Company, is that “the task of changing men’s habit is a lot tougher”. He says: “Influencing men is harder and a long-term proposition unlike in women’s category where the user enjoys exposure to grooming products and is far more open to experimenting.”

The biggest challenge for brands in men’s grooming is product efficacy, says Saurabh Uboweja, chief executive officer, Brands of Desire. Men in general are barely affected by emotional appeals. They judge a product by its performance rather than packaging. “The gap between promise and performance is larger for most brands in the men’s grooming segment. This is both a challenge and an opportunity,” says Uboweja. Hence, for brands it’s important to build a distinct product portfolio for men.

Krishnamurthy suggests looking at women’s shelves. With multiple products, women take longer in choosing their brand, while a shelf for men would have limited products. In terms of product line, it translates into limited offerings (variants) for men in comparison to women.

And this is why Himalaya offers three variants of men’s face wash — Pimple Clear, Power Glow and Oil Clear. The 15 ml, 50 ml and 100 ml packs are priced at Rs 20, Rs 75 and Rs 140. In the women’s category, 15 ml travel packs played a big role in helping Himalaya woo new customers. It is following the same “affordable pricing” strategy to grow its men’s portfolio. Also, men are more concerned about the benefits a product offers while women are more interested in knowing what delivers the stated benefits or action. These behavioural insights reflect in product design and packaging sported by men’s products. For example, they sport masculine look and feel, are sturdier and available in brighter colours.

With marketing initiatives too, the approach to building men’s product portfolios is hugely different from that of women’s. For women, general entertainment channels are the preferred media vehicles, but for men big sports events are ideal.

For Himalaya, the retail environment for pushing men’s and women’s product portfolios remains the same. Both are available at exclusive brand stores, modern-day retail formats and pharmacies. But with more men buying grooming products online Himalaya focuses on creating a lot more conversation in the digital world for men than women.

Himalaya is targeting a 16 per cent market share in the men’s face wash segment, as against eight per cent at present, in the next one year. It is evaluating plans to get into segments such as hair gel. Even as it looks to attract new consumers, the challenge for a grooming brand is to effectively use media to create awareness and encourage men to try products. Besides, men are more resistant to change than women. “If men like a particular brand they don’t bother to look around for options. For a new player to gain market share, it’s a lot more difficult,” says Krishnamurthy.

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