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India 2016 | Thought Leadership | Insights

Insights are critical for brand building, but don’t always cross borders well
Brand success in India depends on insights with local relevance
By Sunil Shetty
Senior Vice President & Head - Strategic Planning, Mumbai
In his seminal 1982 book, The Globalization of Markets, Professor Theodore Levitt strongly argued for standardized products. Corporations subsequently extended the scope of his argument to include packaging and communication, all under the rationale of greater cost efficiencies, giving impetus to the era of global brands.
However, standardization in branding was a sub-optimal solution that resulted in a punishing response from consumers in India and many markets around the globe. The reaction convinced brand managers worldwide of the importance of local and relevant insights.
Some insights travel well and can be easily adopted into local markets with minor tweaks. For example, Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign resonated across many key markets, including India. However, most global brands need to either reinterpret their insights for the Indian context or develop fresh insights that impact Indian consumers and, to an extent, level the playing field with Indian brands.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to create and market a brand that is not based on some essential insights. Insights are necessary for just about every aspect of brand building. However, consumer research is not the only route to uncovering great insights; sometimes a location, thought or cultural nuance may just be waiting to give you an unexpected and richly rewarding understanding.
To discuss such a broad topic comprehensively, I’m going to organize insights into categories suggested by marketing expert Simon Law. And I’ll explore some of the insight categories that seem most vital for brand success in India.
Consumer Insights  The financial brand UTI based a recent campaign on this insight: Young investors have different goals than their parents. This campaign sharply juxtaposed the traditional long-term investment orientation against the immediate gratification mindset of today’s young investors. Instead of focusing on the standard payoffs, like creating an old-age cushion, or funds for education and marriage, UTI focused on investments that would satisfy the investor’s desire for material indulgences.
Cultural Insights  Deep understanding of history and traditions enables brands to anchor products and services in societal currents that outlast trends. In India, washing clothes in hot water is associated with good hygiene. Given the rising health consciousness of Indian consumers, washing machine manufacturers could leverage this insight to drive market share and penetration.
Product Insights  Product insights leverage an inherent product strength or a competitor’s weakness. Livon hair products grew a category subsector with variants that promise healthier hair. Fogg disrupted the deodorant market by delivering more sprays per bottle.
Brand Insights  Insights about a brand’s essence are powerful. Bajaj two wheelers have always struck an emotional and patriotic chord with Indians, and what better way could one live up to the brand’s promise than with the Bajaj V15, which is made with scrap metal from India’s INS Vikrant aircraft carrier.
Market Insights  Market insights draw from category consumption behavior and create opportunities to shift category relevance or expand it. A good example of an Indian market insight ironically relates to English movie channels. English movie channels in India mostly show action films. India’s Zee Studio realized that the English movie channel audience was English speaking but not English fluent and found it difficult to follow dialogue. Zee Studio took the small but significant step of introducing subtitles on English movie channels, immediately broadening the market.
Usage Insights  Understanding consumer usage patterns can unlock some sharp insights that can influence category growth. Knorr soup had an interesting usage insight in the mom’s struggle to deal with evening hunger pangs. By positioning soup as a light yet healthy snack, the brand found a place in the consumer’s daily food menu. Voltas All Weather air conditioning is another good example of a usage driven insight, which transformed air conditioners from a summertime indulgence to an all-year product.