Marketing To Indians – The Indian Way (Part I)

So, you are all set to enter the Great Indian Market.  Congratulations! You must have done your market research, got your finances in order, adhered to all government regulatory requirements, set up your logistical & organization edifice and now look forward to reaping rich market rewards. In spite of all the brouhaha over the recent De/Re Monetization, the Indian economy is still top of the charts as a stand-out world economy. Driven by a favourable population composition and increasing disposable income, Indians are buying products, services and brands and experiences more than ever. So whether through online shopping, at glitzy supermarkets or in traditional markets, your product, service or brand stands a bright chance of doing well.

This is usually where the plot unravels for most businesses, ‘desi’ or ‘phoren’ (meaning: local or global). With your business offering, you look at market, suavely saying, “Love me baby. Love what I’m offering you”. And the market smiles back coyly at what you are offering and privately thinks, “That sir, is the commercial version of period cramps”.

End of fairy tale. Welcome to reality. In India, there is a difference between who we love, who we settle with and who we are meant for! And our shopping habits reflect this thinking.

Markets in India are not elegant, well structured transaction spaces. They are amorphous, organic and oftentimes messy spaces that thrive on relationships. This is why marketing theories fail in India, more often than they succeed. What works in European & North American markets cannot ‘be made to work in India after suitably tweaking it’. Please do not belittle yourself in our eyes by doing so.

In India, you cannot base your marketing efforts only on neat divisions like geographic criteria, demographics, psychographics & behavioural categorizations. You have to go a step ahead and take have a holistic view in your positioning effort. One in which you first engage the individual and then society as a whole. Like any Indian will tell you, “Don’t tell us, don’t sell to us, and don’t charge us. Instead, Engage Us”. This in a nutshell, is the Indian principle of SAMVAD – a most useful marketing tool to reach and keep customers. The term “samvad” is a Sanskrit word signifying the idea of “dialogue.” In transaction-based Western economies, show-and-tell monologues work. But in relationship-based Asian economies, you need to first build rapport before what you have to offer can be accepted. Else, you will be deceived by well-meaning consumers who will look and what you have to offer and walk right past you, without so much as a pause!

How can you “dialogue” with Indian consumers, in whom the debating spirit is quite strong? Their focus is to see your market offering from all angles, oftentimes to your detriment. To engage the consumer first & the Indian society next, you need to talk to them, not as you would to discrete data points in bookkeeping transactions, but as a body-mind-intellect-spirit complex. In the posts to follow, I will decode for you, the science behind what I’ve christened as “The Samvad Principle of Market Engagement”. SPME is its acronym.

I know the conversation we are having right now goes something like this:

You:    Oh, what a load of hooey this is.

Me:      It most certainly is not, I assure you.

You:    Who has become successful doing this in India, huh?

Me:      Look no further than India’s most recognizable brand icon after PM Modi (yeah, our PM nailed SPME like no other, but I am not talking about him). The hirsute, 50 year-old yoga guru-turned-tycoon Baba Ramdev aced the marketing game using the SPME.

Baba Ramdev entered a highly competitive FMCG market in India, where he was up against well entrenched MNC players with deep pockets. By following the SPME, he set up a red-hot pace of growth, peddling everything from shampoo and toothpaste to biscuits and noodles, and rice and wheat to honey and ghee.

Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, the consumer products company Baba Ramdev set up in 2006, posted Rs.5,000 crore (that’s 5 followed by ten zeroes!) in net sales, in the business year that ended on 31 March, 2016. Next stop: Rs.10,000 crore in net sales, in the year ending next month. In comparison, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), the local unit of Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever Plc., which has been around in India since 1888, hasn’t even touched one-third of Ramdev’s target. In the year to 31 March, 2016 HUL posted net sales of Rs.32,482.72 crore.

Baba Ramdev’s target is a 20-fold increase from the Rs.5,000 crore in net sales that Patanjali posted in the business year that ended on 31 March, 2016. This target represents a third of the size of India’s entire packaged consumer products market at present, estimated at about Rs.3.2 trillion a year and projected to grow 12-15% annually over the next five years, reaching Rs.6.1 trillion in 2019, according to a September 2015 report by industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and advisory firm KPMG.1

This is how effective the SPME truly is.

Marketing in today’s India calls for a radical change in attitude. Conventional markets are fast disappearing as Consumer India nears the end of its third decade. Its time marketers kept pace with evolving consumer needs and devised innovative strategies to reach and keep their Indian customers.

It’s time we challenged outmoded conditions of marketing groupthink no one wants to challenge. Allow me to show you the elephant in the room!


Illustrator: Andy Murphy; Melbourne, Australia

You can reach out to me at my website

Let me know what you think. Leave your comments below. Reading them is something I look forward to.



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About Priya Ramachandran

I am the Founder & Principal Consultant at Cobblestones Consulting, Pune, India - a boutique non-clinical healthcare services firm that works with hospitals and small healthcare service providers looking to win in the Indian market. We offer our services for Market Research, Business Advisory & Corporate Training. We help health care providers grow their business exponentially through developing targeted business strategies, data management competencies and operational excellence that is aligned to their overall business goals. My blog, Prosperji, offers a very Indian take on doing business in Indian healthcare, a market which can singe you hotter than Indian summers, but if you play it well, the rewards are as plentiful as the Indian monsoon. Welcome to the ride of your life! Swagatam.

Posted on March 9, 2017, in Marketing strategy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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