Irreverent and insightful, this bestselling book reveals the twelve key facets of Consumer India. Bijapurkar explains why the Indian consumer market is ‘like that only’ why it will not change in a hurry, and what it takes to develop a winning ‘made for India’ Business strategy.
Rama Bijapurkar is one of India’s most respected thought leaders on market strategy and India’s consumer economy. She is also a keen commentator on socio and cultural change in post-liberalization India. She has her own strategy-consulting practice and works with an impressive list of Indian and global companies, and serves as an independent director on the boards of several of India’s blue-chip companies.
Rama writes extensively in the media and is a dominant voice on issue relating to India’s business, consumers and polity. Her book We Are Like That Only: Understanding the Logic of Consumer India (Penguin Portfolio) has been widely acclaimed. The international edition, Winning in the Indian Market: Understanding the Transformation of Consumer India (Wiley), has been translated into Hindi and Mandarin. She is also the author of Customer in the Boardroom? Crafting Customer-based Business Strategy (Sage). Her new book, A never-Before World: Tracking the Evolution of Consumer India (Penguin Portfolio), was published in 2013.
The response to this book has overwhelmed me. When the first edition was launched, I had set aside enough money to buy and mail 200 copies to a list of people around the world, who I really hoped would make the time to read it. The rest of the print run was the publisher's risk as far as I was concerned! This book has travelled further and wider than I could ever have imagined or hoped. It has caught the attention and the imagination of PhD students in far-off countries that I have not been to, it has got me invited to the boardrooms of an amazing list of great global companies, it has been quoted in ever so many places, from irreverent blogs by the enfant terrible of the business world to mentions in erudite papers put out by serious think tanks. And it has made me many new friends and afforded me some wonderful, insightful, engaging conversations that have enriched me. Most of all, this book was born under a lucky star. It has generated loads of affection, humour and bouquets and practically no brickbats.
To not improve on it, after all this, would be ungrateful of me. So in this paperback edition, aided and exhorted by my wonderful publishers, Penguin, I have updated all the data to 2008, and rewritten one particularly troublesome chapter that many readers have groaned about-Chapter 5, 'Just how much purchasing power does Consumer India actually have'. I have also added more muscle and flesh to Chapter 11, 'Rural consumer India', based on new data.
Fortunately, even though the world has changed totally, the thoughts in this book hold all the more. I guess that's why the title of this book' We are like that only' rings even more true!
A book is both the end of a journey and the beginning of another. This particular book is the culmination of innumerable panel discussions, PowerPoint presentations and speeches that I have made around the world on the possibilities, perils and paradoxes of the Indian market and the Indian consumer. The audiences, diverse but always engaged, included groups such as the YPO, the British Business Group, the Alfred Herhausen Society for International Dialogue, the Fortune 500 Power Women's Forum, the advertising agencies association in France, students from leading American and European business schools, corporate business leaders and emerging market strategy teams from large global companies and, of course, lots and lots of fund managers, private equity investors and investment bankers from Bombay to the Bahamas. Some totally agreed with what I had to say, others violently disagreed, some were blown away and quite a few were unimpressed. Whatever their reaction, they always listened with a deep interest and engagement. Their participation and responses made me realize that what I was saying was new and different because it gave a 360-degree view of the Indian market through the lens of consumers and people, and that it made them think differently about India, in the context of their own work. To them, I owe my greatest debt. With such encouragement, I felt that a book on Consumer India could be of interest to a wider audience, especially at a time when India, despite being the focus of much attention, is confusing more and more people with its oddities and contradictions.
My own consulting experience of the past decade has been very rich and rewarding in terms of the lessons that it has taught me about Consumer India and what it takes to develop winning strategies. Through examining strategic choices confronting a wide range of business contexts, sectors, company types and nationalities, it has enabled me to distil universal issues related . to developing customer-centric business strategy for the new world. It has also come with its share of struggle-persuading Indian companies to get more customer centric in their battle for dreams and markets, and persuading reluctant MNCs to be more open to adopting a 'made for India' business approach.
I also confess that what goaded me to write this book was my complete disagreement with popular methods used by consulting firms and business analysts to evaluate the Indian market opportunity. Done almost entirely using supply-side data, they rely heavily on analogies of how other markets have evolved in the past and assume unquestioningly that there is only one model of evolution for the entire world, and that a uniform looking world is inevitable. I, on the other hand, believe that the top line of a profit and loss statement is about consumer choices, not supply-side economics, and that analogies of the kind being used actually do not make much sense. I also believe that emerging markets are not like developed markets the way they were in their infancy. They will eventually walk down a different path of their own, as they get more prosperous. I also disagree with theories about the magic number of per capita income above which consumption in a country is supposed to 'take off'. These, I believe, are theories for the faint hearted. With low-priced innovations, consumption had already taken off in India at far lower income levels. I was puzzled by the analysis of how if the per capita consumption of a widget in America or Brazil was 100, and in India it was 10, then the gap of 90 represented a huge opportunity waiting to happen. I considered the possibility that maybe Indian consumers have use for only 10 units per capita, either because of environmental or cultural factors, or because they have leap-frogged to a new kind of more modern widget and have skipped this stage altogether.
The data and insights for this book have been drawn from a variety of sources-from highly formal survey research to anecdotal and experiential consumer stories from the field to the work of social scientists. The last was particularly difficult, because in India, the world of the social sciences and the world of business are very distant from each other and there are very few people and institutions that bridge the two. Further, during the first fifteen years of my working life, I never had any real need to understand macroeconomics in order to understand consumer markets, since we all lived in a closed and insulated economy. In a tranquil pond there are no unpredictable storms caused by global trade or economic policy. This, however, has changed drastically in the last decade. I have often, this past decade, wished that there was a formal and well-established discipline called macro-consumer that I could have drawn ideas and inspiration from. Ubiquitous and akin in scale and scope to macroeconomics, it would focus on the combined effects of macroeconomics, social development, politics, policy, cultural changes, etc., on shaping consumer markets at a national or regional level.
It is from this perspective that this book has been written- to provide a macro-consumer view of the changing Consumer India, for use as an input into developing a winning 'made for India' business strategy. I believe that India and Indians aren't going to become like someplace else or someone else, but will continue to march down their own road to their own future destination. Hence, the title of this book is the phrase that we in India are all familiar with: we are like that only.
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