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Home > Business > Columnists > Guest Column > Harish B


An Indian heart needed to succeed in India

January 08, 2008

Having an 'Indian heart' is all about understanding the psyche of Indian consumers.

This translates into consumer-centric innovations like the poly-coating on Vim dish wash bars, waterproof Band-Aid, shampoo sachets or a mobile phone with a torch (Nokia 1100).

To succeed in India, one needs to use the four pillars: functionality, value for money, goodness and communication.

Function maketh the brand

Functionality is a significant determinant of successful brand building in India. The success of Toyota Qualis is a classic example that shows the overriding importance of functional performance in buying decisions.

Toyota was criticised for bringing in a dated product to India. But market watchers were surprised at the overwhelming reception that Qualis received because of its functional performance.

Because of its perceived lack of functional performance compared to traditional breakfast food, Kellogg's has been finding it difficult to enter the Indian breakfast table.

However, Maggi was able to create a huge market for noodles by communicating the functional value of the product and by adapting itself to Indian consumer culture.

Cease Fire, a home fire extinguisher from Real Value Appliances, was a success despite being an unsought product, as consumers saw a functional value in it. The same company failed with its Vacumizer brand because customers did not see any functionality.

The lesson is that mere emotional or aspirational value will not work in the Indian market. Successful and everlasting brands have proven their mettle in their utility.

To quote marketing guru Philip Kotler: "A brand is built by performance, not advertising. Advertising can only make you aware and possibly interested but it's the trial and fulfillment of created expectations that count most."

VFM rules

There is a joke about an Indian consumer who was thrown out of the showroom when he asked about the mileage of a super luxury car. The Indian consumer's obsession with value is famous.

This tenacity has created a new market for mass prestige (masstige) products in India. But most brands fail to understand the link between functional performance and the value proposition.

The lukewarm response to several iconic international brands when they launched in India is a result of this. The iPod or an Apple computer could not replicate their global success in India because of this mismatch. Although iPod still ranks supreme in aspirational value, it is not translating into sales.

The value proposition delivery has forced many brands to reorient their strategy in India. Levi's launched a much affordable Signature range to cater to value conscious buyers.

Shampoos sachets were successful as customers saw more value in sachets than in bottles. The boom in mobile telephony is because of low tariffs as well as the low handset rates. The ubiquitous Maruti-800 is still in demand because of its unbeatable value proposition.

But often low price is confused with value. When personal computer marketers launched the sub-Rs 10,000 computer, analysts were bullish. But the functional performance of the low-priced variants put off potential consumers.

The big C

"To persuade someone to do something, or buy something, it seems to me that you should use their language, the language in which they think," said advertising legend David Ogilvy.

Interestingly, brands that have been successful in India were able to connect with consumers in a language they relate to. A classic example is the case of beverage brand Horlicks. Globally Horlicks is positioned as a drink targeting adults, but in India it's a health drink for kids. McDonald's was able to Indianise itself through a series of campaigns which are truly Indian.

Indian consumers like products to have a global outlook with Indian heart. Initially, suitings brand Reid & Taylor built its brand image using the character of "James Bond" and then Indianised the brand with Amitabh Bachchan.

Surf is a brand that has perfected the communication pathway to reach Indian minds. From the basic functional communication through Lalithaji to the current "Dirt is Good "campaign, Surf has been truly Indian. Pepsi took the Indian market by storm with its blockbuster ad campaigns made for India.

Brands like Santoor and Ujala are clear examples of a successful Indian way of communication. Both brands have maintained their respective market positions for more than a decade.

The goodness quotient

More than the present, goodness is an attribute for the future. It's not that the brand should take up social responsibility activities, but it should be able to convey its goodness to the consumer.

Brands like Lifebuoy (Lifebuoy swasthya chetana), Colgate (zero tooth decay) and Fair & Lovely (women empowerment) have initiated programmes to communicate that these brands have a heart.

Even without such initiatives, brands can convey goodness through product improvements.

For example, the Atta noodles and Rice noodle variants of Maggi are excellent examples of brands bringing in goodness. Goodness helps brands to bridge the perception of 'exploitation', build brand equity and helps in connecting with customers better.

These are just signposts in the difficult process of surviving this marketplace. In this process some rules will be broken, for there is no formula for success.

Harish B is an assistant professor at the School of Communication and Management Studies, Kochi, and authors the blog, Marketing Practice.


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