When A Mighty River Find Its FlowThe Brand Transformation Journey of HCCB
In 2017, The Coca-Cola Company unveiled its new strategy for business - embracing beverages for life as its motto – in acknowledgement of the changing tastes of consumers. The philosophy of change percolated to its Indian manufacturing and distribution arm, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages too, which then embarked on a brand transformation journey. There were many imperatives for HCCB’s exercise.
This document captures the need for change and how it was effected. What was the methodology and process followed. It was a long journey that organically evolved, taking many interesting routes. And it was a journey that involved every employee in the organization and anyone the brand touched. In many ways, it is still an ongoing evolving process. Documenting the journey serves to unfold the thought processes, and crystallizes the vision and mission, providing clarity to all the stakeholders.
Inspired by India
Set up in 1997, and headquartered in Bangalore, we rank among India’s largest FMCG manufacturing and distribution companies. We own and operate 15 factories, have over 3,000 distributors and supply 60+ products in 7 categories through 2.5 million retail outlets. A very large enterprise with an Indian ethos and heartbeat, we are meticulous and middle class. We are industrious and proficient. We are a combination of the head and the heart.
While the other Coca-Cola entity, Coca-Cola India is responsible for demand creation, brand building, marketing, product development, R&D and recipe, HCCB is into manufacturing, quality control, distribution, execution and retailing. Our network is vast and diverse touching 250,000 farmers, 4,000 supplier partners across 22 states in 376 districts.
Prosaically speaking, HCCB is where all the ingredients – beverage bases, juice recipes, pulp, sweeteners come together in delightful packages to create great tasting consumer propositions. Poetically speaking, HCCB is like a mighty river, where diverse streams flow in, meet to make magic and then quench the needs of all that the river touches.
Summing the scale and personality
In 2017, the company pivoted to a new strategic template. That it should think beyond a few flagship brands and be about ‘beverages for life’. Consumers were changing, tastes were altering, the environment and the availability of natural resources were on the wane and a new generation of workers and consumers had taken centerstage. The company needed to attune itself to the change.
This thinking obviously had to percolate beyond products. The new template was about encouraging diversity at the workplace, it was about evolving new ways of production and distribution, it was about being the best place to work. Against the backdrop of this change, it was also time for HCCB to contemplate what it stood for and what did its identity reflect – an exercise triggered by its then CEO Christina Ruggiero. The company may have been in India for only two decades, but its pulse and ethos was - purely Indian. Created in India for India, the heart of the company was completely attuned to the country – the discussions, the topics, the languages spoken, the concerns of the company and its people were all Indian. The ethos, when the company examined it closely, was that of a hardworking, middle class Indian company, rooted to Indian values, focused on discipline more than disruption, and yet with a burning ambition and aspiration for growth.
Even as it wanted to emphasise its Indianness, HCCB also wanted to dial up its manufacturing strength, its breadth of partners and its wide product portfolio. The company found that distributors were often surprised to learn that products like Fanta, Maaza, Minute Maid, Georgia or Smart Water were also from the same stable. Clearly, there was a need to raise awareness about the variety and range of the product portfolio.
The third and most important aspect was from an employer branding perspective -- at campus interviews, during recruitment drives, candidates needed to join HCCB if they were interested in learning the ropes of the FMCG business. HCCB needed to develop a strong employer value proposition and a distinct identity of its own that would stand out.
As India’s fifth largest FMCG, with a chain of 3,000 distributors, 2.5 million retail touch points, 60 products, 6,500 employees and close interactions with the many communities where its factories were located, HCCB needed to tell its own story – over and beyond the Coca-Cola connection.
In sheer size and scale of operations, it was among India’s top FMCG companies and yet, when you asked the average person to name the big firms in the sector, HCCB’s name was not popping up. It was time to change the status quo and ensure brand recall. The simple and easy way would be to shout from the rooftops through an advertising blitzkrieg but that would have been superficial – there was a need to do this holistically, delving deep within, discovering the brand identity and living it.
“HCCB was a powerful brand. And yet nobody had a remote sense of its power. This was a great workplace. Everyone loved the brands, everyone loved coming to work. So why were we not talking about it?” Indrajeet Sengupta, Exec Director & CHRO, HCCB.
The need for change was evident, and a sense of how the company was different was emerging but it was all nebulous. Pinpointing the identity, defining it and articulating it in a voice that would resonate was the challenge. While the company was proud of its legacy, it needed to embrace the future and move where the world was moving. The starting point was to find its own true self. It was not shedding its legacy but building on it to forge a new path. This is when HCCB decided to rope in an external agency to help it discover its brand identity. Kamlesh Sharma, Chief Communication Officer at that time, who had moved into HCCB from Coca-Cola India in 2017 in a newly created role, identified three agencies.
Significantly, it chose to go with an agency that was home grown and had a similar earthy ethos. Wavelengths matched perfectly with Bang in the Middle, a Delhi-based boutique branding and advertising agency, which partnered HCCB in its explorations.
The search for identity was an interesting journey of introspection. While companies with product brands have a relatively easier time seeking brand identities which take the cue from its flagship offerings, it is far more difficult for a manufacturing company with divergent people and seeking an employer value proposition.
Challenging though the task appeared, when the company began looking inwards, surprisingly it was not so difficult. That was because amidst the diversity in the various factories and the corporate office, there was already a binding strand, a common culture that to the external eye was very evident immediately. And that was its Indianness. Also, how connected it was to the local communities where it operated, literally partnering with them in their joys and sorrows and troubles and successes.
Very quickly a line emerged – Inspired by India. It was pithy, it encapsulated the ethos and thought of the company perfectly.
And Prathap Suthan, Chief Creative Officer at Bang in the Middle found the perfect metaphor to describe HCCB. As he says, “To me, HCCB is a river that flows through India with enough and more tributaries – these tributaries being the various products that HCCB manufactures. And much as India interacts and prospers along the shores of rivers is how local communities and the larger nation interacts with and inspires HCCB.”
“Repeatedly, the one phrase that resonated across the company, from top to bottom was ‘we are very Indian’. The CEO at that time was an expatriate – but even she said, I am more Indian than many Indians.” - Naresh Gupta, Bang in the Middle.
Uncovering the heart and the soul
An identity had been found, but that was just the starting point of the journey. How do you give it shape, voice, and embed it in the hearts of HCCB’s people, within and outside? How do you build on it and weave stories around it? HCCB was clear that the brand transformation exercise would be holistic and encompass all the touchpoints – visual, sonic, emotional, experiential, physical, digital, and social.
Multiple agencies were involved in the exercise -Bang in the Middle, BOD Consulting, Elephant Design, Brand Musiq, WATConsult, Krafting - each with their unique strengths and expertise.
When HCCB embarked on the exercise, the colour that dominated everywhere – be it the factories, the offices, all its assets – was red. It was the colour of one brand. But given the diversity and Indianness of HCCB, and its understated hard working values, there had to be a combination of colours to depict what the company stood for.
The challenge before Bang in the Middle was to capture HCCB’s Indianness, its diversity, its values and its aspiration and potential for growth, in the visual identity. The logo that eventually emerged shortened the long corporate name to the familiar acronym of HCCB within which were colours that captured everything.
Between then, these colours were also either the primary or secondary colours of its top selling brands. So, blue for Kinley and Thums Up, orange for Fanta and Maaza, green for Sprite and Limca and so on.
Happily, enough, these were also the colours of India – and if you looked carefully at the lettering, the two Cs in the middle of HCCB were woven in the shape of 8. Research shows that an average consumer has eight drinks per day, mostly water and freshly brewed tea in India. To HCCB, the numeral 8 symbolized its quest. At the same time the two Cs could also be seen as infinity. Thus, the logo graphically represented HCCB’s growth, potential and the philosophy of the company, blended with Indian ethos. The letters in the logo were deliberately kept imperfect – they symbolized the company’s priority of progress over perfection.
“Infinite possibilities perfectly summed up our aspirations. In India, the per capita consumption of packaged beverages is so low, and the possibility of expanding that horizon is so huge – the way the logo weaves it in is brilliant.” Sanjeev Marya, Zonal Vice President, Operations, HCCB
While a visual identity directly speaks, a sonic identity is more subliminal. Music in the hands of a master composer has the ability to subconsciously take you on a journey. And that’s exactly what maestro Dr Ilaiyaraaja did for HCCB. His composition for HCCB took the listener on a journey of India.
It was a proud moment that HCCB’s anthem was the maestro’s first ever composition for a corporate entity. Till then he had steadfastly steered clear of composing for commercial entities and the company had to move mountains literally to convince the celebrated composer. HCCB, which had most of its operations located in the south, but with a global outlook, was clear that it wanted only Dr Ilaiyaraaja with his skill for blending Indian folk music, Indian instrumentation with western classical techniques. But it was easier said than done to bring him on board as the creative genius was elusive. But Prathap Suthan at Bang in the Middle was equally persistent, trying many routes. The persistence paid off – the idea appealed to the maestro - and the result was sheer genius.
Image Source: Deccanherald
The simple tune and the richness of the melody that Dr Ilaiyaraaja created puts you in the mind of a mighty river that travels through many landscapes, encapsulating the vastness and diversity of the company. Beginning with a soft and mellifluous tune on the flute, the anthem gradually extends into a powerful visual of India. In many ways, the music represents the new India, which is traditional and yet contemporary, always on the move, inspiring others and the world in the process.
“When you listen to the track that Dr Ilaiyaraaja has composed, there is a certain flow to the tune. It feels like a river that meanders and cascades through with various layers. The entire tune is very smooth, there are no hard edges. It’s undoubtedly a masterpiece.” Prathap Suthan, Chief Creative Officer, Bang in the Middle
HCCB now had a melody - a theme song - that wonderfully captured its soul – now it needed the words. And who better than celebrated poet Gulzar to capture the heart of the company in captivating lyrics, in his rich voice. There could not be a better description of what HCCB is, where it is headed and the aspirations of its people!
“Sab jaane se chehre hain, pehchaane purani hain
Hum Sharbati ras ki ek kahani hain
Hindustan se hain hum, hum Hindustani hain
Haathon mein kai phan hai, awaaz machinon ki
Hai uncha mayar apna, aur ada haseenon ki
Aaanewali daur ki hum ek nishaani hain
Hindustan se hain hum, hum hindustaani hain
Hum khwaab bhi bunte hain, aur rang bhi chunte hain
Jo Zindagi kehti hai, har ang se sunte hain
Hum aankho se likhte hain, jo wade zabaani hain,
Hindustan se hain hum, hum hindustaani hain
Tehzeeb hai sadiyonki, aur lamhon mein jeete hain
Do honth lagakar hum, yeh zindagi peete hain
Udte hain to badal hain, behte hain toh paani hain
Hindustan se hain hum, hum hindustaani hain
Image Source: Wikipedia
“Every face is familiar, a friendship known long”
The spirit of sweetness the theme of our life song
Indians we are. To India we belong
We ply many skills with machines keeping pace
We set our standards high, but move to it with grace
Of a new tomorrow, we are the shining face
Indians we are. India is our space.
We dare to dream and gather life’s colours
We drench ourselves in lessons that life upon us showers
To change promises to truth, our vision has the power
Indians we are. India is our bower.”
We capture the teaching of eons, in a moment’s grasp
Life’s cup of mystery, between our clasp
We take wing like the cloud, we flow like the stream
Indians we are. India is our dream.
After Hindi and English, HCCB decided to find its expression in different streams. Acclaimed poets and writers like Jayant Kaikini in Karnataka, Viveka in Tamil, Anant Sriram in Telugu, Niren Bhatt in Gujarati, Srijato Bandhopadhyay in Bengali and Vaibhav Joshi in Marathi, put pen to paper and captured the essence of HCCB in different languages. None of these were literal translations and the poets were given the freedom to interpret it their own way. What this did was to open new nuances of HCCB in different tongues and strengthen the communication.
“We had a mission and vision statement. But was there a way to communicate this without any jargon? How do we pen in simple appealing words the reason why an employee comes to the office everyday? That’s when it occurred to us – why not get poets to write a manifesto.” Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, chief public affairs and communication officer, HCCB
Simultaneously, BOD Consulting was engaged in finding out the persona of brand HCCB. As a corporate brand, there were many hues to it than just the DNA of the products that it sold.
Although HCCB was much younger, it had an innate maturity. The exercise to seek out HCCB’s persona was a collaborative one with over 250 employees engaged in the discovery process.
From the exercises set to the employees on their perception of HCCB, what emerged was that this was a company that was performance oriented, yet with a very human approach - it was full of heart.
Everyone was expressive and had numerous stories to share which just reinforced the caring side of the company, even as curiosity as a facet emerged too.
It was evident that one archetype would not fit the company. Karuna, Veera and Adbhuta (Compassionate, Brave and Full of Wonder) were the traits that were derived from the exercise.
The narratives depicted a brand that was supporting and nurturing of others, putting their well-being up front. There was a perception of open heartedness – evidenced in the narrative of every visitor to the factory being fed – and a feeling of trust. Also, a sense of resilience, a never say die spirit.
At the same time there was a thirst for growth and experimentation.
The two archetypes that emerged strongly, one dominantly and the other supportively were that of a nurturing caregiver and intrepid explorer. The archetypes uncovered were very important as they helped in reinforcing the culture of the organization. While hiring for instance, the focus would be on someone who could be nurturing and caring and would be full of curiosity. It also helped the organization in framing internal policies where caring for its people became the dominant thinking. Even in external outreach, the voice of the company was that of a nurturer.
“The company wanted to grow rapidly yet balance the quest for growth with a caring attitude, being responsible towards not just its people, but the environment.” - Saurabh Uboweja of BOD.
The identity was clear, the persona was evident, now it was time to live it and experience it to the hilt. This is where Elephant Design came in. Its job was to translate the intangible brand philosophy and brand values into a tangible experience – at the factories, the core of HCCB’s operations, as well as at the sites of HCCB’s community work and its corporate and sales offices.
The first step for Elephant Design was to spend time at the factories, look at what they were producing, who were the people, what drove them, who were the visitors, what were their feelings and thoughts about the organization when they entered.
A pool of stories of life within the organization emerged, what made it hum and thrive. There was happiness, there was curiosity, there was a strong local connect within each of the factories, with the organization also playing a part in empowering the communities nearby.
From different factories different stories emerged, many of them stirring stories of people with aspirations, though the larger theme was consistent with the care-giving value. Once these stories emerged, it was time to reflect it back to the visitors coming in and deliver to them the moment of truth about what HCCB stood for. Right from the gate to the manufacturing arena to the canteen and visitor’s gallery, the idea was to offer an immersive experience that also captured the local nuances.
So, while the processes at various factories -- be it Ameenpur, Sanand, Wada or Bidadi - from sourcing to production to warehousing and distribution may appear to be the same, but the experience would still vary. That is because the essence of the factory is its people. And it’s the people’s stories - the human angle, that is the hero of the HCCB story. Every Plant manager, every worker had stories that were lovingly uncovered and brought to the surface.
Also, at every factory, taking inspiration from local arts, a tree of life is etched in the style of the region, greeting the visitor. So, the tree of life in Ameenpur is in Kalamkari tradition, elsewhere it may be in Warli art.
The discovery was that the tree of life is universal in local art. The nature of tree of life might change, but it is always there. That became the local motif.
“We did not want those visiting the factory to just understand the mechanics of production. Instead we wanted them to understand the experience, which is about the people, the emotion, the local art, the craft, the communities...” Ashish Deshpande, co-founder, Elephant Design
Even before the brand transformation exercise, the satisfaction level of employees at HCCB was immense – they loved coming to the office. An interesting insight that emerged from new joinees was they really did not need to change or adapt themselves to fit into HCB. The culture of the company was such that it let everyone be who they were and remain true to themselves. The capacity to absorb diversity in thought, action, religion, gender, leanings was immense.
A series of interactions with employees revealed that they loved working for a company with purpose. What the brand identity and persona identification did was to help the company structure the experience it offered to employees, and share common goals and purpose coherently, through branding and stories on the wall. The unique thing was to let employees themselves narrate the stories, why they were driven to work.
HCCB already had inclusion principles in its DNA reflected in simple ways like building better facilities for its women workers in factories. And the inclusion did not rest in hiring more women, but in giving more leadership roles to women. Inclusion principles also meant going beyond gender diversity and hiring from regions like the North East of India.
At the factories, sustainability and being careful with water was a big theme. The commitment to the community was to return more water than was taken. So, there were initiatives geared towards this. At Nandpur Village, Dasna, Ghaziabad, for instance, HCCB put up a water ATM that dispenses 1000 litres of purified water per hour. Across the country it set up drinking water installations giving succor to over 75,000 people.
Psychological safety and trust is one of the biggest drivers of engagement in the workplace, and every effort was made to enhance the feeling of safety.
The company had your back, was the message driven home. Since the employee was the heart of the organization, when HCCB was creating a film from the anthem, it chose to use live locations and its own people in the film.
“Everything in HCCB is rooted in people, process and trust in no small measure, from which success flows quite smoothly,” Ganesh Gunasekaran, Factory Manager, Khorda, HCCB.
Pouring it all out
All the threads of the brand transformation exercise were in place. The identity was clear, the persona was shining through – the stage was set to reveal its true self to the world. It was time for amplification. But the route it chose was a holistic one, one of direct engagement through unique platforms and means rather than broadcast messages and high decibel advertising. The idea was for people to feel the brand, rather than being pushed to see it.
Among the first things that HCCB did in rolling out its new identity was to mark its place on social media platforms. Each platform became the port of discovery to one of HCCB’s many facets. Its Instagram handle was a window to HCCB’s soul, while on Twitter people discovered the daily chores at a large corporation. Its Facebook page was for people to find a friend in HCCB, while on YouTube, HCCB was this matured soul, happy to help. LinkedIn was reserved space for those seeking growth, wisdom, and learnings for corporate life. HCCB was a digital first brand and it got handsomely rewarded by its community of well-wishers. In no time, HCCB became the second largest community of corporate FMCG followers in the social media space.
In another first, HCCB designed a unique and immersive experiential program for communities and well wishers around its factories. In an extravaganza spread over 4 days, people in thousands were invited inside HCCB factories to what was called Experiential Centers, created just for them. Here immersive technologies like AI, simulators, digital touch screens took the visitors into the past, present and future of HCCB. The response was overwhelming. Almost 1 lakh people experienced the brand firsthand. Some said that they for the first time saw that there were some very nice human beings who lived on the other side of the factory wall.
Engagement with students – one of the core target groups of the employer branding exercise as these could be future HCCB employees - was escalated. HCCB entered the precincts of top educational institutions through sponsored events but on the other, also invited students to its factories and offices, giving them a full immersive tour culminating in interactions with senior leaders.
Days that were precious to HCCB, like its date of incorporation or other major milestones, were handed over to prominent artists and culture experts for them to curate and celebrate. It was a conscious decision to keep the corporate charade out of the way. For instance, when HCCB turned 23, it rendered its journey through sand art – inviting Padma Shri Sudarsan Pattnaik to interpret HCCB achievements. At Orissa’s Puri beach Pattnaik created a sand sculpture depicting HCCB’s stellar work in promoting women employment at factories. Similarly, for the 24th anniversary, he created a sculpture depicting the rising sun of the manufacturing sector, whose values are inspired by the Indian way of living and thinking.
Agencies – well established and start-ups – both found their place in HCCB’s drive to share compelling stories with its ecosystem. Care was taken that every message going out on social channels matched the persona and values of the brand.
The agency was given creative freedom to share content with the only brief being to keep the brand ethos and its persona intact. A lot of employee stories got shared, be it Simran Fakir, the first woman forklift operator at Sanand factory or Pabitra Sarkar whose sporting dreams came to fruition, well past 40. What drove inclusion principles, what drove a great experience for the associates, these were all put up as stories.
The stories shared small celebrations with a strong community angle, picking up tales from many regions and telling them in over 12 different languages. The idea was also to make it a truly interactive, two-way conversation with consumers. There were teams constituted and people hired, whose only job was to be roving in the HCCB territories curating stories.
HCCB also used its platform to build social awareness on key issues, be it water conservation, environmental concerns, health, and wellbeing or CoVID appropriate behaviours. During the pandemic, it was at the forefront of the social distancing practice and mask-up messaging.
The community rewarded the company handsomely. While the subscriber base swelled, its engagement rates on platforms was staggering. While on the average, almost every HCCB page turned an engagement rate twice that of the industry average, on Instagram, the rate was an astounding 30%. People looked forward to that day of the week when HCCB would share its next insight on Instagram. Sleekly written copy, specially commissioned photographs, insights that talked about the predictability of science combined with the beauty and magic of art, became a rage.
“Our engagement with students will result in creating life-long ambassadors, we believe. Already, many who interacted with us are working with other organizations, but write warm stories about HCCB on social media platforms,” - AmitaSagar, head of brand and social media communications, HCCB
As part of the amplification drive, HCCB connected with BrandMusiq, the sonic branding agency, to create more audio connects for the brand. Audio was just emerging as a powerful force in new ways, either through podcasts or platforms like Clubhouse and sonic branding’s utility was undeniable.
HCCB had a wonderful melody to call its own. But how could it take it forward and amplify it? What Rajeev Raja of Brand Musiq did for HCCB was to extract short pieces from Ilaiyaraaja’s anthem, give it a peppier, modern kind of representation and plug it at various ear points.
So, three second refrains – ta ra rara - were taken out from the larger music and formed a ringtone, an alert when logging in and so on. A short sound note; a ringtone; the music when one logs-into the office systems remotely, etc, not only evokes nostalgia, it also helps inculcate a sense of belongingness with the brand. And internally that began happening.
Externally, the company released audio playlists on World Yoga Day that could be used for exercises. These tunes were carefully curated to evoke certain emotions. For example, yoga playlists composed with rasas and music instruments evoke care, peace, and strength in these trying times.
This smoothly tied back to the subtle hues of the HCCB sonic branding built on similar rasas of Karuna (care/concern) and Veera (courage of an explorer).
“HCCB had a melody already. Music can convey so much emotion – invoke the navarasas. This refrain evoked the three rasas Karuna, Veera and Adbhuta – caring, confident, and full of delight. There was a beautiful flow to it. What we did was to take it and systematize its use.” - Rajeev Raja, Brand Musiq
A brand in sync with its people and society
Looking at the purpose, drive, passion within the organization, there was no doubt the brand transformation exercise had energized HCCB.
An inkling of this was obtained when the new brand identity was unveiled at the company’s annual leadership meeting in Kochi in 2019. It was revealed to the big group, and then there was a break, with everyone given time to assimilate it all in. When people returned, there were moist eyes in the hall – so well did it resonate. Internally, the engagement scores went up from the mid-eighties in 2017 to 94 percent in 2020. The company was certified “Great Place to Work”.
On social channels, HCCB emerged as the second most followed FMCG brand. Organizations from across the country expressed their desire to associate with the company. Whether it was the annual Huddle by The Hindu group or the IIM’s annual conclaves, ET’s Gender Inclusion Summits or UN conferences, like minded partners found an ally. The thoughtful, stimulating messages have led to dialogues within communities, and the dissemination of interesting stories.