Interview: We create a local team to execute every new launch says Ishwaraj Singh Bhatia, Simba Craft Beer

Simba Craft Beer marketing

Ishwaraj Singh Bhatia of Simba Craft Beer on how the brand stayed afloat in the peak of the pandemic, with insights on their marketing, communication, and distribution strategy.

In conversation with Social Samosa, Ishwaraj Singh Bhatia, Co-founder and COO, Simba Craft Beer talks about the changing Indian beer market with many homegrown and hyper-local breweries entering the scene and how that opens up the need to evolve in terms of marketing. Bhatia discusses the AlcoBev marketing challenges and shares how the brand kept going during the peak of the pandemic with the help of a new distribution strategy. 

Edited Excerpts:  

What are some of the consumer consumption & behavior insights seen in the Alco-Bev space? Have any of these insights led you to tweaking an existing product or come out with a new one?

We have seen a genuine shift towards premium products. Earlier, higher quality was generally associated with imported products and we are determined to redefine that concept and push for acceptance and appreciation of homegrown premium products. There is a growing appreciation for home-grown brands, and this holds true for AlcoBev companies as well. Customers today indulge in intensive research before consuming a particular product. They are seeking low alcohol beverage alternatives that make beer, especially craft beer a perfect choice for the changing consumer preferences. This has given all of us a chance to cater to a newer set of audiences. 

The limited outdoor movement has driven people to explore and try new brands and variants to break the monotony. The enthusiasm to experiment and the rise of in-home drinking amongst people has led to a growing acceptance of craft beer brands among consumers. 

Another gradual shift that moved things in a positive direction for the industry over the past year is that, as people from metros moved back to their hometowns, they still wanted to consume the brands they were consuming earlier, and this led to a surge in similar products in even the markets of tier two cities. Simba WIT and Simba Strong both have done very well in urban and rural areas/cities respectively and are the most sought-after products for us.

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D2C brands have been gaining increasing importance in the last few years. Do you think the concept holds merit for AlcoBev brands?  Take us through your overall distribution strategy. 

As per the excise laws, the AlcoBev brands cannot sell directly to the consumers, however, wheels are in motion and we are optimistic about the future. The government too has shown support and understands the needs and requirements of the consumers, therefore, within the next 3-4 years we are hopeful of a gradual shift towards D2C. 

In terms of sales, the recent decision by the Delhi Government to permit home delivery of liquor, through mobile apps and websites, has come as a much-needed respite, as it will help boost sales and demand. However, the government is yet to clarify the terms and conditions of the same and the rollout plan for many states, therefore, we have been able to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Our distribution strategy is driven by one of our biggest advantages, that is our own brewery, as it empowers our supply according to our distributors and meets timelines seamlessly across the country, as opposed to other brands who contract manufacture the beer. Our aim is to first supply to the priority states nearby, such as Delhi and Maharashtra amongst others, and gradually to the other important markets. Additionally, 2 years ago, we also started a new brewery in Arunachal that has further allowed us to =supply to the neighboring states. 

You have been quoted saying that expansion to the South Indian market helped Simba save the day from a sales perspective during the lockdown. What kind of a marketing strategy did you have in place to support your expansion plans? 

In south India, we recently forayed into Andhra Pradesh which was a sales strategic move more than a marketing move. However, there is always a pan-India plan in place that guides the expansion, launch, and marketing strategies. For example, in winters, southern states and communities consume more beer in comparison to northern states due to the weather. Therefore, during the pandemic, entering the Andhra Pradesh market helped us with the volume sales as given the limited restrictions, suitable weather conditions, and unavailability of other brands.  

We curate a local team to execute the launch. They take into consideration the needs, requirements, and feedback of the local consumers, resulting in well-thought-out, informed, and rational decisions, adding local flavor to the launch online and online. 

While word of mouth played an integral role in helping establish brand awareness for Simba, how did you capitalize on this sentiment to drive a more targeted marketing campaign? 

We believe in and rely on the strength, impact, and reach of digital media to engage with its target audience. It enables the brand to keep a close watch on emerging consumer trends and their buying behavior. Marketing today is a heterogeneous approach that encompasses various threads of a brand such as communication, strategy, product, activations, and even consumer experience. The ongoing health crisis and its impact on the consumer buying behavior and online sales has led to a rapid digital transformation, encouraging several brands to amplify spends on digital marketing to engage with potential consumers beyond the product and reinforce their brand values. 

As the pandemic has taught us to go back to our fundamentals and stick to the basics, this year too we will largely focus on driving meaningful content through virtual activations, long-term influencer engagement, cross-brand promotions, and like-minded partnerships. Building on the brand’s resonance with pop culture, we will also continue our IP – Roar from Home series. We also collaborated with multiple home-grown music artists with an aim to promote the underground Indian artists and further elevate the Indie and electronic music scene in the country. 

Besides supporting the local music scene in the country, this year we will collaborate with artists with different skill sets and be seen supporting different art forms. We are looking at creating virtual and at-home experiences through brand collaborations and partnerships to offer something new to our consumers. 

Please shed some light on the role of content in driving consumer engagement & commerce. How has content marketing helped the brand? 

The pandemic had significantly impacted the liquor industry resulting in a lack of promotional platforms for AlcoBev. This led to brands looking at newer ways of connecting with their consumers. For us, our social media handles are the most important platforms as we engage with our audiences directly on all three. While a lot of our efforts are concentrated and focused on Instagram, we’ve been using other platforms (Facebook and YouTube) as well to reach our consumers. 

We made a conscious effort to move beyond just speaking about the brand and its products to focusing on delivering a holistic brand experience. We have been leveraging occasions such as Holi, International Beer Day, and Diwali, etc. to reach our consumers through influencers.   

Back in 2018, when Simba appeared on the big screen with credits from the Simba movie – did you witness any increase in brand awareness or even sales? Would you actively consider spending on movie marketing or OTT content? 

Luckily, we launched our brand around the release of the film, and it helped us significantly from the marketing perspective. This resulted in widespread awareness for the brand and drove increased product recall. With alcohol brands, there is no way to ascertain the reasons for your sales boost and as I mentioned before, we are not a D2C brand yet. Nonetheless, it will always be embedded in the history of brand recalls that Simba and Simba collaborated. It was a step ahead in the audience taking us seriously. Currently, for brands, spending on OTT content, as opposed to movies, is of great significance as OTT content has limited restrictions, is easier to share and cross-promote, and has a longer-lasting effect. Investing in movies requires higher budgets and has more restrictions. 

Do you face any particular challenges in terms of marketing an alcohol brand? If yes, how do you solve them? 

The limited reach and impact of surrogate messaging has pushed the category to formulate new and alternative methods of engaging and growing their consumer base by going beyond surrogate advertising.  In such a situation, the digital platform has emerged as a boon for the AlcoBev industry, introducing opportunities that were formerly unavailable to this sector. 

Social Media helps us reach our audience directly, it helps us engage with them, get their feedback in real-time and most importantly in the given times help us bring home the experiences. It also helps us creatively ensure brand recall. It enables us to keep a close watch on emerging consumer trends and their buying behavior. Additionally, social media has also allowed us to share regular updates with our followers on Simba’s availability in various cities on a real-time basis, which in turn leads to expanding our digital footprint and community.