Companies are worried about the coveted FDI regulations for this market. Economists are worried about its massive poverty indicators and growing inequality. Politicians are worried about their next elections as usual, but perhaps much more today about simply getting caught! Business in general is worried about favourable government policies and reforms and also about the appalling Indian version of the term “infrastructure”. And on top of all these, the common man is worried about (including infrastructure, of course) rising prices on all fronts, corrupt and inefficient systems, uncertain markets, lack of a social security net… the list is quite endless.

Welcome to “Incredible India”, the term itself a perfect fit for this country, and not just because the words are catchy and rhyme well. It’s also because of their meaning. Not great, or awesome; but ‘incredible’, in simple terms, hard to believe. And that’s how intellectuals at different points of time have described the ascent of the Indian economy.

Nevertheless, marketers love stories, and the Indian story attracts them like few do. Goldman Sachs’ BRIC report laid the groundwork followed by many others. Another exhaustive report by McKinsey in 2007 gave some important indications of where India could potentially be. It projected, with an assumed CAGR of 7.3%, that India would triple its income levels by 2025. That will bring around 291 million people out of poverty and the middle class will rise by ten times over the period to around 500 million. What’s more, 23 million people would count among the wealthy, which would be more than Australia’s current population (around 22.7 million, Australian Bureau of Statistics, October 17). And the most exciting part, of course, is that the country has a combined young & working age population (14-60 years of age) that comprises nearly 54% of the total (UN, 2009 figures). Another 31.3% are in the wings to enter this group (age 0-14 years). India’s working age population is expected to edge out China by 2028.

This is a brief of the larger India story that marketers across the globe have grown to believe; and all it seems to say is that – unless you want to be a bit player on the global stage a few decades from now; it’s imperative that you invest in India. Of course, it’s a great story for shareholders of a number of MNCs as well, who have been terribly short of good news lately. However, before you hop on to the India bandwagon, you have to understand the fact that although the macro picture makes a valid case, it’s very easy to get lost in a maze if you are unable to grasp the intricacies unique to this market.

One of the most critical and overlooked aspects of this market is culture. Generally, marketers and analysts have attempted to either club the entire India as one (using economic segmentation) and look for a unifying theme, or considered it just too diverse to really merit the time and energy in segmenting it in this manner. Either approach is dangerous. In fact, my ongoing research provides compelling logic that supports the existence of India as 4 nations – North, South, East & West – and this has profound implications for today’s marketers. These divisions have a strong historical context and continue to be extremely relevant even today.


Art is a very apt reflection of life. And if you look at our movies, there are a number of stereotypes that have been used to define Indians in different zones. A Punjabi is often pictured as brash, impulsive, imposing and ready to pick up a brawl, or even join an ongoing one for company sake! Conversely, a person from Tamil Nadu is pictured as relatively submissive and also deeply rigid about his style of living. Mumbai residents are typically shown as immensely practical and down to earth. And a person from the city of Kolkata will be portrayed as too passionate about his state, ready to revolt at the slightest excuse and be ready for an intellectual solution to every problem, if not a practical one.

While extreme, these stereotypes are not without basis! Some research into consumer buying habits also brings out some vital differences in the four zones. A small perception-based survey across 4 metros revealed some interesting characteristics. West Bengal, for instance, has a strong history of revolution, and they harbor a fierce sense of pride in their culture. They are highly intellectual and able to achieve their goals (financial or otherwise) through proper planning. Purchases made by them are skewed towards long term assets like real estate. New Delhi has been an epicenter of power and also attracted a mix of cultures from across India, with a larger influence from the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. There is a great obsession with earning money, and perhaps an even greater one with flaunting it. Down south in Chennai, one sees a conservative society that has a deep sense of traditionalism as well as a bit of a colonial hangover. Higher education rates and rise of industries like IT here have attracted wealth to a great degree from abroad, and people here do invest in certain luxuries as well. But customs and traditions are strong influencers, visible with the amount of jewellery they buy; an integral part of traditional attire. When you look west in a city like Mumbai, there is a very strong influence of the British Raj as well as of the traders that frequented the city’s shores. The city works strongly on the ‘time is money’ mentality and is tremendously practical and pragmatic; a vivid barometer of which are the local trains, used by people of all economic classes.      Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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