Commentary

India: An Inside View For The International Marketplace

When it comes to launching innovative products and brands, the India market simply can't get them fast enough. With a growing population of employed consumers, there is newfound prosperity and a commensurate hunger for Western products that telegraph personal success and enable them to stand out in a crowd. Everyone is looking for small indulgences. For example, being "seen" buying and consuming branded bottles of favorite cold drinks in public or at the local market is a source of pride. These badges of affluence are attainable for the average consumer in India, and since Western brands represent quality and trust, their badge value is quite high.

Success in this market is directly linked to how rapidly a company can introduce products. With new brands popping up everywhere, designers must learn to work in real-time: that means turning strategy on its head: rather than striving for perfection, it’s acceptable and expected to make mistakes and then change/fix them later. Prototype making in this environment is almost impossible because any delay or hesitation will leave the door open for a competitor.

Unlike the U.S. market, the most striking difference is that the focus for the marketing team is on striving for success (as fast as possible) rather than using a more "cautious approach." Similar to China, in India there is an attitude that anything is possible. This "can do" spirit translates into a great platform for innovation and breeds a culture of "high risk equals high reward."

Since innovation requires agility, the best marketing teams become entrepreneurial problem solvers every step of the way. Ultra-flexible, they are willing to try something new, and if it doesn’t work, quickly move on to a different idea. When a market/economy is exploding and consumers have more discretionary money to spend, risk is easier to manage.

For example, when a multinational food and beverage corporation looked to introduce a new PET bottle design that would reflect one of their brand’s core expressions of excitement and activity, the design/innovation team created a distinct silhouette to give the bottle stronger shelf presence. Because the bottle serves to tell the brand’s story, the label was made considerably smaller to enhance the bolder structure. About halfway through the development, the brand team in India became so excited by the new look that they took the design and introduced it into the market, plastering it across advertising and signage.

How to make the most of this exploding business environment? There are vast opportunities across the board for mainstream to luxury, and teams move so fast that there is little time for consumer research. Innovators must rely on a different set of tools:

    • Understand culture and traditions, but anticipate change. For example, family bonds are very strong and there is a great deal of respect for the family meal. But as things are rapidly changing, it's only a matter of time before focus on the individual (i.e., Western culture) infiltrates this culture as well. We expect that soon, individually packaged convenience meals that are so popular in the U.S. market will also find success in this market.
    • Establish a team that grew up in this culture. Since there is no time to conduct consumer research, the immersion of a brand team provides invaluable insights and cues.
    • Clarify the emotional space that many products occupy. For example, mango was originally a symbol of fertility/vitality, so any product introduced with this ingredient must communicate an expression of indulgence and/or passion.

It's time that U.S. companies learn from the India market and capitalize on real speed-to-market strategies. At the very least, brands can use this market as a testing ground for ideas in ways that can never happen in the U.S. (at least not with our current risk-averse climate).

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