Growing up in Mumbai, I could never forget those mornings when my dear mother had her monthly showdown with the local raddiwala (scrap collector). I would wake up, amused at how everyone else in the house was undeniably prepared for the duel of words and weight, going on about their business as usual. At moments, I couldn’t get my eyes off the goods being handed to the figure outside like contraband- newspapers, plastic bags and bottles and other contraptions that I didn’t know were even in the house. As the years went by, I came to understand what was really going on. My mother, the quintessential homemaker, was on a ceaseless quest to squeeze value out of every single used container, read newspaper, empty bag or stained plate in the house- not by using it beyond its utility but by selling it for scraps when needed. With time, the value of the scrap changed, the scrap itself changed, but the desire to compile all these miscellaneous goods and get a return on the efforts taken to preserve the items was strong enough to keep her going for years on end.
And to this day, in 2021, that ideal of “getting your money’s worth” remains deeply embedded in the very fabric of India. While most people would define that as using a product or service to its maximum potential, Indians don’t stop until they have discovered an entirely new use of that product or sold the used item for scraps. Within all our little laboratories across India, someone is transforming old ‘mithai’ boxes into fancy and rather appetizing looking toolkits with nuts and bolts. The Indian proclivity for recreating, replenishing and redesigning things off old into something completely new stems from a place of scarcity amidst a rising middle class and the astronomical costs involved in providing for such a large population.
Yet, the picture is slightly different. While scarcity may still be a reality for millions of people, it goes without saying that the middle-class Indian today is flush with choices. In contrast to this scarcity, we have an abundance of brands, big and small vying for the same prizes- our money and our loyalty. It’s not just heavyweight industries like cars or trucks that involve contemplation given the amount of investment required, but even the smallest of decisions sometimes (say buying a bar of soap, or a tube of toothpaste) requires researching, reviewing and oftentimes, second-guessing one’s choice. Even those with very little means, barely managing to make ends meet have more options to choose from on a day-to-day basis than they ever did.
This reflects heavily on the culture that exists around the Indian consumer’s behavior in a market setting. From the best ingredients for our food to the most gorgeous clothing to the fanciest technology to the best mutual funds to invest in. We want all this, but we want it at a bargain price. There is no shame in asking for a better deal, since every rupee saved is an extra rupee in your pocket. Frugality is running rampant, but not for a lack of wherewithal but rather a limited money supply available to spend on an infinite number of choices. The old adage of ‘the more you have, the more you want’ applies more than ever, to the India we’re living in today. What wasn’t affordable or easily accessible a few decades ago is now available in abundant quality and quantity. Items that were considered luxuries for our parents and grandparents such as TVs, cars, computers or cellphones are now necessities and come in all shapes and sizes. Unsurprisingly, when Indians buy a car or computer, they’re not merely making a purchase, but rather a large investment.
Of course, when one buys an expensive item, its longevity is a priority. It is at this point in the product’s journey, after it has been sold and utilized, where the service provided around it, becomes essential. Not only are we looking for returns on our investment, but we also want those returns to be consistent. If your washing machine fails or car engines give way, your product seller transforms into a service provider- repairing the damaged good for minimal cost or replacing it with an entirely new one. The expectation here is that while the product serves the promised need, one is buying the service associated with it too.
This brings to light an interesting economic idea that is becoming increasingly important- service dominant logic. It refers to the notion that when a consumer buys a product in the digital era, it is not sufficient to merely attach value to the good based on the price of the transaction — a brand must have an ongoing relationship with the buyer to keep customer loyalty.
So what would it take for a brand to distinguish itself from its competitors in this environment? Is it just enough to have a good product that serves its purpose? The simple answer is “no”. But the solution involves looking deeper into what drives consumers to a particular brand. With every use of the word “product” and “brand”, “marketing” is sure to have also been mentioned. With so many players in the same saturated markets, differentiating a brand from its peers requires a measured approach to communicating not only the features of the product, but a way of living associated with that brand.
Taking that into account, a brand would do well to vet the right marketing team, whose visions and ideas align with that of the brand. Not only is it essential for marketing agencies to execute sustainable marketing campaigns tailored to each client, but they have to develop these campaigns with a focus on creating a lifestyle associated with that brand.
It is important to acknowledge the role that marketers play here. Marketers navigate the confusing and hyper-personal media landscape on a day-to-day basis. They have their fingers on the pulse of what’s new and what’s in the conversation and on trend.
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Written by Aryan Bhatia & Dona Varghese