As a marketing and sales professional who has worked in this fascinating, beautiful, confusing, infuriating and diverse land called India for over 22 years now, I have been privileged to learn about consumers on the job every day. I have worked in categories as diverse as chocolates, malted food drinks, ice creams, batteries, pharmaceuticals, fruit juices, soft drinks, retail and alcobev. And I have seen certain trends that I believe work across most categories. There will always be exceptions, but here are some of them:
Working men and non-working women exhibit exactly the same kind of buying behaviour, that of spending a lot of time browsing at shops for categories that interest them. For example, men buying books, music and sports goods will spend the same time as women buying groceries. This has implications for retail store layouts as far as merchandise planning goes. This has been successfully implemented by Spencer’s and other retailers.
Urban, educated, affluent Indians think and speak by and large in their native languages, even though they read English. Nowhere is this more apparent than in research focus groups. This has implications for marketers as far as communication and media plans go. PepsiCo is a company that comes to mind on this aspect, with their award winning slug lines over the years.
Young consumers consume products very differently than older ones. They are far less emotional in their buying behaviour, and much more experimentative. Witness young, single and newly married consumers who don’t get newspapers delivered home anymore. Instead, they consume news on the Internet. Media conglomerates like Bennett, Coleman and Company have used this trend wisely with their online newspaper editions.
A so-called SEC A consumer will display SEC C behaviour, depending on the nature of goods and services bought. For example, someone buying a few hundred rupees of vegetables will still ask for some free dhania or lemons as a top up! This has implications for fruits and vegetables retailers. Again, a retailer like Spencer’s has incorporated these learnings into their weekly and monthly catalogues that communicate deals and offers.
Female buyers of automobiles and electronic goods look at different requirements when buying them, but are equally aware of their features and benefits as male buyers. Most marketers in these fields are aware of this, but are not necessarily prepared to handle the consumer interface that is required at the front end. Successful examples include the two-wheeler industry that has launched products targeted specifically for women. Also, Sony comes to mind with their Vaio range of coloured laptops.
With a rise in affluence, advances in medical science and health and nutrition, in urban areas Indians are becoming physically bigger in size. This is especially true for the younger generation. There is significant money to be made from this segment, because of the simple law of demand and supply. Most apparel and accessory retailers are not prepared for this. The few that have taken note of this, such as Revolution, Mustard and Pantaloons, have benefited enormously.
Indian consumers are very proud of their Indianness. While we are open to western ideas and concepts, we are equally at home with our home grown stuff. Witness the number of multinational corporations that have changed their merchandise portfolio, communication tonality and even pricing, to get a slice of the Indian market. Examples that come to mind are McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Dominos.
These are a few examples of the characteristics of Indian consumers that changed my marketing approach, and learnings that I have been exposed to personally during the course of my career. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing about them.
(Samar Singh Sheikhawat is Senior Vice-President, Marketing, United Breweries Ltd.)
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