Amar Ujala 101 Markets: India in small towns and Bharat in urban centres

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | September 17, 2010
Delivering the special address at 101 Markets: India Beyond the Metros 2010, Suman Srivastava, chief executive officer, Euro RSCG India spoke about how imperative it is for marketers to understand the cultural differences between 'Bharat' and 'India'

There are some who welcome change and others who resist it. There are some who are rooted in tradition; while others move away from the same traditions. Kicking off the proceedings at the 2010 edition of '101 Markets: India Beyond the Metros', Suman Srivastava, chief executive officer, Euro RSCG India delivered a special address, emphasising the cultural and mindset differences that exist within the country, which he described as 'Bharat' versus 'India'.

"Getting into deeper markets is not about distribution and reach; but better understanding of the market," he said as he begun his address.

Speaking from personal experience, Srivastava noted that one's own culture is the most complex to understand. He cited the example of Mumbai, which is divided into various fragments, such as South Mumbai and the suburbs. He said that almost immediately, one tends to associate a certain mindset and culture with the people residing in these different locations.

"There is a difference between Bandra West and Bandra East. However, there is none between rural Maharashtra and rural Bengal. We tend to club that together as rural India," he remarked.

Further, he said that when India was 'shining' a few years back, marketers became stars, because it was easy to do well. Smaller markets were identified as growth drivers.

He spoke of the 'Dhoni effect', citing examples of industries that have shown robust growth in rural markets. The analogy underscored the fact that in Indian cricket, several players are not from the major cities anymore, with particular reference to the national team captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

During the subsequent slowdown, Srivastava noted, companies began to feel the pain, as they realised that shining India was not delivering as promised; and that is when companies genuinely began to look deeper into the non-urban markets.

However, according to Srivastava, looking at the rural populace with a stereotypical point of view might not be the best strategy. "Marketers need to be explorers and not warriors," he remarked.

Explaining the point, Srivastava quoted Sun Tzu from his book, The Art of War, "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

He emphasised that one must understand what exactly Bharat means, to understand the "new market". "It is not about where they live or how much they earn; but how they think," he said.

"Demographics do not tell us anything about the mindset of the people. Bharat exists in the metros and India in small towns," he added.

To elaborate the point, he began with the findings of a research conducted in urban cities, which revealed that a significant proportion of the population harbours traditional opinions about society and life. Respondents in the survey had said that they thought a woman's place is in the home; admitted to religion being of much significance; and acknowledged that they did not subscribe to Western culture.

An interesting example Srivastava cited was of wheat being grounded into flour at a supermarket, showing that consumers favour the idea of fresh flour, instead of something that is readily available off the market shelves. "That is an example of marketing to Bharat," he noted.

Big Bazaar, Srivastava said, has done a lot in this regard; avoiding 'straight line' marketing and facilitating different sections to better serve the sensitivities and preferences of the Indian urban consumer.

On the other hand, the notion that small-town India is all about traditional thinking is also flawed, he said, pointing out examples of the changing lifestyles of women in such areas.

Srivastava further distinguished between Bharat and India on the grounds of tradition, finances, eating habits, acceptance of Western culture, marriage and acceptance of new products and brands. By definition, there seems to be reluctance on the part of Bharat; while India generously embraces change.

"We want to have some change; but only in the way we are used to," Srivastava pointed out.

Through the various examples, he emphasised the significance of understanding the different mindsets that exist in the country and designing strategies that better tackle such a scenario.

Srivastava said that it was of utmost importance that marketers stop falling for clichés; stop looking at India just as two sections - metros and non-metros; and avoid being condescending, since Bharat and India exist next to each other and are everywhere.

"We have to focus on tackling the mindset, rather than the location or the size of the pocket. The market will always be there," he said, as he drew his discourse to a close.

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