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Selling a refrigerator to an eskimo

August 7, 2012

Lenovo and Tata have been the quintessential Chinese and Indian brands that immediately come to mind when one thinks of global emerging market brands, yet neither of them nor their subsidiaries has made a big enough mark to appear on Interbrand’s list of the world’s 100 most valuable brands.  The list is instead dominated by a bevy of American brands – the usual big shots – Coca Cola Microsoft, IBM and GE.

So why do Indian and Chinese brands find it difficult to conquer the worlds shelves? Is it a different cultural background and so marketing techniques ie lack of connect with the western consumer? Is it a lack of innovation? or is it just that Indian and Chinese brands lack the mind space of a credible brand consumers wish to acquire?

Marketing guru’s and brand builders say its all of the above. Take for example a Huawei, which just conquered the mobile equipment space worldwide, but isn’t known to everyday consumers globally. The brand though huge in the wireless handset space, hasn’t consumed much in the consumers mindset. Sure a lack of good ol in your face American branding is lacking, the Chinese company prefers to keep itself humble, let its work speak for itself, but does it work in its favour? Further, having other handsets burn their brands onto Huawei model’s isn’t helping build the brand either.

Large marketing campaigns are the ones needed to grab consumers eyeballs. Yet, firms struggle with limited budgets and unlimited prejudice. Wipro, a successful Indian outsourcer, recently revealed that its total sales are roughly the size of IBM’s marketing budget. Budgets also constrain innovation and the ability to churn out new and exciting versions to keep the consumer inspired. In today’s day, where people are over stimulated, a product or service that is more than six months old, is considered to be ancient. Millions are currently putting off buying a new mobile phone, in anticipation for Apple’s launch of the iphone5.

While, both Chinese and Indian brands might dominate shelves in their own and neighbouring markets, going global is also a major challenge for them. While localization is currently the name of the game, with Huawei’s Indian operations being a great example, many are failing to understand the foreign user and ignite that desire to consume the brand voraciously. Sure Haier has users in Turkey and Godrej has refrigerators in the Middle East, yet these are well nestled somewhere are the back of the pile. Besides brand familiarity and low costs, Indian and Chinese brands find few takers in foreign lands.

So what needs to be done? Marketers need to learn the art of selling that refrigerator to an eskimo – to use the multiple tools we have today to not only bring the horse to the river but also have him drink a little. Social media is helping brands communicate to, understand and provide exactly what consumers want, when they want it, as a result, its also helping to build better brands.Lastly, companies need to study and understand the markets they plan to penetrate in depth, study consumer habits and buying behaviors to cater exactly to fickle consumer demands. For its only when we know your customer, and connect with him that big, successful brands are built!

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