Footwear brand Bata has been going for 125 years – can it change its stuffy image in India?
As part of The Drum’s Retail Deep Dive, we explore the digital transformation plans of global footwear brand Bata in India.
For many Indians, Bata has been a brand that represents their school years, with its sturdy – and non-fashionable – shoes and other school accessories. Now, the brand, which was originally founded in Europe but has acquired consumer loyalty as fierce as any homegrown business, wants to be known for its fashionable and reliable offerings.
Anand Narang, chief marketing officer at Bata India, tells The Drum that “despite originally being from the Czech Republic and now headquartered in Switzerland, in most countries, it is perceived as a local brand.” For the last few years, the company in India has been on a transformation journey. Its brand positioning has been reviewed and recalibrated to meet the demands of new and emerging consumer profiles.
Bata’s Indian journey
Bata counts India as one of its most important markets. But it’s had an unconventional history in the country, which dates back to its entry to the Indian market in1931, in Kolkata. Such was its pull as a regional brand that it has inspired references in the novel and mini-series ‘A Suitable Boy’, among many other iconic cultural products.
While Bata globally has a presence in over 50 markets, India is different from Europe and Latin America. Consumers prefer for open footwear such as sandals and flip-flops due to the hot climate and a need for more breathable material preference, says Narang. And the products consumers choose, tend to last. “The per capita footwear consumption in India is only 1.7 pairs annually, compared to six pairs in developed markets, so there is headroom for enough growth”, he adds.
Change is the only constant, and it is especially true for a company that’s been around since 1894 like Bata. Understandably, consumers have a certain perception about the brand. Changing that perception will take time, admits Narang, but he also sees it as a great opportunity for the brand.
For decades, while Bata was synonymous with quality and comfort, it was not necessarily seen as the most fashionable or sexy brand in India. Realizing this, a few years back the company put together a blueprint for renovating the brand.
Moments of truth
Narang’s objective is “to evolve Bata to be a relevant, fashion-forward and digitally engaging brand for millennials”, a one-stop-destination for accessible style and comfortable products.
The key to this repositioning is a focus on the consumer journey, “moments of truth around the consumer interaction“ with the brand and deploying lessons learned from the constant evolution of its stock portfolio. And as the company evolves to become an omnichannel digital retailer, Narang says it must “learn new things about customer expectations, convenience and flexibility and evolving the customer experience.”
Various customer touchpoints were identified for renewal, and the company has started upgrading its shops to a new concept store format, ’Red European’ – while upgrading the skills and tech support of shopfloor staff.
Meanwhile supply chain and manufacturing facilities have been modernized, while the design has been prioritized as an integral part of its offering. International designs have joined its own-brand offering, and Bata now sells Hush Puppies for metropolitan consumers, Scholl for design and comfort seekers, North Star, Power and Weinbrenner for Millennials and college students and Marie Claire for style-driven consumers. The brand has also released curated collections such as ‘Work from Home’, ‘Fitness at Home’ and ‘Relaxed Workwear’ in the last few months.
To reach Millennials with an older view of Bata, it recently launchd the ‘surprisingly Bata’ brand platform. The campaign deployed an honest and cheeky tone to make the point of the brand shift. It collaborated with the iconic Lakme Fashion Week, where it launched a Marie Claire designer collection as well as generating perception-changing influencer content.
In addition, brand communication was contemporized, young and buzzworthy celebrities and style icons like Kriti Sanon, Smriti Mandhana and Karthik Aaryan were signed as brand ambassadors, while digital media was deployed in a more powerful way to connect and sell footwear.
Bata 2.0: tech-meets-fashion
With a changing portfolio and audience mix, Bata has worked on making its brand offering to be digitally and contextually relevant. Narang says this has involved deploying artificial intelligence, automation and preferences to make personalized recommendations to digital shoppers.
For customers stepping into stores, there are multiple opportunities for digital interactivity. It offers shoppers an ‘endless aisle’ product discovery tool, accessed by scanning a QR code, the ability to get personalized recommendations and gift coupons, and a ‘customer single view’ for store staff, who can see shopping history to suggest new products.
One clear outcome of life after the pandemic has been the adoption of digital as a way of life by consumers across geographies and categories. In Bata’s case also while the digital transformation was a major part of its long-term objectives, the pandemic served to accelerate the entire process, says Narang. Owing to the lockdowns, people were left with no other options but to explore digital means to fulfil their shopping needs. He says the brand responded by strengthening its digital capabilities and employing an omnichannel approach to reach the customers. Narang shared Bata’s approach:
The brand segmented its consumers into three categories: digital natives, digital adopters, and digital novices, and crafter solutions for each of them. For digital natives, people who are digital citizens and well-versed with technology, the focus was on strengthening the website, adding new styles, and enhancing its presence across online marketplaces like Amazon, Myntra and Flipkart.
For digital adopters, people who are somewhat familiar with technology but are still getting the hang of it, an interesting innovation – Bata ChatShop – was launched. The idea was to enable the customers to locate their three nearest stores, chat and video call with store managers through WhatsApp and get their favorite styles delivered to their doorstep.
For digital novices, mobile stores called ‘Bata Store on Wheels’ were launched, stocked with products that could be brought direct to the consumers.
As this legacy brand navigates the evolving world of retail with a transformation across its products and processes, it would be interesting to see whether it can find true relevance among new audiences, while still serving its core market.