Monday, December 18, 2006

A Brand New Brand India

Brand New Brand India!

By Harish Bijoor

Everything all around us is a brand. You are. I am. India is.

You, India and I are all in the marketplace seeking our place in the sun. The only reality of significance for the moment is the Buyer-Seller Dyad, made famous by Henri Tosi many, many years ago. Everybody is a buyer and a seller. And buying and selling is an image-driven issue. What starts with utility, moves on to price and what lingers on price moves on higher up in the hierarchy to the brand and its unique image. The brand is IT!

India is a brand then. And brand India is seeking to establish itself a unique identity. An identity that makes it stand apart from the rest. An identity that will create a craving among sets of consumers who will choose India over all else in the great ‘Swayamvar’ of country-brands that decides the future of many a business.

How does one put the India brand in the top rung of image-recall among sets of consumers globally? How does one leverage what is unique to India’s distinct credit?

In this discussion, we must traverse some key issues.

First of all, what is a brand? Do we really understand it? I redefine the brand altogether differently. And then, who is the consumer? What focus do we take? What really are the Unique Selling Propositions of brand India? How do we leverage that? What are the hurdles around? What is the competition? What are the India negatives? What have we done in the past? And have we been wrong? What must we do in the future? And who will do it?

Many questions to discuss. Let’s go!

What is a brand?

Many years of swimming with definitions that say this and that have tired me. I have kept moving on in my quest for a definition that embraces the real nature of the brand. I have seen every definition there is, and have felt an inadequacy and emptiness that has been plaguing my need for a truly definitive definition!

Nirvana dawns on me and my research years. The year is 2003!

My definition of the brand is simple: “The brand is a thought!”

Peel that definition further. The brand is a thought. A thought that rests in a consumer mind. The brand is not owned by the Corporate or brand manager or advertising agency or whoever the brand intermediary. The brand is owned in the mind of a consumer! One consumer!

This definition is tricky in its offering. It throws the brand as an entity that is an ephemeral thought that sits in the head of a consumer. As many consumers (and indeed non-consumers) in a market, that many thoughts… that many heads! A difficult proposition to manage. Brand Management is indeed the art, science and philosophy of managing brands in consumer/non-consumer heads!

Managing a brand is therefore an extrinsic concept rather than intrinsic. Brands are managed in the heads of consumers and not in the Board Rooms of Corporates or the cubicles of advertising agencies. Many thinkers of the past have gone awry in their understanding of the brand. My years of research simplify the brand and its definition. At the same time, it complicates. How in tarnation does one manage the minds of a million consumers? A million consumers who are individuals and not clones. A million consumers who go through unique family lives, social conditioning, life-experiences, economic upheavals of different kinds and political exposures which are as varied as they come!

Let’s leave the definition aside for the moment. Let’s agree to accept a simple definition. The brand is a thought in a consumer head!

Who is the Consumer for Brand India?

Everyone is. At the beginning and indeed at the end of the marketing game, everyone is a consumer in some way or the other. However, let’s add some focus to this exercise of honing in on the consumer for Brand India.

While at the macro-level, everyone who comes across the name India is a consumer (either existing or potential), at the micro-level, the market cane divided into two simple sets. The B2B (Business to business) market and the B2C (Business to consumer) market. Both are important to the India brand at large.

While the B2B interface is necessary as we build a robust India brand amongst countries, organizations that fund countries, NGOs that support country causes, corporates we supply to, intermediaries who source for markets globally, bankers who put out image reports and market diagnostics, and a whole host of others, B2C image is an equal necessity to address.

B2C is a necessary image for a country to leverage as its brands enter consumer markets. As products and services from India hit global markets with a greater degree of regularity, the India brand image is a vital necessity. India needs to have for itself a positive imagery that is socially, economically, religiously and even politically correct.

The world looks keenly at the product that emerges from a social system that is right in its eyes. When South Africa had social sanction against it, a South African product was shunned by many a country that was careful to distance the social outcast of a country that believed in apartheid! The brand must have and build positive Brand Social Equity (BSE)!

The world looks equally with keen eyes at Economic equity. Brand Economic Equity (BEE) is a key term I would coin to describe the process at play. The world seeks a basic level of quality from those that supply it. The India brand must establish and sustain these basic quality levels which have become a basic entry parameter into global markets. Brand Economic Equity is also about costs. It is about the low-cost high quality product that can compete in the global market as it adds to the bottom-lines of all those who handle the product as intermediaries. Look keenly at China. China has done to the manufacturing sector what India is attempting to do to the Services sector with its BPO and ITES sectors. Driving down costs to the bare minimum and offering the product and service of high quality!

Brand Religious Equity (BRE) is really a niche today. It is indeed a term that describes a country brand as a bigot brand or a secular freethinking brand. Every country that adopts the norms of the secular and every country that embraces with debate, dissent and much turmoil (as we saw at Cancun) the offering of the WTO is normally on safe ground here.

Brand Religious Equity is also about which part of the world you belong to. The brand from Iran is a suspect brand here! Syria is a rogue state. Both Syria and its brand-offerings in consumer space will suffer here. The India brand will need to represent itself with the cloak of secularism that will make it stand apart in a region that is a suspect-geography for the biggest global players in the Marketing game of the world!

The final frontier is that of the Brand Political Equity (BPE). This is all about the politically correct being in the market. The Indian product that adheres to the norms of hygiene, quality, hazard control and most importantly political correctness will find a place in the global sun. The Kashmiri carpet woven by kids will hurt the BPE of the India brand just as much as patent-infringed roses will affect our image on Valentine’s day all across the world.

The India brand needs to cater to each of these B2B and B2C segments offering the best of brand equity to markets and its sets of discerning consumers across the gamut of the social, the economic, the religious and political equities that are becoming more and more important in the world at large today.

India USPs!

India shining then! 18 great monsoons (with an aberration in one year) that has caused for continued rural prosperity in an economy that depends on the rain! A services sector that is growing at a robust clip! Self-sufficiency in the food sector. A young population that contrasts itself from a geriatric world at large! A burgeoning rate of tele-density that rivals the rate of population growth, which was hitherto our claim to fame in the past. Better infrastructure across the realms of need. India is shining really!

India has USPs that are distinct, some of which we will discuss as we enter the realm of what we must do to re-orient the branding of the image that is India in the mind of the global consumer. Let us for the moment focus on the Goldman Sach’s BRIC Report on the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China!

India’s economy could be larger than all but the US and China in 30 years! India’s economy can be larger than Japan’s by 2032! India shows the potential to grow the fastest over the next 30 years! Growth rate could be more than 5 per cent over the next sustained 30 years! India is likely to raise its US dollar income per capita in 2050 to 35 times the current level! In 2050 India’s GDP per capita could be $17,366!

India is unique in many ways. A population size that is large, heterogeneous, largely English speaking, educated, and boasts of a deep culture that runs into thousands of years. India is young. India is vibrant. India is just about on the verge of shaking off the image of sloth and bundled bureaucracy that has haunted it for many decades. India is happening!

Just as India happens, we need to very quickly make an analysis of all the things we have done wrong thus far in the branding of India. Time to recap and take account of the many mistakes we have made. The image of India is what it is today because of all that we have done thus far. Done wrong!

The new Way Forward

I strongly believe that India has done wrong in projecting itself as a brand of significance in the world tapestry of understanding. India has been done injustice to.

India has touted for long many years the “Made In India’ line. A line that came into prominence during the Nehruvian era. Pandit Nehru was besotted with production and productivity. In many ways he hijacked the nation that is India onto the road of production and productivity.

Nehru’s vision encapsulated an India that would compete with the rest of the world on the same parameters that the rest of the world progressed with. The Nehruvian plan for the country was but a me-too approach paper that had us setting up manufacturing facilities all over and focusing on agricultural productivity that was higher than what was being achieved. We copied the model that was at play in the rest of the developed world in those early days of our Independence.

I think we did wrong.

The manufacturing sector which was the focus of attention produced more. The agricultural sector focused on producing more as well, from the same landmass. Inputs of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers spurred on the process even further!

Peek keenly at the agri sector of the economy. India, which was once a dominant organic producer of the vegetable and the grain alike, adopted fertilizer and pesticide in a large industrial manner of adoption. The unique proposition of an organic nature of cultivation was sacrificed at the altar of productivity and self-sufficiency! Indian agriculture thus lost its cutting edge! Blunted by aping the West and its practices in a frenzy!

And then came the “Made In India” line. The Indian product, manufactured in our factories and on our farms hit the global market with the “Made In India” line! This line was faulty. The Indian product was not able to live up to the highest standards of quality that the International customer expected. The product failed. The “Made in India” label became a liability for product recognition. Made in India meant low quality and inferior performance in many a category. And then came a time when the Indian product would hit the global shore, but the made in India label had to be removed. Walk into Harrods and you will find moiré than eighty made in India products. Not more than five of them actually have the made in India label. The rest pass-off as superior imports from a more reliable destination!

The “Made In India Label” has been flogged for far too long. Time to revisit this line. Time to focus on our other two key areas of strength.

I believe we have a strong agricultural heritage. We could get organic. Back to the old ways of doing things. We pluck our crops by hand. No machine threshing here. Our cultivation process is not mass cultivation. Our crops are the output of small farms. Our agriculture is still labour intensive, compared to many a Western nation that is highly mechanized. Our cropping is non-Corporatised!

Our crops are shade-grown. Handpicked. The output of small micro-farming effort. Indian agriculture is politically correct in many ways. Use it to advantage. Let’s focus on the “Grown In India” line!

One other USP that is uniquely Indian is in the services sector. India has a heritage of being a service-oriented culture. The guest is still God in our homes. Indian hospitality is cherished. The Indian serves well. The translation of this is seen in the many ITES and the BPO sector initiatives that have taken off! Time to use the “Served Out Of India” proposition as well! Remember, manya credit card transaction in the US and in Europe and in Japan is run out of a Koramangala in Bangalore or a Gurgaon near Delhi!

Dump the “Made In India” focus then. Focus on “Grown In India”! Focus on “Served Out Of India”!

Let’s create the new India brand! Alisha time to sing two new songs then!!!!!

The author is a Brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a private-label consulting outfit with a presence in the markets of London, Hong Kong and the Indian sub-continent.


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Sunday, December 17, 2006

India and its People Exports

Our People Count!

By Harish Bijoor

India has exported brawn and brain alike for hundreds of years. Our numbers, in many ways have been our biggest assets. We failed to realize it for many, many years though. We lived within a paradigm of our own creation. A paradigm that got besotted with the short-term issues that plagued our nation at large in the early decades of independence.

The paradigm was a simple and straight-forward one. A paradigm drawn and dictated by the immediate. Our population numbers to begin with were large. Our resources to cater to the needs of this large population were just not enough. What’s more, year after year, the population growth rates that stared back at us were worrisome indeed. We were short in terms of everything but water. There was a shortage of food. A shortage of medicines and a shortage of everything that a growing population would clamor for.

The times have changed. Time to re-draw and stretch the lines of the paradigm we work with. Time to raise a toast and cheer to the growing numbers in our population. Time to explore the wealth represented by the large numbers of people we boast of.

Time to crunch world numbers as well. Time to peek into the crystal ball and look at people-wealth across the nations that will dominate the years and decades ahead of us. Let me start by taking a peek at what our renowned demographer Mr. AR Nanda has to say about it.

According to Mr.Nanda, India is all set to become the world’s youngest nation with the largest workforce in the world by 2020! India will boast of a working population between the age group of 15 and 59 numbering 820 million (up from the current 402 million) by 2020.

Let’s take this number for a start. This simply means that India would boast a surplus working manpower by 2020. Current plans on the anvil within the Indian context will however not have enough jobs to offer within the country. A point to worry?

Not really! Look around at the people-wealth prognosis across the commercial world that beckons us. The US will be very, very short on this count. There will be a shortage of 17 million working people out there! China will be short by 10 million and Japan will scream for 9 million more! Even Soviet Russia will be short by 6 million folk required to run the commerce of the country.

In this prognosis built on the current rate of growth of populations as per country trends, India emerges the only one with the big surplus. This surplus manpower will therefore very reasonably gravitate to these people-short countries, running the enterprise of business and commerce all around. A ready market for 42 million people of working age in just these 4 countries listed as an example!

A History of people export

India has indeed a history of people export. We started with brawn and have moved on to brain. Look keenly at our early years of people export. We have fortunately always had enough people. So many people around that there were not enough jobs for everyone to handle. In the very early years our first people exports started at the end of sending labour out to the plantations of the East and West alike. Look at the populations that moved base into Sri Lanka. Into the terrains of the African continent and into the gut of the plantations of Singapore and Malaysia.

This was the early export of labour form a labour (people) surplus country to a people-short geography like the ones represented by the hostile territory of plantation life in rubber and timber and coffee alike.

The times changed. We still had lots of people to export. In came the need from newer rich economies such as the Middle East and so also the clamor for cheap labour from the thriving economies of Hong Kong and Singapore alike. We exported our skilled labour now. We had climbed a notch higher. The skills we exported were those of the mason, the carpenter and the butcher alike.

The times kept changing. We kept evolving in our response to the people needs all around. The higher skill was in demand. We were just about moving from brawn power to brain power. The doctor was in demand. We educated them out here and exported them. Not at the will and volition of the government as much as at the will and volition of the individual seeking prospects that were monetarily enticing. We exported our doctors to the UK, just as we sent our engineers to the US. The architect and the scientist of many a hue came from India and found herself populating the commercial enterprise of many a nation.

We kept evolving. We kept climbing the ladder till we reached the top. The doctor, the engineer and the teacher (academic gurus of every kind) occupied pedestals in every market we sent them to.

Today, we come a full circle. We still export our folk, but the trend seems to have taken a wee bit of a reverse. What we export today is possibly climbing down the hierarchy. Up the down staircase in many, many ways! These people we ‘export’ actually live in the country but work for the enterprise of many a nation outside the territorial boundaries of India. The BPO revolution as we call it today is an articulation of this trend at large that we live with and thrive in today.

The year is 2005. The year of the BPO challenge at large!

In this piece, I explore the key challenges and issues that face the country at large as we enter the world of the ITEs. An era in which India continues to dominate the space of people surplus solutions. The BPO is one such space. A space progressively getting occupied by the Indian at large, leveraging on the sheer numbers of our people and their educational levels, which are looking all the more exciting a reserve than we ever imagined it to be.

The BPO Revolution

The BPO revolution that has hit the shores of India is throwing up its own set of challenges. Internal and external. The buzz in the metros of Delhi-Noida-Gurgaon (should we not fuse the three?), Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and a Kolkata in that order, is palpable. It cuts through thick. These early adopter BPO towns are islands of early prosperity that stand out like sore thumbs in the Indian landscape.

In an economy that has seen the services sector as the fastest growing of them all in recent times, the ITES segment contributes a brisk number. An interesting number of new jobs being created all the time and with it an interesting set of issues that stare back at us.

Even as the hue and cry on Outsourcing is dying out in the US and UK, there are interesting challenges that stare back at the industry and the people it employs. I peek at a few of these challenges. Only a few!

1. This completely foreign and alien business of BPO:

The BPO industry is completely extrinsic to country in its focus. Literally all of the business that is catered to out of the hubs of a Domlur or a Gurgaon or whatever, is all about businesses that seek the foreign accent at play. India is not a point of focus at all. ITES is all about servicing the outsider out of a cheaper-labor location. Enter any BPO outfit. The English is accented. The dress is getting more and more accented as well. The BPO outfit in the country might as well be territorial outposts of the foreign land being serviced.

Business is tough. A business that focuses completely on the export market is a business that is at the mercy of the volatile international environment in this commodity space of low-tech BPO! The barriers to entry in this business are going lower and lower and the success of the early settlers is creating a whole mass of salivating folks who are just wanting to do the same. BPO is commodity!

2. Price goes down and cost goes up:

Right at the start of the first trickle in of business in this segment, the early business development folk of the BPO start-ups procured business at prices that were exciting. As the days went by, and as competition within India itself increased, the price pressures started. Add to this the emerging competition from countries such as Vietnam, which wants to clone the Indian BPO experience, and China, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Namibia, if you please! The price pressures are apparent. Businesses are flowing in at a lower unit price than what the early birds in the game were used to.

At the other end of servicing the business that has been procured, there are cost pressures at play as well. In the early days, the first sets of folk to wear the headset and sit in front of the monitor came in at salaries that were even as low as Rs.4,000 a month. Today, the same job goes at 12,000! There is a heady upswing in salaries in the segment.

There is certainly margin pressure at play. Peek keenly at the financials of many an enterprise in the game, and there seems to be a yen to look at the volume of business and ignore the margin-trends at play. Many a player seems to be around waiting to be picked up by the big MNC interest at a valuation that will go higher and higher with the brand name at play and the number of seats that accommodate the tired butts of call center operators.

Is there a bust ahead?

Sykes has just cut jobs 50%. Is this the beginning? Is this a bubble?

3. The social tumult:

Now this is something business seldom cares about. Not in India for sure.

Wealth must be created. Money must be made. Economic prosperity must be aimed at. And all this needs to be done keeping in mind the medium and long-term social good in mind.

Watch BPO space. This is space of tumult on that score for sure.

BPO space is completely western space. In India of yore, the son and daughter of an educated man aspired to study. Education has always occupied prime status in the Indian home for boy and girl alike in urban areas, and certainly for the boy child in semi-urban clusters. Saraswathi, the patron goddess of education is a point of worship.

Today, things are a wee bit different. Young folk, all of 18-19 aspire to get a BPO job. Youngsters under the stress of hormonal pressures are keen to get going with the business of making their own money. Truncating education at the Pre-university level is an option today. The BPO provides an option to earn good money at a young age, even without the degrees in hand.

I believe young India is going to get less and less educated. We are going to clone the US model here. Urban young education is on a decline. When the opportunity to earn without the requisite degrees in hand were not there, by default, education happened. Today, it will not.

The BPO enterprise is a specialist skill of low value. India is building an army of inadequately educated telephone operators. Till the business flows in, this is fine. God forbid! If and when it stops, there will be tumult. What will we do with two million, single-skilled, highly accented and inadequately educated telephone operators in this country? And that too folk used to an aberrantly high monthly income!

Add to this dilemma of the years ahead, a dilemma of today itself. Young folk are following an exciting lifestyle at a very very young age. This is fast-tracked by money in the hands and the freedom of a working person. Add to it night-time work, the ennui of a boring job and the proximity of the two sexes in a happening fun environment!

Sexual harassment at the workplace is old hat. Today no one is harassed. Today, everything is consensual. Sex is discovered earlier than before and promiscuity happens young! A Surya Ramamurthy is a Sue and a Sampath Krishnan from Adyar is an easy Sam!

The roads that lead to the BPO hubs of the day are a hell to traverse physically. The Toyota Qualis revolution is also here. Drivers are in big demand as well. Most drivers work 18 hour driving days and nights. And no one bothers. There is prosperity all around.

People living outside of the BPO island smirk at the sector. BPO is today a sub-culture in itself! Spot a BPO-type, and you will recognize him and her instantly!

The societal challenge remains as well!

Many more challenges ahead….but this time round, there is space for just this much! Till then, let prosperity prevail!

The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, a private-label consulting outfit with a presence in the markets of Hong Kong, UK, and the Indian sub-continent.



Friday, November 03, 2006

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Corporate Social Responsibility

There is a little bit of CSR…… my hair!

By Harish Bijoor

If I am to simplify all of life with a perspective that is distinctly marketing oriented, there are just two types of people in the world. A small set of marketing people on one side, and a whole large set of people being marketed-to at the other end!

Peek keenly at any person you know. Either she is a marketing person marketing a product, a service, a dream or even a desire to someone else, or is a person who is being marketed to all the time by the marketer at large!

Marketing is therefore a people-centric process. And just as long as it remains that, and just as long as man loves living in a society of his making, CSR is going to remain a big buzz-word for the future ahead! CSR remains a very relevant strategic marketing tool for the amorphous future ahead of us!

In these long years of being around in the great Indian marketplace, I have seen marketing morph in its ideals. In the beginning, there was the product and the service. Both had to be reached out to the customer in the marketplace. This was also a day and age when everything was in short supply. The demand was big. The marketer performed his role as a mere transporter of the goods to the arms length convenience of the hungry consumer. These were the days when you had to wait 6 years on a waiting list to buy a 'Vespa' scooter and in a longer still queue to possess that sturdy black telephone instrument in your drawing room!

Marketers in this day and age had a simple goal. Distribute. Distribute with equity where possible. Be fair. Appear to be fair as well!

Life changed dramatically. In enters the era of plenty. Plenty of products and services! Enough to come out of your ears and everywhere else! Competition is sharp! The marketer morphs from his old attitude in such an environment. He becomes consumer savvy. He offers not only the product, but a superior degree of service to go with it. He offers customer experience and delight that becomes the brand in itself!

We live in such a competitive marketing era. There are just too many marketing people around. Just too many with all the boring ideas around. Everyone has been to the same marketing school (if not the same type) and comes out with the same set of ideas to go to market! And everyone fails! Parri passu marketing does not work!

In such an environment of parri passu marketing, time to think different. Time to think of a new tool to use! CSR is a great one! If used sensibly and with the sensitivity it deserves!

Three Marketing Formats:

Let me offer a theory I propound extensively.

There are simply three marketing formats to follow in a society as it morphs. In the early stage, society is all about “I, me, myself”! At this stage in consumer societal evolution, the marketer gets away using the language of hedonism and pleasure. The “I, me, myself” kind of product and service works well. The ‘Axe’ effect works here!

And then there is the stage when the consumer has gone beyond that basic stage. He is now concerned about the people around him. His loved ones. His family of four. His extended family of four more, mother, father, father-in-law and mother-in-law, last to be included!

This kind of man likes brands to be inclusive in their language, tone and tenor. This kind of man wants products that are good for the entire family! Never mind the rest of society, just as long his close-knitted family is taken care of, he is fine! The 'Annapurna' atta story works here!

And then there is man who is more conscious of more people around him. This is the kind of guy who is bothered about the good of his immediate neighborhood and society! He wants his entire neighborhood to be happy! The ‘Lifebuoy’ “clean the neighborhood” story works here!

There is macro-man then. This is the kind of person who wants the good of his immediate society and his entire planet. This is the kind of guy who wants to use bio-based detergents that don’t hurt the eco-system! The ‘Surf Excel’ “Do bucket paani bachana hai” theme works here!

And finally there is Cosmos man! Concerned about the cosmos, much of which he does not know even! We are yet to get there!

CSR works at every level. CSR is an inclusive process! A process that embraces the good of society in a very inclusive manner. This inclusiveness could start at the level of the immediate family and morph on to embrace the entire Cosmos.

CSR plays a vital role in taking commercial brands out into the commercial marketplace with a theme that is appealing to the sense and sensibility of the modern consumer. CSR is therefore a valuable tool that marketers can use to market their brand of soap, detergent, sugar and tea with equal panache and commercial effectiveness.

CSR is not at all about running public hospitals and schools alone. CSR is not about sending Tsunami relief material to the trouble spots of the world. That is old hat! It is much more! The modern consumer understands CSR that much more intimately when you touch his life, with a wee bit of CSR in your soap. A wee bit in your shampoo! In your kids diapers and feminine hygiene products as well!

The future of marketing is full of CSR! Of a different kind!

The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Friday, October 27, 2006

India: The competitive advantage

The competitive advantage of India in the Demand Economy

By Harish Bijoor

At the end of a rather long working millennium, one has the luxury of putting up one’s legs on a soft stool, sinking into a soft beanbag and thinking soft thoughts of a soft millennium gone by.

I call it soft, particularly from the Indian perspective of things. The hundred marketing years behind us were distinctly soft years. Soft issues faced and soft options exercised. Soft covenants arrived at softly.

The years ahead look different indeed. Hard years indeed! Troublesome marketing times. Troublesome times for the marketing of the country that is India. Tough years that will call for tough ways.

Let’s then explore what is ahead of us. Visit and re-visit the strengths that exist. Strengths that will re-define the competitive advantage of India in the world market. The India ahead as the new consumer super-power of the world. The new intellectual capital of the world and of course the new seat of buying, selling, marketing and facilitating super-power of the world. The new role of India the buyer, India the seller and India the broker.

Let’s do this scenario painting exercise of the key competitive advantage of India in the markets of the future by visiting briefly the key issues we see as distinct points of strengths.

The British left India as a nation of shopkeepers. Our retail universe that covers a nano-fraction of super-markets, large numbers of small and medium sized shops and cubby holes of retail commerce in remote inaccessible corners of the country, is the biggest you can find in any of the 182 countries that comprise the world and its consuming markets. A population of 12 million retail outlets to service the needs and requirements of the world’s second biggest consuming mass of people!

The one big strength that less than one other nation in the world can stake its claim to, is the size of the population that rests within the boundaries of our country. A huge weakness of gigantic proportions when viewed from the many development-oriented periscopes of the past. Not so when you view it with the future in mind. A future that is energized by these very large masses of people who have been the biggest liability for the nation of a billion plus!

The past viewed people as a liability. Not enough physical work to go round, not enough food to eat and of course not enough education to ventilate around. Every bit of progress that development achieved was sacrificed very, very quickly (possibly even before the economist was able to record and publish the feat), at the altar of population and its rather robust pace of growth.

While every sector of the economy did reasonably well in bits and patches over the last hundred years, so did the sector of population growth. Stretched food resources, stressed out finances, a pathetic situation on the physical infrastructure front and a complete lack of positive momentum represented the development of the last hundred years in India. People were therefore the biggest liability.

Not so anymore. Not in the hundred years ahead of us. One of the biggest assets of marketing-based India is its numbers in the very many homes that dot the countryside of ‘sunny-side-up’ India! Lots of existing people and a robust yen to propagate more of the kind, only means a lot more stomachs to feed and a lot more bladders to fill. Lots more bodies to clothe and a lot more minds to educate.

Think of a product. Think of a service. Think of a want. Think of a need. The biggest and the best of them will linger in the land that is India! The marketing future of India is therefore made. Ready at the take-off stage which will have many a Schumpeter stumped!

But then, people are not the only need of a consumer market. Consumption is certainly not the only key to unlock the riches of a marketing man’s Pandora’s box. Money somehow seems to be the real key. More money in these many hands, more the consumption. But then, is the money around?

While the pessimists answer to the question will say that men without money or men without the means to make the money, are of no use to marketing and its future, the fact remains that there is a value in the market that has a huge potential. A potential that can well nigh break open huge values in the times to come.

Let’s just remember one thing. India has been a poor country for a long, long while now. People below the poverty line have numbered a strong platoon of people. And despite it all, the population has grown, survived and continues to thrive in its sheer numbers. People have found a way to survive. The fittest have survived on high value brands, the less fit than that have thrived on brands of a lesser caliber in the country. Those even lower in the hierarchy have survived on the fringe of the commodity in every category of want and need. Consumption needs have always found answers. Consumption solutions for all!

There is therefore a pyramid of consumption that lies all over the slopes of Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs. But then, everybody, rich or poor, has fallen within the confines of this pyramid. And just as long as they do, there is indeed potential for a robust market for commodities, quasi-brands, brands, super-brands and of course at the ultimate level of the self-actualizing folk, no brands at all!

Every one of these segments has a value though. And in value rests the potential for the marketer. The one big true-blue competitive advantage for India of the present and India of the future, is indeed its large population base articulating every basic need in consumption of products, services and utilities.

Time to change the paradigm of India’s population then! Every marketer of whatever origin, be it from within India or outside, will queue up in the consumer markets of the country, trying to woo the wallet of the willing. As traditional source markets reach a plateau in their consumption, nascent markets like the one in India will hold a great deal of allure to the marketing man in his Western strait-jacket.

The competitive advantage of India will rest in both its own shores and in the foreign lands of its source markets. As the WTO regime opens up markets that do not discriminate and markets that don’t raise the usual high tariff walls that have been the distinct characteristics of the past that has gone by, the Indian product and the Indian brand has a challenge to seize and exploit to its advantage.

The India brand is the center-point of this entire exercise that waits to unfold. The country and its many unique propositions show an excellent potential packed into the future.

This potential needs many Godfathers to unlock though. The name India is in itself filled with a mystique of the past. Tigers on the streets, snake charmers at the ‘chowrasthas’ and the great Indian rope-trick are all images that keep coming back ever so recurrently in the life of the Indian in foreign markets. India is still a mystique. And India is ancient. A civilization as ancient as can be. A glorious history, a rich tapestry of tradition and a whole bunch of assorted mystique attached to the Indian brand that is connected to all things natural and of course all things beautiful, is something that needs to be exploited to the hilt.

No point then to negate the mystique and charm of the brand there is in the minds of peoples outside the shores of India. Might as well use it to advantage. Add all those dashes of hi-technology to all the soft touch of the nation in the minds of the consumer in foreign markets, and you just might have a potent broth that will re-position the brand that is India.

The competitive advantage of an image versus that of a functional reality has seen the winning potential in the image and the brand. As the future evolves into one that is besotted more with imagery than with the functional trait, piggybacking on the India brand, a whole host of honest products and services that cling on to the tail of the mystique that is India, is certainly a possibility of significant competitive advantage.

The one big missing element in the marketing of the India brand has been the commitment to brand thinking within the realm of Indian bureaucracy. The policy maker needs to shift the way he thinks and the way he operates in the realm of the image.

Preserving a whole host of things that are distinctly Indian and distinctly ethnic will be the biggest task for those in the game of maintaining the key differentiators, which will bet eh key USPs of the India brand. Indian foods are already a big thing in the West. A United Kingdom without 'Balti' cooking and Butter Chicken Masala would indeed be a poorer nation of gourmet eaters!

Natural health remedies, natural cooking, the Organic nation, the realm of alternate medicine and health are but only some of the areas that will distinguish India in the future. There are a whole host of areas to explore. No one nation in the world can claim to offer the kind of variety that India can. In its food, its clothes, its festivals, its rituals and of course in its many Gods. India as a safe tourist destination of the future is still but a dream. The potential however lives on.

The many, many competitive advantages of India, glorified in recent years in the realm of InfoTech, front-ended scientific research work that is currently on in the outer-periphery of achievement, India’s strides in the realm of PharmaTech and allied areas are possibilities that have been highlighted well and possibly even inflated beyond levels of credible usage in the past.

Avoiding these realms, one can only look at the basics that India offers to the markets that are emerging now and to the markets that will emerge in the future.

The effort that has to be made in order to establish and capitalize on the basics just outlined as key competitive advantage of the country, require an investment in the realms of positive development of the network economy, its infrastructure base, its communication ability and of course the key factor of brand-led thinking.

India has long since lived as a commodity. It is time then to yank itself out of the commodity mindset and establish its presence in the brand-led world. The world today is one that is moved more by the image than by the reality. India needs to seize its place in the limelight of brands.

As everything in the marketing lives of the Indian gets redefined in the near and medium-term future, there is but no other option than to depend heavily on the key strengths we have taken for granted in the past. Even considered a liability in the recent past.

Awakening the Indian economy and its competitiveness lies in the realm of the high quality product that will roll out of our ancient manufacturing facilities. These products need to talk of a quality that will battle the best that will come in from every direction there is. And that too at low cost. Our ‘desi’ chickens will need to compete with American chicken legs that will walk into the kitchens of our country.

As many an industry faces an impending closure, the best will indeed survive. The fittest will survive and the rest will vanish into the limbo of the have-beens. As all this happens and as social turmoil seizes the 'have-beens' by the jugular, there is ahead of us a moment that will truly bet the defining moment when the entire bureaucracy that run the competitive model of Indian industry and enterprise will wake up all of a sudden, with a jolt. A nightmare that is bound to seize the policy-maker, the implementer and indeed the key participant of the economy, the man in industry, all together by the short hair.

And this defining moment is the one that will turn the paradigm of Indian competitiveness we have followed so very vigorously for all these years, upside down. This will be the moment of re-think. A point of time when the truly important will replace the truly insignificant. A pursuit of which, our model of industrialization thrust upon the nation during the Nehruvian era, glorified in the past.

The WTO regime is the catalyst of this process. And the first of the bombshells will be fired in the dominant sector of agriculture in the Indian economy. And its almost here!

We are, I suspect, very close to that defining moment. Let’s witness and let’s participate in that process of turmoil. We have no choice, in any case!

In Conclusion

The competitive advantage of India in world markets is best assessed by taking a quick peek at the models of competition possible in markets of the present and the future.

If I am to look around the nations of the world and correlate models in current use, there are four distinct patterns that emerge. Four clusters that have whole sets of nations congregating in models those seem to work for each of them differently and with different levels of efficacy. Needless to say, the peculiarities of each nation in question dictate the distinct choice they have made for themselves. Let’s visit the clusters. And let’s call them all kinds of animal names.

1.The Earthworm Model:

The passive model of competitive reaction. The invitation theory that is best practiced by the earthworm. A rich worm really. It knows the basics best. It is in constant touch with the earth that it seeks nourishment from and nourishes back simultaneously. A fundamentally strong being.

Several problems in this model though. It is passive for one. Non-reactionary. A model in the self-fulfilling prophecy mode. The best example of the fatalistic theory in practice. When faced with danger, all it can do is continue its humble journey in the earth. Competition kills this model with ease. There is no reaction. The fatalistic model of competition at its best!

Is India here?

2.The Snail model:

The common competitive model in practice by a whole host of nations. This model is reactively proactive. A clear cocoon orientation. When faced with competition and danger, there is a regression into the shell. The withdrawn marketer at play. The philosopher marketer even! The marketer who revels in the safety-static nexus. Waiting for the competition to just go away, so that normal life may resume again!

Is India here?

3.The Porcupine Model:

This model tells the competitor clearly of the array of weapons that are available for retributive action. There is a clear emphasis on the display of the arsenal. It believes in the overt display. A clear détente model of competition. Avoids a lot of speculative action and is ready for the real battle

Is India here?

4.The Everyone Else Model:

This is the model of the real-time player in competitive markets of the present and certainly the future. This is the real-time marketer. Reactive when necessary. Proactive when necessary. Guerilla in tactics when necessary as well!

This is a constant-change oriented model that believes in watching the scenario carefully and reacting accordingly. Making forays into proactive territory on a speculative basis. Never mind if even only one of those sixteen forays actually click! Life in the fast track of competitive marketing is pretty un-predictable and speculative. Change here is absolutely discontinuous. Making a decision on a point of competitive strategy based on happenings of the past and the present could be disastrous. The future never ever happens the way the past decided.

Change here is so discontinuous that it is aptly illustrated by the example of the baby-arrival process in the house. The first child in this baby-boomers house is born out of a Caesarian section, gone in for by an over-zealous gynecologist. The second baby of the house is therefore predictably to be one out of a similar process. Caesarian section! No! It isn’t. Change is discontinuous. The second baby is a natural birth! The third child is due to happen then. This time round, it’s Caesarian section as well! Oops!

The fourth child of this baby-happy home is due. Change is indeed discontinuous. There is no predictability here. Guess what! This time round, the baby is actually conceived, carried and delivered by the father of the baby! Oops! Again! Change is indeed that discontinuous!

Shouldn’t India be here?

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rural India

Creating Brands For Rural India

By Harish Bijoor

I spent the first four years of my career entirely in rural markets. I used every mode of travel to enter into the gut and gore of the slice of market I had the privilege to look after. The bullock-cart, the camel-driven cart and the boat were all means to penetrate a terrain no MBA in his right mind wanted to. Dirty rat-infested lodges, police-raids that had me ashamed of my neighbours in the rooms around and food that had me running to the nearby field even in broad daylight are tales my early life in the rough and tumble of Indian marketing is made of.

These four years taught me one thing clearly! There are two Indias! Real India and Virtual India!

Real India was this piece of terrain I sold tea, coffee, spices and condoms to. It was a big chunk of the land mass. It occupies bulk of the landmass and houses 742 million people as of now! It is populous, multi-cultural and multi-faceted. India started here. This is the residence of the arts, the culture, the food, the ethnic fashion, the agricultural practice, the nuance of language and diction and everything else that we in Urban India have morphed to our needs as of today. Remember, in the very beginning there was no urban at all! It was all rural! All real!

Virtual India was where I came from. Virtual India was where I was shaped into a being capable of commercial, social and cultural existence. The size of pie of land I came from was an urban island of sorts. An aberration even! The populace that lives here comprised a fourth of the size of the population of India on the whole.

There sure was a Matrix at play! While politics of the nation was governed largely by what Real India had to say, government policy did not necessarily tread the very same path. There was this huge gap in understanding what was right for the masses and what was politically expedient. In the bargain, policy was hijacked by the politician.

While politics was the domain of the politician and the bureaucrat that ran the nation in many ways, commerce was largely played in the very same way. Till the wave of liberalization set in. And when this happened, Indian businesses actually steered Virtual India. What’s more, Virtual India took charge of the way Real India was to be run as well.

And in Virtual India, the businesses that dictate the soap that needs to be placed in your toilet and the detergent in your bathroom and the cooking gas in your kitchen, actually ran Real India.

Real India is today run by Virtual India. The largest part of land-mass and the larger part of the population base is controlled in many-many ways by the way the urban man in urban India wants it run. A true blue hegemony of the Urban Indian!

Remember again that all marketing men and their kin in advertising, market research and branding are mostly urban souls. Many in disguise as well!

Real India (read as: rural India henceforth) is fast morphing to the needs, wants, desires and aspirations discovered by the urban man. Television as a medium has created awareness, a raging interest in brands, a latent desire to consume and possess what is shown on the not-such-an-idiot-afterall-box! Television has spurred on consumptive action and has acted as a brand consumption catalyst in many ways. And television has continually shown us images that make everything Urban desirable and everything Rural as something that is basic….too basic!

Look keenly at the statistics that tell us the growth of urbanization. In 1951 we had 2,843 Urban Agglomerations(UA) and towns. Today, the number is close to 4000! The Urban population in 1951 stood at 17.3 per cent of total. Today, the number is a proud and unidimensional 27.8 per cent! In the last fifty years, we have had what I would call creeping urbanization. In the next fifty, it is time to expect a galloping rate! Thanks to television…and thanks fundamentally to the Brand movement, which is poised to make a big movement in the heart and hearth of the rural dweller!

The two Indias mean two sets of peoples. The rural man, woman, child, dog and cat for a start! Remember, dog-food and cat-food companies will definitely want to invade the vast rural hinterland sometime in the future for sure!

How then does one go about creating brands for the rural person in the rural dwelling?

There are two ways really. The first is the insensitive way most marketers have adopted to date. The second is a more sensitive rendering of what marketers and brand-evangelists in the future could adopt.

The first is really the easy way. Pioneer marketers in rural areas used it to good advantage. Take the urban brand,

1) Tweak the product a wee bit (read: make it rustic, rugged and even lower-quality if necessary),

2) Lower the price (read: offer inferior grade teas to the rural market and superior grades to the urban one in the same brand),

3) Extend the brand to Low Unit Packs (read: lower unit packs will be cheaper in price and inferior in quality as well. Higher unit packs will take in superior quality. Urban markets use High unit packs and rural markets use LUPs)

4) Modify the packaging marginally (read: add the brand name in Hindi and four other prominent vernaculars)

5) Advertise (read: Take the English rendering of the standard urban storyboard and make a film in Hindi. Take this film and dub it in the vernacular. Never mind the lip sync even….in the early days!)

6) Promote (Read: Use Cinema widely. Use wall-site paintings. Sponsor the local boat race and the temple festival alike! Use rural publicity vans to percolate the brand message through television sets that would carry a VCR and a large-format screen as well)

7) Market Research (Read as: find out more about the rural dweller. Use the intrusive and alien questionnaire format to find out more. Use probes of every kind. Use the focus group at times if you are feeling particularly qualitative in your yearnings for data.)

The easy way is the insensitive way to create and build brands in the rural markets that still remain on the landscape. My clarion call: Forget the easy way you have used all these years. Take the tough route of branding in the rural market. Preserve rural India and what it represents. Bring back pride to rural India in terms of what it has to offer in its multi-variable format.

But why? Is this a return to socialism? A form of retro-appeal? Of retro-fashion?

No, the logic is strong enough for us to pursue the new rules of branding for rural India. For one, take the case of the fertilizer and pesticide situation.

In the very beginning, all of India was organic. We grew everything we did to cater to a population size that was manageable without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Natural organic manure and very innovative natural practices that used plant and animal waste distinguished the agricultural practices of India.

And then came the revolution everyone wanted. The men in the Gandhi caps (except Gandhiji of course) wanted a bigger yield from the land and the cow and the factory alike. Practices morphed and India became yet another dumping ground for the pesticide and fertilizer that came from far and near. The countryside morphed. Yields doubled.

The year is 2003! The world is discovering health and the joy of consuming the organic produce. It’s back to nature…the pure way! And India has lost it! Imagine a situation where India could emerge as a 100 per cent producer of the organic product! And remember still that the organic produce today commands a premium in the key consumption markets of the world! We lost it!

The rural terrain we still boast of can be preserved. I seek a sensitivity among the marketing man. A sensitivity that promises not to harm commercial intent, which is the salient driving force of all business intent. A sensitivity that could well carve out for the marketing man a commercial space one can be truly proud of.

The case I present in this piece therefore, is a case that seeks to preserve the sanctity of Rural India and discover commerce and sense in it all! A plea to really stop this one-sided movement that seeks to make the rural man a consumptive animal of cornflake and dog biscuit alike!

Create brands keeping in mind rural imperatives then. Here goes the ideal rural brand map. My ultimate want as a Marketing man.

1.Reverse-engineered brands:

Rural markets are different than the urban. Understanding is the key point. Reverse-engineer the brand quite unlike what we have done in the past. Go to the rural market and find out its wants, needs, aspirations, dreams and expectations. Go and meet up with a million villagers and create the product that is relevant to their needs. Stop depending on research numbers that run in the hundreds and a few thousands at the best!

Ask the rural man what he wants. Engineer the product and the brand appeal and get back to him for a ratification. This time round as well, go back to the million hearts you reached out the first time to. Show it to him. Get it ratified. Insulate it all from the urban paradigm you have operated thus far within.

2. The name itself:

Seek out the vernacular. Seek out the different. Seek out the name that is futuristic for sure, but seek it out in the ethos of the land the brand will sell within. Seek it out within the social milieu it will swim in.

And don’t pass value judgment on the name that you seek out wearing tinted urban glares! And this goes for the slogan, the colour, and every component of brand appeal you will build for your brand of biscuit or bubblegum or bottle-cleaner or whatever!

3. The glitz and glamour of the advertising execution:

Tread carefully here. Don’t for heaven’s sake decimate rural dress, culture, lingua franca, habit and rustic appeal. The point is to preserve and not decimate. Preserve and not clonalize!

Watch out for the attitude that you covey. Look carefully for those hidden meanings that the hegemony of the urban marketer has cultivated in all of us. Take it through a thorough check and weed out the urban bias with a candour that will come more out of practice than upbringing and education.

The fashion statement, the habit burr and the style-irreverence modern advertising seeks to throw at the viewer in the marketplace can on most occasions swim against the tide of social acceptance. Watch out for these signs and avoid them like the SARS!

4. Do a consciously aggressive rural job:

Generations of wrong advertising and marketing norm has punctured the ego of the rural market for a while now. Go out there into the rural market with a passion to set right these wrongs. Do such an aggressive job on it that you will make rural a fashion statement even! Enough to make the urban man sit up and want to ape!!

Position the rural ethos right. Position it uniquely with a yen to create a differentiation that is truly a world apart. Very few developed economies can boast a size of rural population that is multi-variegated as ours! Use it to advantage!

5.Packaging Right:

Look for the ways and means that packaging will deliver freshness and maintain equity with the environment as well!

The plastic revolution we witness today in urban markets is proving to be disaster! Fortunately for India, this revolution is as yet at a nascent stage in our rural markets. Imagine what would happen if the key issues of disposal were to affect three fourths a mass larger than it affects today in the country! The problem would multiply by a factor of four! Avoid this altogether and invent for the rural market forms of packaging that will be close to the environment we want to gift to our grandchildren marketers!

Break away from the quality differentiation standards adopted by the modern marketer for Urban and Rural marketer. No apartheid here dear marketer! Equal money must deserve equal value!

6. The Price and Promotion Mechanics:

The rural consumer has been through the throes of the games the urban marketer has played in terms of price and promotion. The rural dweller is tired really of collecting those inane sets of combs and tumblers and calendars alike.

The rural consumer needs to be approached with a savvy sense of understanding his needs. Is it value that he seeks? If so what kind of value? Is it a value dictated by price? By quality? By quantity? Or by appeal? Functional or Emotional?

Creating brands for rural India is a science that will require many ardent students who are willing to participate in this great big task of doing the different thing altogether in branding. It will require quite a bit of swimming against the tide of all that we have done in marketing in the past. It will require decimating many a myth. It will demand many years of hard work, something the urban marketer will find daunting.

The rural market for brands is a powder keg of an opportunity waiting to be explored……not exploited! The traditional means of taking the urban brand and its appeal into the rural heartland will only destroy the fragile rural mind and milieu.

I really hope the harm has not already been done! If it has, I rest my case…..a defeated soul in search of the ideal rural market!

The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. with a consulting presence in Hong Kong, London and the Indian sub-continent.


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