August 2002 | Sujata Agrawal

Marketing the Taj

Jyoti Narang, vice-president (marketing), Indian Hotels, talks about her career with the Taj group, and about the string of challenging assignments that have kept her going strong

Jyoti Narang

Vice president, marketing, Jyoti Narang's 20 year stint with Indian Hotels has been dotted with new and challenging assignments. She started her career with the Taj Group in 1982 as a sales executive at the Taj Palace, Delhi. Today, Ms Narang is a key member of the apex council at Indian Hotels and a part of its senior strategy management team.

Stints at the major properties in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai have given Ms Narang functional and general management expertise, and an understanding of global markets. Here she talks to Sujata Agrawal about her tenure with one of the world's finest hotel chains.

Career challenges
I get bored very quickly, but I've been lucky in that whenever I've got bored there has been a change in assignment. I've enjoyed working on two major challenges: the launch of the Taj Bengal in Kolkata in 1989 and setting up our marketing department in Mumbai.

Taj Bengal was the first operations job I did; it was our first major launch after the Taj Palace in Delhi in 1982. I had just joined in 1982 and did not understand all the facets of a launch. I was involved for a year before we opened, handling the software part, the kinds of restaurants we should have, business facilities for guests, computerisation and other related things.

The Taj Group has never had a structured marketing department. There was no one designated for guest relations, direct and web marketing, an international press agency or a host of other things that are now de rigueur to promote a brand. In those days, marketing was really focused on product development. We were at an expansion stage which involved, and rightly so, getting the right location and other infrastructure.

Marketing the Taj
I brought out the first set of standardised brochures for all our hotels, and I later developed the new corporate identity for the group. I was also involved in the brand architecture, which had its first roll-out five years ago. At that time we took a marketing decision to divide the hotels into three brands: luxury, business and leisure. RK Krishna Kumar, our managing director, took a subsequent decision to have these three strategic business units.

The marketing decision preceded the business strategy in this particular case. Understanding international markets was an exciting challenge. One had to build and promote an Indian brand name outside India. One needed to understand the needs of Europeans, Americans, as well as others. All with limited resources, which had to be used and optimised judiciously.

One had to think of stories about our properties, stories that would be of interest to the international media. Three years ago, I launched the Taj website, a domain the company had never been involved in.

Creativity with business
Some people think creativity is my strong point. I think my business sense makes a good foil. A challenge must make business sense. The challenge is to bring together the creative and marketing elements. My strength is in start-ups, like the launch of the Taj Bengal or the marketing department in Mumbai.

I was also involved in setting up the Taj Club (the executive floors in luxury hotels), which came about thanks to research findings by an international syndicate, which said that today's consumers wanted more exclusivity. The Taj had a traditionalist image and did not attract that kind of consumer. So it was decided to have an exclusive club.

The Singles programme was launched last year. I did the first one in Goa on my own and then Sandhya Kunjoor, manager, leisure hotels, took over. Now we have launched the Junior League. Currently I am excited about the just-launched Taj Exotica in the Maldives; its an interesting challenge.

Personally speaking
There is a snob value attached to the Taj in India. When The President was renamed Taj President, more people came in. Often people stay with us to impress their business guests. Levels of service and food at most major hotels in India are the same. What differentiates us is that at-home feeling. Foreigners choose us because we represent India. But they also expect modern infrastructure, reliable transport, safe drinking water and security.

More Europeans stay with us. But I still don't think we have achieved the quality that is associated with a Ritz Carlton, for example. India's image abroad is still focused on our cultural heritage: palaces, elephants, etc. We need to mix that along with modern comforts to attract tourists in larger numbers. We are working with other hotels to do a campaign on India.

She's the Taj
There are more women in the company (as compared to other Tata companies) because of the industry. The hotel business demands a certain amount of style, creativity and an understanding of what affluent travellers demand. Women have an intuitive understanding of these. Our research in the last decade says that the primary image of the Taj is of warmth, caring and friendly service.

The 'She's the Taj' campaign was born of a suggestion by our advertising agency. 'She's the Taj' did not necessarily mean a woman as much as it was meant to emote what a women stood for in terms of warmth, caring and hospitality. When we did an ad recall research, we received a very positive response. The campaign has worked very well for us.

Business at leisure
I love travelling. Surprisingly, I have travelled more for holidays than on work. I used to travel a lot earlier, but now I prefer doing interesting activities with friends, like diving in the Maldives. I am a voracious reader. I begin and end my day with reading and I read more on weekends. I read not only because I like to, but also because its a part of my job.

I enjoy fiction and the weekend editions of newspapers from the world over. This is to understand what people like, to discover a world Indian publications do not deliver.

A time for change?
I will continue with the Taj if it keeps me interested, or move to another Tata company. I've worked for the Tatas for so long that, if I decide to move on, another Tata company will be on the top of my mind. I don't know if it's a woman thing, but you get so comfortable in an environment that however much you may wish to move you never actually take that step.