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How India can be a global business powerhouse

Last updated on: August 12, 2011 15:57 IST

How India can be a global business powerhouse

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Madhukar Sabnavis

In the early 1900s America globalised by building on Ford's concept of mass production.

The invasion was driven in the food, automotive and personal product categories, such as Coke, McDonalds, GM, Ford, and Procter & Gamble, and later by technology companies like IBM and Microsoft.

After World War II, Japan globalised by miniaturising American products and building electronic expertise - thus were born global giants like Toyota, Sony, Mitsubishi and Honda.

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Image: President Obama visits the Ford plant in Chicago.
Photographs: Reuters.
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Germany built on its engineering expertise to give precision a new face through brands like BMW, Mercedes and Bosch. In the late 20th century, China entered the fray with low-priced manufacturing to storm the world.

And India became the "technology" outsourcing back office for many global companies in the early 21st century. Where does Brand India go from here if it wants to become a truly global economic force?


Image: India a BPO hotspot.

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In the past few years, several Indian corporate groups have established their presence abroad through acquisitions.

Also, many Indian corporate magnates have stated their intent to create global firms. These are steps in the right direction which can help India become a global power.

At the same time, it would be worthwhile to crystal-gaze and identify the sectors in which India can make it big, given its values, core strengths and competences.

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Image: Tata acquired Jaguar.

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After all, other global powers have leveraged their strengths, bringing about significant changes in the markets in which they operated -Americans with their "think big" philosophy; Japanese with their "think small" concept and design abilities; Germans with their "be precise" attitude; and Chinese with their "economy" mindset.

Seven categories or territories seem to offer India a chance to deliver extra value and differentiation to the world.

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Image: China's industry booms.

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(i) Agricultural products: In products like tea, basmati rice, alphonso mangoes, Nagpur oranges and even staple cotton and gold the Indian origin can provide extra value and make the products and brands desirable.

This could be a good platform given that the world is moving towards organic and natural products. Of course, much needs to be done in farming and packaging to make this a reality.

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Image: A mustard field.
Photographs: Reuters.
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(ii) Food and fashion: India has strong associations in these areas in the developed world. In food, India has a wide range of sweetmeats to add to the already familiar tandoori chicken, Hyderabadi biryani and spicy samosas.

In fashion, Indian fabrics and colours give it a distinct edge. These products, suitably adapted to local tastes and branded, could be made to reach a larger consumer group.

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Image: Hyderabadi biryani.

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(iii) Hospitality: Hotels and restaurants provide India an opportunity to leverage its traditional values of warmth and friendliness to serve a larger world. Most Indians subscribe to the concept of "atithi devo bhava" (guest is god).

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Image: Oberoi Raj Vilas, Jaipur.

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(iv) Entertainment: whether it is movies or soaps, entertainment in India has developed a distinct character and DNA.

In an increasingly stressful world where people are seeking to escape all the time, the "nonsensical and masala mix" Bollywood and "melodramatic" television serials provide alternative entertainment to the more serious and thought-provoking Western celluloid. India's rich story-telling culture adds to this.

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Image: Bollywood.

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(v) Spirituality: India can formally brand and sell it in the form of yoga, ayurveda, homeopathy, vaastu and so on. India has a rich heritage of holistic arts and sciences that intrigues and interests many in the world.

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Image: Yoga.

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(vi) Mass marketing: it is a big weapon to enter the global markets. In the past 60 years after Independence, India's philosophy of balancing socialism with capitalism has provoked marketers to think of value with volume and urban with rural.

Thus, the average Indian business mind has developed the core competence of creating products and mixes to reach the less privileged.

The Nano, the sachet and products with cheaper ingredients are examples of this expertise. Brand India can leverage this to move a step ahead of traditional global marketing giants in the less developed world.

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Image: Tata Nano.

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(vii) Education: Given the Brahminical culture of knowledge and learning in the Indian society, there could be a jewel hidden within India that marketers could unearth and leverage to build institutions of evolved learning.

There is something powerful in the traditional gurukul system of education that can be re-engineered to suit contemporary times to open a new "school" of education.

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Image: Traditional gurukul system of education.

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Clearly, there is much that Brand India can explore beyond IT and business outsourcing for the world to look towards it as a global business powerhouse.

However, remember that the opportunities are accompanied by challenges.

India has an assimilative culture which is able to imbibe the best of the world to which it is exposed and adapt it to its own culture. However, Indians are not too comfortable adapting to the outside world.

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The Indian mindset needs to change. To get into another culture, there is a need to adapt accordingly - just as many global companies have done successfully to gain dominance in India.

Similarly, Indians need to do away with the "exotic" tag, which makes India a curiosity, restricting it to being only a niche player.

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Image: Made in India tag gets prominence.

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To become part of the mainstream, Indian values need to be made relevant and exciting.

For this Indian business houses need to see themselves as purveyors of change - being the creators of a new face of Brand India rather than merely leveraging India's traditional cultural values.

In the past two decades, Brand India has gained acceptance among the innovators (who are intrigued) and perhaps the early adopters (who have seen value).

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Image: Made in India tag gets prominence.

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The time has come to expand the base and attack the early majority.

Trying to do anything and everything and seeing what works may not be the best way forward.

There is a need for a conscious strategy. Until then, Brand India will continue to be seen as "underdeveloped", as the world has tagged it.

The author is country head, Discovery and Planning, Ogilvy and Mather India.


Image: Brand India.

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