Bajaj V: baking in distinctiveness from the birth of your brand

Another post from Prasad Narasimhan, our Managing Partner based in Bangalore, India.

The auto industry has always been fascinating to marketers. On the one hand, it is home to some of the most enduring brands, with brilliant consumer promises backed by exceptional engineering. Think of the Beetle, BMW, Harley or Ducati – all superb examples of where product “sausage” meets emotional “sizzle”.

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Equally, it is home to some of the most banal brand narratives, driven by “competitive mediocrity” – my car is faster, cheaper, bigger, quieter, smaller … all harking back to the belief that “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door”. Too much focus on features, too little on benefits, both functional and emotional.

Several Indian auto brands have struggled with this balance. More often than not, these are conceived ‘engineering-first’. After hundreds of man-years of engineering effort in building the product, marketing often comes as an afterthought – as a superficial brand “image wrapper” over the product.

In this context, Bajaj’s recent entry into the Indian motorcycle market with its ‘V’ brand looks like it has potential to join the former group of enduring brands. Here’s why.

Forged on a product truth

India is going through strange political times. Nearly 70 years after independence, political parties are suddenly raking up nationalism and patriotism as fresh themes with impending elections in mind. The resultant bickering & one-upmanship on who is more nationalistic is severely polarizing India but also making millions more cynical & despondent. Against this context, Bajaj V is different.

The Bajaj V motorcycle was launched on 26th January 2016, India’s Republic Day. Bajaj has taken one of India’s proudest symbols of nationalism & patriotism, the aircraft carrier INS Vibrant, and used its molten metal to forge a bike. INS Vikrant served India over several years & wars, and was India’s pride until it was sent to the scrapyard a few years ago. Bajaj grabbed the idea of using this symbolism to not just impart the spirit of patriotism, but also functional benefits of strength and invincibility.

The first reaction of most people is “What an Idea!” And the launch film below has touched a nerve, with over 3.5 million views on YouTube. That’s indeed a great start.

But more importantly, Bajaj is not treating this as a limited edition concept like others might have done. They instead intend to use this strong emotional platform as the basis for a large brand entry into the belly of the market – the central ‘Executive Commuter Segment’.

Baking in distinctiveness 

Bajaj has baked-in distinctiveness into the product. The V is a robust-looking beast as compared to the sleek alternatives in this segment. Deliberately going against the dominant codes of sleekness & raciness, Bajaj has crafted the V to look imposing & a little cruiser-like, but with the fuel efficiency crucial to consideration in this segment. Additional features like a removable cowl and solid faring further add to the distinctiveness.

Maintaining momentum

The initial consumer reaction seems very promising. With over 10,000 bookings on day 1, Bajaj plans to increase production capacity to beyond the 20,000 bikes per month they had planned. The mood is clearly upbeat.

But the auto industry is replete with examples of brands that have flattered only to deceive. Many a brand has generated large bookings, but then fizzled to smallness. Our experience in this segment suggests that constant product renovation is crucial for sustained success. Will Bajaj V maintain initial quality? Will they resolve early product glitches with alacrity? Will it meet the many ‘jobs to be done’ by a bike in this central category? Will they keep working on the mileage, given that the extra weight of the bike will surely affect its fuel performance? Only time will tell.

In Summary

The combination of a strong emotional promise & a distinctive product is a great place to start. But given the nature of the emotional promise, Bajaj will need to constantly find new ways to express this promise, so that it stays relevant & resonant.

The good thing for the V is that Bajaj will invest big behind this launch, be it in terms of properties, promotion or distribution. It’ll be great to see this story develop.

And for more insight on distinctiveness, see this earlier post.