How Dr Kurien's business wisdom built the Amul brand
Father of White Revolution V Kurien passes away at 90. Goodbye Dr Kurien, the man behind the brand of India
The success of Amul is no accident. It was Dr Kurien’s understanding of how brands work, of the importance of building brands, of the focus on quality, value for money and customer centricity as a bedrock of all that Amul did, which has made Amul the behemoth that it is.
Consider these pearls of wisdom from Dr Kurien culled from speeches that he made as chairman of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation over the years.
“For the Consumer, Amul simply means ‘Value For Money’ and Quality as it should be. Our brand name touches an emotional chord with her: Amul means a range of superior products, consumed by every age group, and a favourite in every part of our diverse land. Amul makes each bite that much more special because in our humble way, we care for feelings that are truly “Indian”.”
And a few years later…
Dr Kurien was, simply put, a marketing guru: PTI
“As you all know, Amul was founded on a sound business model: providing quality products to consumers at an affordable price. The Pundits have described our model as “value for money” and it has been adopted by a number of companies. While imitation may be flattery, most other organisations fail to understand that “value for money” is not just about low prices – it means offering the best quality products at the most reasonable price”.
Marketing professionals from any company would give an arm and a leg to be able to make a statement like this. How many brands, worldwide, can claim that their brand ‘touches an emotional chord’ with the consumer? How many companies have products that are ‘consumed by every age group’?
Dr Kurien’s vision, and his deep understanding of how brands operate, can be further understood from this statement:
“I have always been a firm believer of the dictum that ‘Brand is power’. A cooperative without a “brand” can never aspire to survive — let alone thrive — while marketing commodities in today’s competitive environment. Only by nurturing its marketing skills and building solid brands can cooperatives make their own growing space in the market. And we must never forget that quality and value are the foundation for successful brands.”
In one line, Kurien encapsulates all that brand gurus have tried, over the years, to say in books, lectures and speeches: “Never forget that quality and value are the foundation for successful brands”.
It is this belief that results in the happy situation where consumers are unable to remember a bad experience with a single brand from the Amul stable.
It is the promise of Amul’s products that lift them from being mere products in a category and raise them to the level of brands. How different can Amul’s core products, milk and butter, be from other milk and butter brands? Milk will taste (more or less) the same, irrespective of which branded Tetrapak carton one buys, and butter will taste (more or less) the same, irrespective of the logo on the carton.
Yet, the consumer, at the moment of truth, when standing in the shop aisle, chooses Amul over the competition. That’s a result of having received, over the decades, good quality and great value for money. That is trust in a brand. The ultimate prize that a marketing company can hope to win.
By the mid 1990s, liberalisation had entered India and India saw an end to the era of monopolies, and Amul was no different. By 2000, India was a happy hunting ground for many multinationals, who made a beeline for our shores.
“An expanding market inevitably attracts increasing competition. Today, every product category sees new entrants in our business. Competition may be from existing companies entering new categories or from new companies. Our experience and marketing prowess has enabled us to maintain a formidable distance between our competitors and us. However, there is no room for complacency. We must not only maintain our lead, we must increase it,” Kurien said in 2001.
There are also so many Indian companies that failed to understand the dynamics of the new India and found themselves unable to halt the slide from being market leaders to also-rans. Kurien saw to it that, first, the changes were acknowledged and understood and that complacency was no option. His words have the hallmark of a fighter from the private sector – “we must not only maintain our lead, we must increase it.”
The Indian business press has rarely referred to Dr Kurien as a management guru. But how different is Dr Kurien’s statement from the famous quote by former Intel CEO Andy Grove, when he said, “Only the paranoid survive”?
It was Kurien who taught Amul to be paranoid – and, consequently, not just survive, but grow, grow and grow.
Now, Amul will have to deal with a future without the aid of Dr Kurien. Perhaps they would do well to draw from another bit of advice from him, namely this statement, made in 2004:
“The key to retaining our competitive advantage lies in keeping focused on the basic business principles:
• Be Customer-Driven
• Adapt quickly to the changing environment.
• Anticipate change and act today to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”
Forget about Amul. Whatever marketing company you work for, look beyond Amul’s ads and try and understand what Dr Kurien did to help make Amul one of the greatest brands built in India; try and understand how he dealt with changes in government policy, the liberalisation of the economy and the emergence of competition in category after category.
Most important, try and understand why he put the consumer at the centre of every single major decision that Amul took.
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