The first educational aspect about this trip was for us to visit ad agencies to see how the industry is different in an emerging economy. It is difficult as Americans for us to understand the ways in which emerging economies operate. We were raised in a culture where our economy and consumption grew with the advent of technologies. In an emerging economy like India, the same rules do not apply. Rather than slowly graduating from the slow dial-up Internet connections we began using in the 1990s to the lightening-fast digital connections and mobile connectivity we have today, the consumer class of India is jumping into technology head-first and the stark contrast that has been created by these changes is remarkable.
In Ethnography for Marketers, A Guide to Consumer Immersion-Hy Mariampolski notes the importance of ethnography in marketing. He notes that while researching a culture for consumer marketing purposes provides a foundation for marketers, change is ubiquitous in contemporary societies, so the best way to fully understand the target of your marketing efforts is to get into their environment. Our experience here has shown this to be true.
For a country that has so recently begun it’s climb up the consumer culture ladder, the influence of Western business can be seen everywhere. From franchised coffee houses to branded tarps, sheet metal, picnic umbrellas, etc., western, commercialized influences are omnipresent. While the traditional street markets and food carts are still prevalent, there is a stark contrast between these traditional vendors and the westernized shopping malls and multiplexes that have permeated cities and towns, capturing large chunks of marketable real estate.
In The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, C.K. Prahalad notes how the emerging consumer class wants to embrace these changes, but these changes cannot happen overnight. When it comes to economic growth through the expansion of Multinational Corporations into these economies there are several hurdles that have to be overcome. There are changes to business models that must be made, such as changes in package size and distribution models. There are often challenges that involve adapting to a lack of infrastructure or the investment by the MNC that have to be made. There are also environmental factors and cultural and religious biases to take into account. In short, for countries such as India, the move to becoming a fully developed economy is a marathon, not a sprint. During this trip we’ve been able to see all of these things firsthand.
In the coming years it will become increasingly important for MNCs that plan to expand into these burgeoning economies to learn these things and plan ahead for the challenges that these economies present. If performed correctly, there is a fortune to be gained by expanding into the Indian economy. Hopefully it will be leaders like those of us in this program who can help guide the way.