(Dheeraj Sinha, Chief Strategy Officer, Bates 141, is a passionate miner of consumer minds. One manifestation of this passion is his book ‘Consumer India: Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet', launched at Mumbai hangout Blue Frog on March 11. Billed as a practitioner's account of what the Indian consumer wants, the book is an enjoyable read, rewarding in insights and rich in perspective. In conversation with BrandLine, the author dwells on some issues addressed in the book, and what the takeaways for marketers could be. Excerpts here from The Hindu, Business Line)
Youth Brands Vs Youthful Brands
There are far more young-looking brands in India than there are brands for the youth. Given India's large young population, that's a huge disappointment.
In apparel, for example, there are no true blue youth brands. There's an opportunity for youth brands, not the ‘youthful' brands that the Levi's and Nike are becoming. We have a young population that buys apparel through multiple formats of unorganised retail, which stock clothes for people from all walks of life. There's a huge opportunity for retailers to dip into that and make an opportunity out of it.
There's an opportunity in telecom, apparel, food and restaurant retailing. Some part of it is being addressed by the Café Coffee Days and Baristas of the world. They are, in a way, evidence that catering to this segment can prove profitable. What if we had a chain of dating restaurants?
In insurance, what if we don't sell retirement plans to young India, but an ‘entrepreneurship plan'? Can we encourage youth to start saving for that?
We need to look at youth as a separate segment and not address them with brands that are ‘youthful'. Merely having a younger-looking brand ambassador and advertising does not mean you are targeting the youth. Marketers need to get that clear.
India is big, India is growing. Creating a product that will cater to a billion Indian customers at one go is simply not possible. At the same time, hyper-segmenting can be detrimental in a market like India.
A mid-way segmentation, with three big segments, is what I think works. In that segmentation, the partition segment provides the biggest opportunity. When we talk about India, we do not talk about that segment at all.
We say India is young and every brand wants to become youthful. State Bank of India has done a huge campaign trying to look youthful, while there is enough evidence to show that people in the age group of 45 to 65 years have saved money, in part because they felt their sons or daughters may not turn out the way they wanted them to. They have a huge amount of savings and they want to spend that money.
The net result is that second homes are becoming far more popular. LIC is building old age homes. There is huge scope for luxury in several categories such as hospitals and insurance plans that are far more padded.
In advertising today, older people are mostly used as jokers, if at all. Not all brands need to look young. In a banking relationship, I would expect warmth, trust, and expect to be taken care of. I am not expecting a yuppie, yo! looking relationship manager!
Somehow we have this obsession with youth and tend to paint every brand with the same brush stroke.
Most talk about India centres on the bottom of the pyramid. In 2008-09, Audi had a growth rate of 68 per cent. Top-end brands in the premium segment are doing very well. If we do an overlap of premium and youth, that is again a huge segment.
There is a segment of first- and second-generation entrepreneurs with far more money to spend. There are young people getting into sexier jobs with high incomes. Not many brands have targeted this segment dedicatedly. Few exceptions do exist. I would say Max Bupa is the first premium insurance brand in the country. I would imagine there is a huge opportunity for a premium telecom brand. Hypothetically, if Kingfisher was to launch a Kingfisher First mobile service, it would have to be far more differentiated than what the average cellular service gives you.
We can pretty much take any category, carve out a premium segment and create a differentiated offering for them. Targeting the upper end would allow brands to offer services they would otherwise not be able to add. A number of additions have happened at the premium end in apparel and automobiles, but there are many other categories which haven't been tapped.
The biggest myth about rural India is that it looks for purely functional benefits — it has, for long, been looked at as part of only the bottom of the pyramid. We did extensive research in rural India. We found, for instance, Pantene sachets in rural households that did not even have a television.
One reason Tata Nano has not taken off is because it was seen as a cheap car. That's a symbol enough to say that even that segment of buyers is seeking a premium, in the sense that they are seeking an upgrade, and not value for money. Value has to fall into place but it is one of the drivers, not the only driver.
Brands, in the rural space, need to add a bit of imagery to themselves. Those consumers are reaching out to brands that are giving them that sense of premium. We see that across the spectrum, from shampoos and deodorants to mobile handsets. Rural India is seeking a sense of moving up in life, a sense of pride.
Women in rural India are saying, ‘Yes, I am married. I wanted to become a teacher but ended up as a housewife. But within the boundaries of my family life and responsibilities, can I start doing tuitions?' That's again a progressive mindset. There are women in rural India who want to start a small beauty treatment business while managing the home. What we see is that this sense of progress is even more in rural India. Unfortunately, a large segment of marketers are lagging in their understanding of rural India, and driven by stereotypes.
Why the Book?
Most titles in the deluge of books on Indian consumers suffer from the problem of painting the larger India picture — of explaining how we have come from being a British colonial state to becoming this power house. They write about it in awe, singing the ‘Slumdog Millionaire' tune.
I have tried to write about India ground up, and drill deep, getting into specific consumer segments, and map the changes that are happening in those segments. The belief is that once the point of view is available, we can reach out to them with products and services created for those untapped segments.