More than a year after I relocated from India back to my home country Germany, I returned to India, visiting Bombay and Delhi to meet with a few of our global clients. Through meetings with brands that have earned local relevance while staying true to their global DNA, I left India with five key learnings that I would like to share.
- Offer a ‘unique’ gift and become a valued partner for the country
On an Indigo flight, I sat next to Praktish, a graduate of one of India’s elite tech universities, and learned how young people who are entering the job market view employer brands. Praktish said that for graduates like him, who can pretty much choose their first job, there are three types of companies: 1) brands that hire 1,000 graduates every year, pay them Rupees 3.5 Lakhs ($5.200 USD), and accept an attrition rate of around 50 percent in the first year, as all those who are able to find a higher paid job will leave; 2) brands that outspend others, such as Google, which pays 20 Lakh ($30,000 USD) to get the first pick of the brightest in the country; and 3) brands known for their outstanding commitment to training and development that offer their talent a longer-term perspective. Praktish mentioned the German brand Bosch*, whose highly reputable dual vocational training helps fulfill the Indian government’s growing need for skilled manpower.
- Understand local culture and use partnerships to create the perfect ‘glocal’ blend
“How do you like the food?” was the No. 1 question I was asked every single day when living in India, followed by: “It’s not too spicy?” So it’s not hard to understand why “home food” is as highly rated as vegetarian or health food in India. When the popular KFC* restaurants sought to increase their market share of “office food,” the QSR chain knew that there were thousands of options during lunch time – including home food. So KFC partnered with the iconic Bombay-based delivery service Dabbawalas, which collects people’s home food every day and brings it to about 200,000 patrons in their own tiffin boxes all over the city — a multi-awarded logistical masterpiece. KFC’s 5-in-1 KFC lunch boxes were sent to Dabbawala customers as a surprise across Mumbai and got the attention of national and international media and influencers — a perfect blend of global and local.
- Add purpose – make a real difference in people’s lives, locally
Kimberly Clark*, the company behind brands like Huggies and Kleenex, has defined proper sanitation as one of their key social purpose commitments. In India, lack of toilets is one of the country`s most relevant issues — more people in India have access to mobile phones than to toilets. For women and girls, the lack of proper sanitation becomes a safety issue, as they need to leave their protected communities for isolated places in the open. Kimberly Clark India committed to an aspect of this problem that is still largely ignored: renovation and maintenance of toilets, particularly in schools. The Toilets Change Lives campaign was co-created in partnership with CAF (Charity Aid Foundation India) and resulted in repairing dysfunctional toilets in about 100 schools and five states.
- Don’t underestimate the power of competition from local brands
Who pays for three entire pages of advertising – including the title page – in a newspaper these days? Uber’s “moves you forward” ad campaign has started an outspending and outsmarting race with local Indian unicorn Ola. The ride-sourcing brands battle requires large investments on both sides and a deep understanding of the needs and wants of local drivers and patrons; both brands started vehicle leasing schemes, adding possibly hundreds of thousands of new drivers to their services. The financial power behind Ola is SoftBank—their challenge to Uber wouldn’t work without money. However, in communications, neither can out-advertise the other. Relevancy will decide the game.
In a second interesting example, a Yoga Guru in saffron clothing who does headstands when posing for the camera has wound up the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry and related business media. Patanjali Ayurved, owned by Baba Ramdev, who splits his time between teaching and business, has become a multimillion-dollar ayurvedic FMCG company – challenging the big consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. What`s interesting to us marketers and communicators is how Baba describes the uniqueness of his brand: people believe I will only sell them good things.
Uber and the global CPG brands in the country know full well that the currency for success is local relevance. Hindustan Unilever* and Mondelez (Cadbury) are excellent examples of how local some of these global companies are in everything they offer – product and communications.
- Embrace the local media landscape and work the system
I have deliberately chosen this thought as the last point of my learnings. Many global hub teams do not feel equipped to choose the right local communications channels — foreign language barriers and lack of local relationships being only a couple of the reasons for this. But this thinking distracts from a bigger opportunity. What I found interesting is the extent to which the very traditional Indian media landscape and the strong focus of all resources on print media relations are slowly giving way to new platforms and channels. Whereas English newspaper readership is stalling as much as everywhere else, local language readership is proving to be the basis of success for India’s publishing houses. This means that, on the one hand, every brand with a large audience in the new middle-class needs to focus on a multi-language approach all over the country. On the other hand, brands must realize that digital channels are slowly taking over, and determine whether a brand is earning attention and trust with the growing number of smartphone users and the followers of the new Indian online influencers.
Cornelia Kunze is vice chair, global client management.