Harkirat Singh, Managing Director of Woodland, during his conversation with Santosh Abraham, Lead Analyst at Research NXT, shares the story of Woodland emerging as an Iconic adventure brand from India and how the use of CRM & Marketing Automation Tools has helped the brand to build an Omni-Channel strategy and go Global.
Santosh: Woodland is one of the Iconic adventure brands of India, that’s what I relate to when I hear Woodland. It would be great to know, how have you established Woodland as a brand in India.
Harkirat: We have always been in, standing there for whatever outdoors means and we’ve been making products which are meant to be used for outdoors, whether it is our rugged shoes or our jackets, which are waterproof jackets, mainly it’s like a survival kit. We try to incorporate as many technologies as possible in our products, shoes, garments and accessories and give customer something which is meant to be used for outdoors and since, that is the way of life today. People are going outdoors and they are going trekking, they have become adventurous, from Woodland’s side, we want to provide them, all the kits, all the accessories, whatever is required for their outdoor adventure.
Earlier people used to depend on cheap imports or they couldn’t find the right equipment here in India, but since we’ve come, these things are being seen in market, even the customer is very well aware of these sort of stuff which they want when they go for outdoors. Recently we launched slings and sleeping bags and walking sticks which earlier probably people were not quite sure but today we get demand growing. Our strategy has always been very clear and since we started, we actually came from Canada, which is again known for outdoors. In India of-course, we had to change the product accordingly to the weather here, but the outdoor spirit remains the same, so we cater to that spirit.
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Santosh: Well! That’s great to hear, so you got the concept from Canada and created a market in India. How have you adopted the new age digital media in your business and how are you implementing technology in your marketing?
Harkirat: See, marketing has been always very important for us. Since our product is youth based, and since we must connect with our customers very well to understand what they need and showcase them what we’ve got new for them, because today innovation is very important for any brand to sustain in the market. So, innovation in the product line, innovation in the marketing base, everything is very important.
Our customers are between age group of 17 to 35 years, the youth, we try to find how we can connect with them, through social media or through events or through whatever possible ways, going to rock shows where they are, or going trekking and camps with them, we try to connect with in various ways and even traditional media like press and electronic media plays a big part.
But what I feel today, is, we need to change from the traditional ways and innovate better ways because this is the way the youth are going, we must follow them and today we have shifted most of our marketing strategy from the traditional to digital. There are various ways, how we can connect with them like social media to know them as the customers and make Woodland as their friend, so that they can talk to woodland and there should be a one to one with the customer and through social media, I think, that is very much possible.
We have 600 of our own stores, so it gives us right opportunity and platform to know about our customers. Majority of our retail sales come from our own stores. We have a repository of all our customers and we follow customer relationship management policy where we relate to them throughout. Once they buy from us, and see to it that they are satisfied and they come again and any queries they have they can always ask. Whatever new launches and new product is issued, they are updated as fast as possible.
Santosh: You mentioned you have a CRM process, are your using any CRM products?
Harkirat: Yes, we have, SAP CRM implemented, we also use this system for loyalty management. I think it’s a very good way of maintaining relationships with your existing customers and keeping them updated on your products. When our customers have any queries, we have our customer care people connected with them via CRM and any query can be sorted out as fast as possible. It’s very important to have these systems, especially in today’s digital age one dis-satisfied customer can cause a very big impact on the company and the brand.
If I talk about 5-10 years back, mostly our stores were the points where we sold our products from and could connect to our customers. But today, we sell our products through, online platforms like Amazon, Flipkart or our own websites woodlandworldwide.com. And today what we see is trend of buying has changed. Customers visit the site, they can browse through the products, most of the decisions are made online and then they buy from our stores or online as per their convenience. CRM has become an important point for us to connect with the customer via these online / offline sales channels and grow our relationship with our customers.
“We have worked on an Omni-channel strategy and they are all connected.”
Santosh: Sure! That’s a very important point that you’ve mentioned in terms of keeping the customer at the center. You are selling via different channels, Amazon, Flipkart your stores and website how you are ensuring consistency in messaging with multiple channels?
Harkirat: We have worked on an Omni-channel strategy and they are all connected. Customer buying from Flipkart can always go to a store or come to our own site and check out what he’s bought. Sometimes they feel, they might get duplicate product from online stores, so they can always come and check at our physical store. Consistency of information on online and offline channels about the product is very important to give that sense of safe purchase. Its very important that this connectivity with the customer is maintained throughout the process and we give the same experience across all channels.
Santosh: What is your observation on customer expectations when Woodland started in 1992 and now?
Harkirat: I see a big difference in the customer expectations between when we launched our product till today. We have also gradually evolved, seeing the market changing and when we started there were company owned stores, we used to sell through Multi Brand stores only. And we had no connectivity with our Customer at all.
When the stores came in, we came to know our customers better, we started keeping the database of our customers. Today, ECommerce being there, things have further changed and, now we know the customers much better. We connect with them through social media; through facebook, through YouTube. Normally, at a store you can’t interact with the customer at that length but once you become a part of their day to day life, it changes the whole relationship with customer.
So, I think these things have really changed and it’s become so easy to sell now vs when we started, sometimes the store being the only channel, its physically not possible to have all the product range in display. Now when a customer visits a store, likes a product, but the size is not available; it can be immediately delivered to them with ecommerce in place. It’s become much easier to deal with the customer.
We have a lot of interactive sessions, we have ambassadors, outdoor ambassadors. We also find people who are doing something extra ordinary in the field of outdoors, and we try to bring them out. We facilitate them and make the customers talk to them. They can give them tips on how the products can be used. We have some ambassadors who have gone to Everest and Antarctica and some have done paragliding ride. These ambassadors also help us in innovating our products. So we, kind of learn from them. It’s both ways, you learn from your ambassadors, from your customers and you can incorporate so much things to improve our product. So, I think it’s helpful both side.
“This needs marketing teams who are more innovative, people who can think out of the box.”
Santosh: With the new approach to marketing using technology, has your way of hiring marketing teams also changed?
Harkirat: See, initially of-course we have in marketing, which includes people who are looking after the Traditional, digital media and the press. Today, it’s very important because we have old team which is just working on the digital front, which has become so important to us now. We also have agencies that are managing the digital part.
For us to make new content is very important, because if you are in the digital space, the whole game is around the content, so what content we can make, as I told you we have a lot of expedition, lot of ambassadors, we work with UNICEF and WWF. We do lot of treks with them, we do lot of outdoors, lot of events, we gather lot of digital content . I think, today getting the right content and then passing it on to your customers has become very important and this needs marketing teams who are more innovative, people who can think out of the box.
Santosh: Got it! So, I’ll wrap up my discussion with a last question. We have more than 6000 subscribers to this particular research and I think they will greatly benefit from you, on tips of how you have built an iconic global brand from India?
Harkirat: Today being global is much easier than earlier days. We have just recently opened our new operations in Russia, then we have opened our operations in China. To be a global leader of-course you need to have the right product for that country, but I think today you’re marketing strategy remains the same. When you are targeting the youth, we see internationally all the countries, whether it’s in Russia or it is in the middle east, our strategy remains the same, ground level remains the same.
With e-commerce, it’s easier to sell in any country. If I go and start opening stores in those countries, it’s not the right way to expand. E-Commerce & Digital marketing are the biggest innovations that are helping brands to go global.