5 Questions with JSW Group Vice President - Group Brand, Prashant Rao

Ashish Mishra, Interbrand Managing Director India interviews Prashant Rao, JSW Group Vice President - Group Brand. Prashant discusses how JSW is taking on the historically established players and driving growth through innovation, product quality and a more intimate relationship with their customers.

How important do you think customer engagement is in categories like steel and cement? How are things changing?

It is extremely important, increasingly so. Traditionally, these categories do not necessarily have customer engagement or customer intimacy as a part of their mindset, but things are changing now. From a lot of research that we have commissioned recently, we know that customers value engagement. They seek partnership from a company like ours. It is an ask these days. Things are moving in a far more dynamic way.

We supply organizations who then build products for their customers. There is a greater degree of customization that the end-customers are now asking for. These days, across the globe, products and services are being catered to an audience of one, n=1. Earlier ‘n’ was equal to the size of the market, the market’s demands were homogeneous. The universe is shrinking to almost an individual level, and every individual’s needs are different from one another.

How do Indian brands like JSW, Tata Steel, SAIL etc. fair versus their foreign counterparts when it comes to customer engagement?

Such categories are traditionally low on customer engagement. I know for a fact that JSW has taken a lot of reformative action to change that—building processes and initiatives to build better relationships with our customers. Globally too this category is now realizing the importance of looking at this facet and is changing.

Do you feel like customers understanding levels of global brands such as GE, SAP, UPS, Shell etc. is higher? Why do you think that is? 

These organizations have been around for a very long time. The way they look at the customer has been completely different. They put the customer at the center of everything they do irrespective, of whether they are in a B2B or B2C category. Everything tails from the customer, therefore the customer relationship is looked at very differently there.

In categories that have a high level of product and price parity, what can a brand do to become a preferred partner?

Brands such as ours are making Customer engagement a priority by beefing up the processes, creating an entire ecosystem around customer engagement so that we move closer to becoming a preferred partner. We don’t have a choice anymore, it is almost a market force. This is the way we have to respond. Technically, the only way to achieve this is to have innovative products. Can we make better steel? Can we make steel more suited to the requirements of my customers? More suited to the requirements of the environment? We have to operate within certain boundaries unlike in the case of a category like FMCG. A manufacturing organization cannot shift that tectonically.

 

In the Indian market, JSW and Tata are seen on par in terms of quality, and often JSW has more favorable pricing. However, Tata enjoys a higher level of loyalty and advocacy. Why do you think that is?

Tata is a far older brand than us. They have been around in the Indian marketplace for over 150 years. They have generations of customers who have used their brand almost exclusively. That is their biggest advantage. That said, they are not resting. They are continually evolving and innovating, doing things in a smarter, better, faster manner and they continue to consolidate their market-share as well as attract newer customers. We, at JSW, are using cutting-edge technology to make better steel to differentiate ourselves.