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Multinational companies must have an India strategy 

WPP’s Shubha George says that the Indian market is hugely attractive to brands, but multinational companies entering India had better have a bespoke India strategy

At 1.4bn, India’s population is vast and growing. Momentum is coming from the burgeoning middle classes. But the super-rich are growing too and, thankfully, the number of people living below the poverty line is shrinking. The population is also relatively young; and aspiration and consumption are on the up. 

But a strategy for the India market cannot be the same as for other markets, or even a direct implementation of the global marketing strategy without some localisation. It must be bespoke – or at least well adapted.

Why is this the case? Firstly, only 30% of Indians understand each other; that is speak the same language. There are also cultural differences in the way Indians from different regions celebrate festivals, consume entertainment and the tools they use communicate. It is not just a question of ‘glocalisation’ in its most basic form. 

The best India strategy is one that can adapt according to the region and can accommodate subcultures. The brands that are most successful in India are ones that have navigated these subcultures upon market entry and they resonate with consumers from the start.

And these successful multinational brands – the ones that become entrenched in Indian local culture – are considered ‘Indian’ by the local population. Over time, they have become synonymous with local Indian behaviours and crossed over (in the minds of their audiences) in culture. This is what good marketing for multinationals in India looks like. 

Digital India

What is more, India hosts the world’s largest connected population, using myriad devices to communicate with each other (and with brands), and taking advantage of the low cost of fast data.

Even in the smaller towns and villages, people are making the shift from the TV era to consuming information on their mobile phones. Brands that are not yet operating in India – and are wary of doing so because of the perceived cost of reaching consumers in far flung places – should be reassured by the extensive use of mobile phones in rural locations. 

As a corollary to this, brands now have extensive knowledge about what content is being consumed by their audiences, how to target specific communities, and the most efficient means of reaching them – given subcultures, locations and behaviours.

Further, over the last three or four years, India has developed the largest digital payment system in the world. Today, more than 1bn people in India have digital identities. This delivers transaction simplicity despite the relatively low take up of credit cards. Today, India’s unified payments system can manage billions of transactions every month. 

So, the aspiring Indian class and the larger middle class now have access to quality digital content at high speed that is accessible to them at very affordable prices, plus a digital gateway system through which to shop and transact – as well as a much-improved logistics industry for speedy delivery of goods. Combined, these attributes of the Indian market have created a game changer for brands operating in India, especially in rural communities.

The trick is a layered strategy 

What we have seen is that a layered strategy for the Indian market enables brands to send out messages to a large customer base in an efficient way. Layering enables messaging to accommodate a more sophisticated understanding of the customer at an individual level. That shift has already happened and is working well.

So, for example, the pet care world has been on a significant journey in India – as in many other countries. It is still relatively small in India, but its growth path mirrors that of the rest of the world; that is upwards. Using the layered approach to messaging, brands can reach different demographics in different locations with different passions and communicate with their audiences in ways that ensure that growth path continues to climb. 

But layering in this way is no mean feat. No two multinational companies are alike; however you choose to compare them. But one common theme across the largest and the most successful multinational companies is the use of technology and personalisation combined with creativity. But there must always be a big idea at the core.

When marketing is done well in India, brands benefit from the collection of first party data (with consent), find ways of activating that data, and can then work out how to be more creative and personal when messaging consumers. 

Of course, global messages can be localised but, in doing so, brands operating in India must take care to localise that messaging appropriately so that, culturally, it will have the right fit.

Ultimately, if brands are to reach India's 1.4bn people, harness the spending power of its burgeoning middle and aspiring classes, and tap into this highly digital and mobile-friendly population, they need to think long and hard about their India strategy and seek to adapt well to this very special market.

First published on 8 February 2024 by ET Brand Equity

Shubha George


published on

25 March 2024


Commerce Communications

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