Dheeraj Sinha
Oct 19, 2015

Marketers need to look at India with fresh eyes

Decoding India beyond the hype.

Dheeraj Sinha
Dheeraj Sinha

Early in this decade, India was one of the two big promises of Asia (the other of course being China). Today, both are increasingly giving a lot of heartburn to businesses. When it comes to India, several misconceptions have led to unrealistic expectations and underwhelming performance. Now, marketers need to recalibrate their play in what remains one of the biggest opportunities in Asia.

Upgrade-market thinking

Mass-market thinking has been one of the biggest mistakes of businesses in India. In the chase for a market of 1.2 billion consumers, businesses spread themselves too thin, building products and services that were stripped down to meet a certain price expectation.

Two consumer realities busted this assumption. One, the size of the market, as it turns out, isn’t 1.2 billion. In fact 600 million people in India do not have access to toilets and clean drinking water. Only 56 million own cars. So we are indeed talking about a much smaller market.

Secondly, cheap and affordable products designed for them did not excite the so-called poor consumers. They wanted an upgrade in lifestyle and were looking for the sexy, not the stripped down. Businesses thus need to work with upgrade-market thinking to be able to realise the true potential of India.

Making friends with service

The last two decades in India have been about putting more products (mobile phones, TVs, cars) into the hands of millions. Even the current initiative of ‘Make In India’ is accentuated around manufacturing.

The truth is that 56 per cent of contribution to India’s GDP comes from the ‘services’ sector. Not only do we need to focus on services more, we also need to spruce up the pre-and after-sales services that come with the products being sold. India’s mindset of jugaad, which means fixing by hook or by crook, is one of the biggest enemies of high-quality service.

The much booming ecommerce story has enough cases where the consumer has received his Diwali purchase long after Diwali is gone, and sometimes even been couriered well-packaged stones instead of the mobile phone that she ordered online. Businesses must conquer the service monster, as this would make the difference between success and failure in this market.

Unity inspired by diversity

India is a big country, with more than 1.2 billion people who live across 28 states and seven union territories; practise one of eight major religions and speak any of the 30 languages in more than 2,000 dialects.

It’s easy to prove the diversity of India. Consultants have gloated about India’s diversity, presenting it as a complex market to conquer. More important and useful than India’s diversity is its emerging unity—in the form of its new national pop culture. Led by cultural mobility, influences from across the regions are powering the rich national pop culture of India. Food items such as dosa, which belonged to the southern part of India, have become a national snack, festivals such as Karwachauth, which originated in the north, are now being celebrated nationally. This cultural unity, powered by diversity, can be more useful to businesses than the diversity spiel was.

Play it loud

India is not a market for subtleties. It’s currently a spectacle nation. All emotions here need to be played loud. In design, it’s a market where cars need to look as if they have six-pack-abs. In music, it's feet-thumping quality that determines whether a song will hit the charts or not. In food, it’s the ability to titillate the taste buds that makes the difference between success and failure.

This has implications for the design and make of products and services. It also has implications for how brands need to behave in this market. There can be no tentative steps or tepid test launches in this India. A brand’s confidence is measured by its presence, its visibility and its stance. So play it loud and play to win.

Driven by people, not policy

Too much is made about the state policy, or the lack of it, in India. While the current government is taking steps to restore business confidence, the truth is that unlike that of China, India’s growth story is driven by people, not policy.

Here, what you see is what you get. The people-driven growth of India makes it organic and self-sustaining. It’s not an index projected by the government, but rather an index of people’s progress.

This also explains why India has done so well in areas such as software services, while the manufacturing revolution almost gave India a miss. It’s almost as if manufacturing has to be a government-led revolution, while services can be people-led. Played correctly, the India story is sustainable because it’s powered by the personal enterprise of millions of Indians and their desire to move up the ladder of life.

Dheeraj Sinha is chief strategy officer, South and Southeast Asia, with Grey Group. He has just released his second book, India Reloaded: Inside the Resurgent Indian Consumer Market and will be hosting a Twitter chat this Wednesday at 5:30 pm Singapore/HK time at @dheeraj_sinha.

 

 

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