08 August 2011

Why India imitates Western brands

For today's Indians, the word 'brand' itself means the west for most of the Indians. There is a huge rise in consumerism in India and the madness behind fad and the love for brands has only increased over the years. According to a recent survey, Indians, a staggering 74 percent of them, were found to be more bothered with brand play than their counterparts in the west.

There is a huge section who are brand evangelists, who form the hoi polloi of the society, yet again, there is also a big sect which does not bother too much about where you dine, what brand of 'soda' quenches you drink, or that you are a pass' if you do not have an iPod. There is a considerable segment which claims to be retro, and brand rebels. They break conventions. Entering a Taco bell or a McDonalds for a quick bite, here you are forced to think of where to go to satiate my hunger. Even if you do not care, people around you care.

Young urban Indians might crave the cachet associated with international brands, but they're usually reluctant to pay a premium for them. Concerned above all with finding value, they often opt for local look alike products instead. The middle class are shifting towards brands or tend to buy brands which are catering as per their needs and pockets.

"The market has expanded many-fold in the past few years (than) it ever did during the decades before," says Burges Dandiwala of Brand Catalyst, a brand agency based in Mumbai. "With this has come an inflow of foreign brands that are competing with the traditional, long-established Indian products. Before there was essentially a monopoly: one brand of soap for the low end, one brand for the high end, for example. People now find it difficult" there's a choice for everything. People are just starting to realize the importance of branding."

"Western style branding works well in India if the product is knowledge driven, in the luxury category, or if it's desirable or hedonistic. But FMCG branding has to connect to people's lifestyle here. For example, Kellogg's tried to make Indians think and eat breakfast like Americans do, but failed miserably because it could not dislodge Indian culture and food habits. It was asking too much," remarks Shombit Sengupta, international management consultant and founder of the business strategy agency Shining Emotional Surplus.

Martin Roll, CEO of brand consultancy Venture Republic and author of Asian Brand Strategy says Global giants must avoid thinking they can take the market by storm. "While Indians do aspire to consume well-known global brands, they are a pretty shrewd bunch. Branding in India will have to cater to the diverse needs of customers. At the same time, the winning formula would be one which would offer products and services of high quality at affordable prices. Further, Western brands that plan to enter the Indian market should customize their products to the extent that is necessary to appeal to the Indian customers' hearts and wallets." said Roll.