The Indian Story Needs More Heart than Head
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The India story is sold. World over, people have recognized the potential of the Indian market and the centre of gravity has slowly but surely shifted eastwards. A billion plus people, an optimistic youth-led culture, a society that interestingly amalgamates the new and the old, a heterogeneous market that offers opportunities for all. We’ve heard the song sung many times over. This Pied Piper approach has attracted a number of companies from across the world, with stars in their eyes, with hopes to cater to the beguiling Indian consumer.
We’ve seen them soar. We’ve also seen them stumble and fall. A number of them have got up, dusted themselves and walked right along whereas a number have packed their bags and gone back, having burnt their fingers in a market that’s as confusing as it is enchanting. In boardrooms and books across the country, the debate continues on how to crack through the Indian market, and how to find the right chords to play. Several academicians, theoreticians, business gurus and sociologists have applied a vast amount of knowledge in the area and have tried to help crack the Indian consumer to help companies find the right strategy in the right market. In Rama Bijapurkar’s words, the focus should shift from trying to find the ‘right market’ for your strategy, to finding the ‘right strategy’ for your market.
One of the cornerstones of strategy is a deep insight into the lives and hearts of the consumer. This may sometimes mean abandoning the numbers and looking at consumers from a different lens. What may look good on paper can be particularly baffling in reality. A number of international brands have faced the irrationalities of the Indian consumer and have identified completely localized ways of marketing their global products. From breakfast cereals to fast foods, when in India, do as the Indians do!. What works, what doesn’t is often left at the chance and unless you can cut through the clutter and reach an Indian’s heart, it is unclear how to appeal to this opportune market.
Engaging the Customer
One of the pillars of building a strong and sound brand in any market is engaging the consumer in a deeply passionate relationship with the brand. Through our discussion, the one thing that stood out was the nature of Indian relationships and how passion is driven we are as a race. From gods to film stars to religion to sports, Indians display a penchant for forming deeply ingrained relationships with seemingly inanimate objects and concepts. A deep sense of identity, belonging and reverence are displayed for anything that stirs an Indian’s soul. What then, should be the triggers to build a brand in this deeply emotive landscape? Do we as Indians, fall more easily ‘in love’ than our counterparts in other parts of the world? And if yes, does building a brand in the Indian market become that much easier?
In 2010, Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi unveiled an altogether new dimension to understanding brands. He used the word ‘lovemarks’ to replace brands. He insisted that brands needed to go beyond reason and into emotion to move people. This concept is particularly relevant for India because our environmental and cultural context readies us to fall into deep relationships with everything from people to things to concepts to ideas.
The New Way
It's time we look beyond the traditional marketing and branding paradigms and dig deeper into concepts that go beyond. It's surprising that the only Indian brands that have made it to the top 50 list of Lovemarks are Indian movie stars... not a single Indian brand... also not a single International brand that forms a deep lasting impression on the Indian consumer.
If we truly are such an emotive, passionate race with deeply ingrained cultural and sociological roots, shouldn't we have built many brands and businesses on this platform alone? If we can be so committed to our movie stars and religion (and today, also political leaders)... why can't we display the same level of engagement (or love) with the products or services that we use? Is this the magic formula that International companies have failed to tap on?
If the India Story is sold... a manual on the Indian consumer is still missing. A manual that taps into the heart of the Indian consumer. With learnings that go beyond consumer behaviour and marketing, triggers from popular culture, religion, ethnography and sociology need to be better understood by International companies to dig deeper into the Indian consumer's heart. Let's hope more Indian brands make it to the top list of brands worldwide... and similarly, more International brands get entrenched into the Indian consumer space with deeper, long-lasting relationships.