Having launched over a dozen international brands in the Indian Market, here are some of the key differentiators of International Brands which have succeeded in India.
Understanding the Customers in India
The international brand looking at the Indian Market must understand its new target customer in this market. Of course, the brand knows its customer in its home market. It is important to assess the brand awareness in India, and also understand the customers in new markets behave differently. There could be stark differences in countries' cultures regarding consumer spending habits, attitudes toward youth, respect for privacy, and preference for tradition. It is critically important to know your customer prior to investing in new markets.
In a new market, the company does not yet have a brand or a reputation. We tend to underestimate the importance of these vital elements. The company has to find the right way of connecting with customers to build that brand loyalty. Focus is required to succeed in India, with companies that tackle the market with extra visits, extra presence and extra marketing and advertising spends and extra work with the local partners appointed (agents, distributors, or a joint venture).
Case Study: Louis Vuitton succeeded in the Indian Market, because Julia King, the MD of Asia-Pac, visited India at least 25 times, and walked the length and breadth of Mumbai and Delhi to really ‘get’ India. Once they launched the brand, the CEO of Louis Vuitton himself visited Mumbai and New Delhi for events and spoke to the customers, and had a first-hand pulse of the market. They also invested heavily in marketing and cultivated leading actresses as brand ambassadors. They also tied in the legacy of Louis Vuitton to Kapurthala by hiring Tikka Shatrujit Singh as a spokesperson who is from the royal family of Kapurthala.
Strategic Audit of the Partners is Very Important
In order to select the right partner, the brand must do a strategic audit of the partner. Discussions with multiple players, ideally 2-3 (distributors and agencies) are advantageous to evaluate which partner is the best fit for the brand. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each player, listening to their pitch on how they would develop the market for its product, what kind of resources they would put to support the brand, and selecting the winning partner and structure a mutually beneficial contract. Create an agreement that will incentivize both parties to work hard to achieve their shared goals – and make it clear how each side can gracefully exit the partnership if those goals are not achieved.
Adding India Inspired Assortment to Suit the Indian Customer
Once the company understands the customer, it is important to perhaps (not always) key to launch with something India-inspired in the product assortment.
Case Study: When Uniqlo launched in India, they created a Uniqlo interpretation of the Indian kurta. Designer Rina Singh, was hired to create this line, and not only did Uniqlo launch the kurta in India but they also launched the line globally.
Bobbi Brown launched a marketing promotion targeting the wedding season, and bridal make-up.
Maintain a Healthy Paranoia to Keep Ahead of Competitors
Brands that have won in India, have had a laser focus on the market, even if the day-to-day operation is in the hands of a local partner, which means regular visits to the market, keeping an eye on the competition. What are people saying about your brand and about your products and about your competitors? The brands which are winning are constantly examining their strategy and are open to adjustment if necessary.
Case Study: Levis India has recently re-claimed leadership position in India, with its new brand ambassador – Deepika Padukone, and a renewed digital strategy.
Brands need to have the marketing investments to enter into new markets. Building the brand will need the local partner to invest marketing monies and will also need the brand to make marketing investments over a 3-year time horizon. Besides, there should be a resource allocated at the international head-office to have management talent designated to the Indian Region. Meaning both capital and management resources must be available to make the brand work in the market.
Case Study: H&M came into India, 5 years after Goliath, Zara, but they launched with a marketing blitz that very quickly took them to the top 3 performing brands in its category.
In conclusion, India is not easy, it needs patience, the right pricing and the right partner. Be willing to adjust to the market, and listen to the feedback from the market to win!