A plethora of global companies have entered into the Indian market in the past few years – Spotify, Ikea and Beccos being the latest major additions. It’s interesting to note how the commitment, of a lot of them, towards the Indian market, is limited to creating a hullabaloo of their arrival, roping in a marquee brand ambassador and being complacent with the initial tranche of a million users.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are brands which come to India with a long-term commitment and consider India not just a market but also a learning centre for launching and scaling in the emerging economies world over. There are plenty of key takeaways from the approach of a global brand like this that is doing reasonably well in India.
In its true essence, India is as diverse as a continent, both culturally and economically. This presents its own set of both opportunities and challenges to a global brand looking to navigate the Indian market.
To make a mark in such a complex market and to continue to be relevant (and grow) for years, it’s imperative, especially for a consumer-facing global brand , to do the business in an Indian way and pick and choose only such global tactics which may blend well with the social, cultural, political, technological and economic fabric of India.
Before delving deep into the ways to build and retain success in India, it’s vital to throw some caution against a trap that engulfs the success of many global brands in India – the “Initial Success Trap”.
Global players are enticed into believing that they’ve made it big in India owing to the impressive number of users that they acquire in no time. Most of the times, this is because early adopters in India are well-aware and fairly-receptive of popular global brands.
In a blip, this translates into a sizeable chunk of users owing to the sheer scale of the Indian market. This, however, does not lead to the sustained growth of a global brand as the Indian market is cluttered and a flurry of brands mark their entry on a continued basis.
What is required is a mixture of long-term commitment and the following to-dos to truly enter, immerse and scale one’s business in India:
Intuitively, most of the brands are lured towards winning the metropolitan markets of India. In reality, these hubs are saturated and cluttered with everyone fighting for a chunk of a very slowly growing pie. The real growth opportunities for a global brand lie in Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets. If not from the start, but eventually, building a presence in these markets is key for global brands.
According to a World Economic Forum survey, the top 10 fastest growing cities in the world are all Indian cities and most of them are non-metros, Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities. Consumers in these markets are digitally connected and hence well-exposed to global trends.
They are aspirational and hungry for new and unique experiences. They also have more cash at disposal and relatively more time to try out new ideas. Brands should leverage these factors by banking on a smart strategy to gradually expand to these high-potential and captive markets.
Skipping localisation or superficial localisation might work in the initial phase, but to truly scale and align to the needs of Indian consumers, a global brand should “glocalise” by attuning their product and communications to the Indian tastes without giving up on their true identity and global roots.
The offerings must be adapted to unique Indian scenarios such as low-connectivity, the prevalence of cash transactions, importance of regional languages, heavy price-sensitivity and respect for one’s culture and religion. Amazon and Uber’s introduction of cash-based transactions and the Lite version of apps testify the success of market-led innovations while retaining one’s global charm.
Building intangible assets like brand equity and goodwill in India will go a long way in decluttering a global brand from its peers in the market. What you do and how you do it one facet of your success, but the other facet is who you are and how you portray it to the people. This primarily depends on how you build your brand assets in India.
When global brands are sensitized towards the local culture, beliefs and resonate well with the worldview of whom they are targeting in India, consumers reward them with acceptance and sustained loyalty. A global brand becomes a part of the local zeitgeist when it comes forth with meaningful campaigns that identify and solve the real problems, whether societal or personal, of the consumers it is targeting.
A global brand can amplify the trust and credibility generated by such campaigns by choosing the local dialect as the mode of communication. A few classic examples of global organizations which have been able to build formidable brand equity in India through such campaigns are Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nike, Procter & Gamble et al.
Direct To Global Headquarters
India is a continent in itself. It is complicated and nothing like other countries in APAC. Lots of global companies make the mistake of clubbing India with SEA and APAC regions. However, any global brand which has shown sustainable growth treat India as a hub direct. It does not limit commitment to just setting up India offices but also establish its global innovation and learning centres in the country.
This, apart from helping them gain a stronghold in India, empowers such global brands to understand the emerging markets on the whole. A few recent examples include Facebook establishing a direct reporting structure between the India team and the global team sitting out of their Menlo Park HQ in California, Mastercard announcing to make India as its global technology hub in the next 5 years, Uber introducing cash payments and a lite version of its app exclusively for the Indian market, etc.
No formula is set in stone to navigate and trump a market as unique and as vibrant as India, but a global brand entering the Indian market with a strong sense of commitment towards not just establishing its business here, but also looking at it as a laboratory to learn how to win in other emerging markets can definitely become and remain successful for decades.