We are like that only

‘We are like that only’, put simply, is an indispensable proposition for those who seek to decipher the Indian consumption riddle. Positioning Guru, Jack Trout in his bestseller ‘Differentiate or Die’ once called India a land of non-standard marketing which was hardly a disputable proposition. India truly is unique in ways more than one. There is a veritable cornucopia of evidence available where multinational firms have entered India with predisposed marketing agendas and far-fetched projections, only to be baffled by the existing heterogeneous structures within structures in the country. Consequently, many firms were forced to spin their marketing strategies on the head. Rama Bijapurkar, I must say, has pulled out all stops in her enlightening book. Her insights about Indian market’s demand structures and her informed assumptions about how to predict changes in consumer India are as informative as they are intellectually satisfying.

‘We are like that only’ starts with a foreword from late C.K. Prahlad (author of ‘Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid’), where he argues that there is no single India and that GDP per capita is not a good measure of the capacity to consume. Rama extensively builds upon these arguments throughout the book. She highlights that consumption patterns in India should not be equated with those in other emerging markets or for that matter, with developed markets in their infancy days. Reason being that demand structures in India are quite different from any other country. India is a country where millions of people consume a little bit of each and that little bit adds up to a lot. She further avers that multinational companies and strategic consultancies need not wait for that magical per capita number at which ‘consumption’ is supposed to take off. Taking a cue from CK Prahalad’s BOP concept, Rama emphasizes that consumption in India has already taken off at the lower income levels (citing the example of success of sachets in shampoo market and how sales of millions of sachets trumps the sales of bottles) and it’s the marketers who need to realign their thought-processes if they are to sustain their success in Indian consumer market.

Rama Bijapurkar’s arguments about three consumer segments – Premium, popular and discount – being equal in value and being different only in the number of consumers in each, are mighty thought-provoking. Towards the end of the book, author draws upon her knowledge in Demographics, Psychographics, Cultural science, History and Philosophy to further elucidate upon the topic of heterogeniety in Indian consumer market. Rama acknowledges the shift of society’s stance towards consumerism when she mentions in Chapter 9 that the most important cultural shift has been the emergence of discontentment with the incorrectness of having to continue with whatever little you have.

Author’s mantra to succeed in Indian market is pretty simple – a) Don’t be bogged down by the financial expectations based on macro GDP numbers; b) Have a plan which ‘India’ do you want to target, remember the heterogeniety and c) Innovate for those at the BOP (bottom of pyramid) – companies like Nokia have run way ahead of their counterparts because Nokia designed phones with optimal performance and low price that fitted into the scheme of BOP segment. The size of BOP segment itself is approximately 650 million…you can work out the rest of Maths. What shines through the book is author’s finesse in using numbers, tables, grids and at the same time, not making the book a laborious read.

Finally, it’s one of those books that you would love to read till finish. An important book for both B-School freshers who wish to pursue careers in marketing or market research – such a piece of literature can help lay the initial framework – and marketing executives.

My verdict: Recommended reading.