India will be a $5 trillion economy by 2025. Let that sink in for a moment.
This means that if you are a business with high growth ambitions, you must be successful in India. Countless companies have fumbled in this market, no matter their size. After more than 25 years attempting, General Motors recently decided to stop trying to sell cars in India. They just could not compete with local players, such as Suzuki or Tata Motors, but they also didn’t do as well as other foreign players, such as Toyota, Renault Nissan, or even Ford.
Others have won the heart (and wallets) of local customers. WhatsApp established itself as a local messaging leader early on over other local alternatives. PepsiCo’s Kurkure snacks were created specifically for the Indian market and catapulted to the 3rd most popular snack brand by the addition of a myriad of locally adapted flavors.
So what are the secrets of a successful go-to-market strategy?
The uniqueness of the Indian market comes from having to reconcile the fact that consumers are very sophisticated and aspire to a quality experience from the global brands they value, with the fact that disposable income per capita remains low. Ashu Garg, General Partner at Foundation Capital, explains: “How do I deal with this paradox? I’ve got to offer a global product and service, which consumers will benchmark. Consumers will test how my product and service in India varies from what I’m offering overseas. And at the same time, how do I do it at a price point that is meaningful to an Indian consumer? That paradox is one that very few brands have solved. [When companies offer] a product or service that is perceived to be a cheap hand-me-down, the Indian consumer has by and large rejected those brands over the years. On the other hand, if you’re priced at a premium (often these brands are priced at a premium to Western markets to justify the cost of local infrastructure) there are no takers for those prices.”
Meanwhile, the Indian market is adopting mobile innovations at a fast clip. Mobiles – and mid to low end Androids, in particular, are the primary screens. Skipping typical market development stages, mobile technology in India breeds numerous business innovations, often times buoyed by a healthy mobile payment stack. OlaCabs, and early ride-hailing player is now valued over $5 billion. Myra Medicines home delivers prescription drugs and pharmacy staples ordered through their app within an hour in Bangalore.
Last, “it’s not a market where you can afford to be half-pregnant. You’ve got to go all in!” says Garg. Case in point, he believes Facebook’s decision to buy WhatsApp was largely driven by the messaging app’s success in India. WhatsApp was a global quality product, that also happened to solve a critical problem for Indians: the cost of mobile data and text messaging at the time. It did so while working more seamlessly on the Indian infrastructure and devices than competitors at the time, including Facebook Messenger. The team has also done an incredible job localizing their marketing communications, and building a local presence: “If you’d ask the average Indian, I suspect half of them wouldn’t know that WhatsApp is an American company” adds Garg.
However, Bertrand Schmitt, Founder & CEO at AppAnnie, cautions: “Some companies are creating a more low-end version of their app or their service – Facebook lite, Google Android Go. They’re all trying to adjust to what is really possible in that market, but this is also the market with the highest uninstall rate in the world because the memory size of the device is pretty small. Lots of challenges in the Indian market, while at the same time the monetization paths are not clear. ”