TVS Motors has cracked the women’s two-wheeler mark et—but not before finding out what clicks with them.
n 1993, when TVS Motors gave Scooty its first test drive, it wouldn’t have thought its sinewy two-wheeler would be suffering from gender confusion. Well, sort of. Billed initially as a unisex scooter, Scooty was supposed to have been every rider’s first choice. But in a few years, as it began taking on Bajaj Sunny and Kinetic Honda, something became clear. Scooty was winning over more women than men. That could have been a problem: a majority of two-wheeler users are men. But TVS saw an opportunity.
What followed was a repositioning of Scooty: TVS decided to give it a new marketing push and turn it into an all-exclusive woman’s bike. “Brands get launched with certain intent, and then you do a reality check,” says S Srinivas, General Manager, Marketing, TVS. “We could have decided to make Scooty unisex again. Or, like we did, to make it a women’s brand.” The good news: the gameplan worked.
The Rs 3,741-crore TVS now sells nearly 25,000 Scootys a month. By doing so, it’s become by far the largest-selling women two-wheeler brand. It’s one of those rare categories in which the No. 3 two-wheeler maker TVS has beaten leader Hero Honda. The latter’s rival product Pleasure clocked almost 17,000 units during the same period. Of course, the comparative figure for Honda Activa was nearly 60,000 units. But then, it’s a unisex bike.
To be sure, the women’s two-wheeler category is a niche one. Even today, the market penetration is just about 2% nationally. That means, only 2% of potential women two-wheeler buyers in the 15-60 age-group end up buying. The comparative figure for men would be close to 35%, reckons Srinivas. Sign of a mature segment.
This fact was reiterated when Mahindra & Mahindra recently commissioned Singapore-based market research firm Quais to study the two-wheeler market: about 85% of two-wheeler riders are male.
No wonder it makes sense for Mahindra, trying to get a toe-hold in two-wheelers, to go the unisex way. It even changed the positioning of Flyte, the brand that came its way after its acquisition of Kinetic Motor. Flyte is no longer a women’s bike.
“From a Mahindra standpoint, we had prioritised our opportunity areas,” says Devendra Shinde, VP, Marketing, Mahindra 2 Wheelers. “Women consumers weren’t among the first opportunity areas that we could have looked at.”
Imagine what the market would have looked like when Scooty made that strategic rejig more than a decade ago. The only way TVS could have made a start in the market was by finding out why most women keep off two-wheelers. It did just that and continues to do so.
How? The tool TVS uses is called the trigger and barrier study. Typically used for products with a low penetration, it involves “in-depth questioning” of its target audience. TVS conducts a poll with a sample size of 1,000 girls every month in six cities. This is to understand their attitude toward Scooty and the two-wheeler category. And, once every six months to a year, the Scooty team does an audit of the findings.
“You might not get very different signals each time,” says S Srinivas. “But we are more aware of it and chipping away at it.” TVS has been doing this survey, which it now believes to be a source of its competitive advantage, since 1998. TVS has decoded quite a few of the signals. The triggers in the women’s two-wheeler category are earning capacity, mobility and freedom. Barriers, on the other hand, are sociological and cultural coupled with fears of safety.
The ground rule is that the triggers are addressed through communication and barriers through product. “You never address barriers through communication,” says Srinivas, “as it goes contra to consumer belief.”
The barrier of safety fears, for instance, can be addressed in numerous ways. One is by providing a beeper for the side-stand. An alarm goes off if the side-stand isn’t lifted while the vehicle is moving. The second is a mobile charger. The third is puncture-resistant tyres. TVS gave tubeless tyres a serious thought but then realised that small towns wouldn’t have facilities for repairing them. The company is also toying with the idea of starting a helpline for service pick-ups and drops.
|What enhances the trigger and barrier analysis is keeping an ear to the ground. The Scooty team makes note of brands that women respond to.|
Scooty, according to Srinivas, is so designed that even a 5 ft tall girl can have a comfortable ride. “It is the lightest two-wheeler in the market,” he says. And it also has features that are becoming the norm: auto gears, auto choke and electric start.
All that’s fine. But what if most women never get to learn to ride a two-wheeler?
That’s what the surveys indicate. While it is normal for men to lend their bikes to friends who want to learn, women face stiff resistance from the men in their household. What makes it worse is that there aren’t very many formal two-wheeler trainers. TVS hit upon a solution to get around the problem. It kick-started the TVS Scooty Institute. The programme made a quiet entry in 1998. Under this, a girl over 16 years of age can take a week’s training for Rs 350 (usually at a TVS dealership). This facility is available in 80 cities and towns in India. Until now, over 42,000 women have taken up the training.
That’s not the end. TVS keeps a tab on those who are trained for three months. It has, until now, found that a fifth of them buy a Scooty within that period. Half of them already have a bike at home and about 5% of the participants end up buying a rival bike too. TVS wants to use its extensive dealership and service network to scale up the programme to 1,000 centres. In each centre, it wants to increase the women under training to 200 from 60-70.
Dealing with the same insight in a different way, TVS last year introduced balancing wheels. Women also have the choice of getting a refund (half the price) on the wheels. So far, there have been more than 10,000 takers.
Clues And Hints
TVS attacks the triggers through Scooty’s ad campaigns. Ads, like the one in which Minissha Lamba becomes a doctor, clearly is a call for women to go after their dreams. “Typically, brands work better on trigger,” says Srinivas. “All our ads will be about girls being smart and winning.”
Says Sameer Mehta, VP, Mudra Max, the agency the Scooty team works with, “The need is created in the first place by showing what you can achieve.”
What enhances the trigger and barrier analysis is keeping an ear to the ground. The Scooty team and marketing research units enlisted by TVS make note of brands and products that women respond to. These include brands like Fair & Lovely, Stayfree, Lakme and also products such as cellphones. “We also do trend-spotting in colleges,” he says.
So, when Scooty wanted to turn pink in 2006, many thought pink and automobile don’t go together. What gave confidence for the Scooty team to go through with it was the pink mania that was catching on. VIP was launching pink suitcases. Motorola was coming out with a pink phone. Hutch had gone pink. The media was calling pink the new black. The pink Scooty, Srinivas says, is the top-selling colour now. “We don’t always follow what others are doing but we are aware.”
The TVS team is equally aware that a good chunk of women riders are getting used to two-wheelers. So, after launching bikes in 60 cc and 90 cc, it now plans to look at 100 cc and beyond. (The 60 cc category contributes about 15% of its sales) “The higher cc bikes are for experienced riders,” says Srinivas. “The contextual change is the increasing confidence of women; and society is also changing.”
Now Scooty is a shorthand for any two-wheeler woman’s bike. “Today, Scooty has almost become a generic name,” says Srinivas. Independent consultant Ramanujam Sridhar, founder of brand-comm, seconds it. “It shows how it has made a good job of promoting the category.”
The tool behind that, the trigger and barrier study, might be needed for some more time. As Srinivas says, the barriers to market maturity won’t go in a hurry. So wouldn’t the tool!
—With inputs from Kunal N Talgeri