India: Make It Or Break It

Consumerism is a growing trend in India. India has 377 Million people in the middle class with growing aspirations, no wonder companies all across the globe see India as the next big market. But to be successful in India companies need to think like Indians.

To give you an example. Indians do not like to wear seat belts. Most car manufacturers have slowly realized that. At present most car manufacturers have toned down the seat belt alarms. 10 years ago there were still a few proud (German) car manufacturers that built their cars to constantly sound an annoying alarm till you wore your seat belt. If you were to tell their sales team that you do not need such an reminder they would point out – thats how it ought to be. Your safety is most important to them. I agreed with them. They were still learning, and so was I. I got my best lesson when I was traveling to attend a wedding with my family. My father was at the wheel and my mother sitting in the front seat next to him. My mother insisted on not wearing the seat belt but the car kept making this rather annoying sound. I asked my mother to wear the seat belt, but she laughed at me instead. I was amazed with her solution. She pulled the seat belt across the back of the seat into the connector and viola once the sensor was satisfied no beeping noise. It had the added benefit of not spoiling her crisply ironed saree.

Every client is different. An Indian woman on the way to a wedding has very different needs than an german engineer, planning to drive his car at 100kmph. As an organization you have to acknowledge that. When companies enter India they do so with the intent of providing economical products. But just repackaging a product so that it is economical is not a sustainable strategy. To be successful in India, Companies need to deliver an economical product designed to suit Indians.

This makes India a very tough market. Companies have burnt their hands several times by trying their successful international mantras in India. The successful ones have adapted their products and strategies.

  • Kelloggs initial foray into the Indian market is a popular case study. Their original advertisement campaign centered around the children telling their mother what they wanted on the breakfast table. Only once they realized it was the mothers they had to please did they find some success in India. And still, to-date, they are finding it difficult to compete with local competitors that provide breakfast products such as ‘Masala Oats’.
  • To comply with government laws and dietary restrictions of Indians McDonalds devised an entire menu devoid of it flagship burgers and also introduced several vegetarian options. They even started a delivery service from their Opera House location in Mumbai, before it decided it could not compete with the road side vendors. The Opera House location remains closed after 3 years of operations.
  • Automobile companies are still struggling. When it comes to buying cars, its not the horsepower, or torque or the size of your wheels that make any difference to the Indian consumer. Legroom and trunk space matter more. If you have not been to India you might think I am joking. However, every Indian knows this. The horn is not an accessory it is as critical as the brake in the car. Many consumers in their test drive try out the horn amongst other things.
  • In the luxury car segment BMW that emphasizes its cars as the best engineered product and has changed its global sales slogan “The ultimate driving machine” in India. Here it sells cars with the slogan for the “Joy of owning”.

The challenges in India are not just about market positioning and strategy. Technologies have to be catered to Indian standards. Which is to say that technology must be robust enough to sustain the harsh conditions in India.

  • I first saw automatic sanitary fittings in India almost 15 yrs ago. They never seemed to work. They soon picked the tag of being inferior products and knock-offs. The fact of the matter was that the trouble with these fittings was more to do with the dust in the surroundings that obstructed the sensors and more importantly the dirt in the water that choked up the automatic pumps. With these technical problems solved, these products are now a norm.
  • Think about this. Google advertising its products on the radio. Its ratherabsurd that the worlds largest advertisement and marketing platform, Google, had to advertise itself on an low-tech solution such as radio. Wouldn’t it be better if Google developed its solution catered towards the Indian market, just as the home grown company JustDial has done.
  • Apple another technology giant has struggled in India. Only recently have they tried to enter the Indian market with product releases within weeks of first launch globally. But, they still do not receive the same attention and admirations from Indians as compared to a consumer in the United States. How can they? The Iphone’s biggest differentiator – Siri, the dynamic and smart virtual assistant will simply not work in India. The latency in sending data back to the servers in California just makes it impossible to have a natural conversation. Isn’t it time to host a server in India if you want to sell your phones on their technical merit.
  • I also know a few UPS manufacturers that will not sell their batteries in India. Given the high humidity and temperatures the batteries barely last 2 years. Isn’t it time somebody reviewed the battery chemistry to find a solution that works better in the operating conditions here in India?
  • E-commerce is another growing industry in India. The biggest roadblock the e-commerce industry had to overcome was the reluctance to use credit cards for online transactions. This was overcome by the introduction of ‘pay on delivery’. Startling to think when billions of dollars are being spent on silicon valley startups such as square that ensure quick secure payments the story in India is rather different. In India we desire more human interactions. It also means that global e-commerce giants are left isolated from the Indian markets without offering services such as ‘pay on delivery’.

Forget the old cliches of ‘Made in India’. The need of the hour is ‘Designed for India’. If its not designed for India, its going to be for sure broken in India.

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