How Puma entered India as a latecomer and still became a leading sportswear brand

Puma's India marketing head Debosmita Majumdar: 'Our primary target group is the connected, engaged millennial and Gen Z'

Puma is constantly reinventing itself to keep up with the competition in the Indian market, a country in which sporting goods is becoming bigger and bigger business.

Puma CEO Bjorn Gulden recently said that India will be among top five global markets for Puma.

The Drum spoke with Debosmita Majumdar, head of marketing, Puma India to find out how they aim to achieve this. She says that India is strategic for the brand, particularly given how recently it entered the market.

"India is a very strategic market for us. Though we entered the Indian market in 2006 - much after other players – we have grown to become the leading sportswear brand in the country in just one decade. Our brand and products are extremely popular with our target consumer group i.e. the millennials and Generation Z. India is also a key market for us when it comes to launching innovative products. "

"What has worked for us is the new and exciting ways that we engage with our consumers. This, coupled with extremely high-on-style products, has helped us stay ahead of the game. In the coming years as well, we will continue to engage with our consumers by bringing them the most unique experiences and cutting edge products that are high on performance and style. "

To engage its Indian audience, Puma has in the past brought sporting legends, such as Robert Pires, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Boris Becker and Thierry Henry for fans to interact with them. Puma has also launched Arsenal kits in India and created a mini-museum for fans to relive nostalgic moments of the club, and has even taken selected fans to experience a game live at the Emirates stadium.

Majumdar says: "Our strategy is to identify our target group and find an authentic voice to communicate to them, and present to them the brand in the way that they associate and relate to it. We always strive to create exciting yet engaging experiences for our consumers, so they understand that Puma wants to invest in them."

As to how important it is for Puma to cater to millennials, Majumdar says:"Our primary target group is the connected, engaged millennial and Generation Z. This consumer segment is characterized by their high usage and influence of digital communication mediums. While they do consume content, they also use these platforms to communicate with each other and with brands and businesses. They are influenced by both local and global culture – fashion, trends, behavior etc. We call them Generation Hustle – always on the move to chart their own path and make an impact."

According to Majumdar, this aspirational set of young consumer are looking to be inspired and so using sports stars and influencers is a key way to gain credibility.

"It is essential for us to always stay relevant to this target group, and this means being adaptable and moving at their pace. They are influenced not just by their peers and network, but also by people they look up to – musicians, athletes, celebrities etc. Our aim is to engage with this consumer set and the people they admire to tell our brand stories. We want to collaborate with them – consumers and their influencers – to tell our story."

Majumdar further emphasizes on the influence of social media on consumers. She adds: "Today’s youth are exposed to global content, thanks to the influx of social media. They are easily able to differentiate whether a brand is only ‘selling’ to them or engaging with them to contribute to their individual journeys. Consumers today like immersive experiences, it assures them that brands are also investing in them. In order to provide them with exceptional experiences, we complement our initiatives with product-led advertising and influencer engagement which creates interest among the fans and consumers."

According to Majumdar, Puma believes that a bit of localization is essential to connect with the audiences. She says: "Our campaigns bring in the local nuances so the message we want to put out becomes relatable for our consumer. A ‘one shoe fits all’ strategy doesn’t work; we need to personalize the campaign so consumers are able to relate to our communication."

A recent example of this is its 'Suede Gully' campaign, which integrated Indian graffiti, street dance and hip hop in four languages, taking a very globally recognizable street style aesthetic but promoting it in a hyper-local way.

"Being a global brand, we do run international campaigns across the world. But we do customize it to each country so it resonates better with our consumers."

Puma also roped in Indian cricketer Virat Kohli on board as its global ambassador who launched his athleisure brand One8, in collaboration with them.

According to Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) total sports goods exports for the year ended FY 2016-17 is US$ 227.70m, as compared to the US$ 274.50m during the previous year.

The market is set to become even more competitive, as brands realize there's scale and success to be had in engaging India's aspirational youth. Constant reinvention will surely help Puma retain its short, but significant, impact on the sector.

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Taruka Srivastav

I march to the Indian beat of The Drum.

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