‘Jugaad is responsible for where India is today’

05 Oct,2015

 

Dheeraj Sinha, Chief Strategy Officer, South & South East Asia with the Grey Group and author of the recently-released ‘India Reloaded: Inside India’s Resurgent Consumer Market’ tells Pradyuman Maheshwari that the very things we are proud of –- India’s jugaad mentality, or the fact that the country is a great, big billion-plus market place – are likely to be their undoing if companies start believing only these things to be true. Innovation and adapting to rapidly-changing tastes and conditions might provide businesses with a better chance of success.

 

We’ve always celebrated India’s ‘jugaad’ mindset, but you call it a handicap in your book. Isn’t it this ability that has got India where it is today?

When I see the potential of India and where we could be, versus where India is, it isn’t an encouraging story. Jugaad has meant that in manufacturing, we either imported critical machinery or copied them. We never invested in R&D. In service, jugaad means that we have little regard for standard operating procedures. Jugaad will never let us achieve excellence; it promotes shortcuts and fixing, by hook or by crook. The potholes on our roads which keep coming back; the fire accidents owing to electrical shot-circuits; the incidents of ward boys stitching people’s wounds in the Bulandshahr hospital, are a few examples of jugaad in our everyday lives. Jugaad may have been our answer to desperate situations – your vehicle breaks down on the road because of some electrical failure and some mechanic puts it back in motion by bypassing the fuse — but long-term growth is not about getting out of tricky situations with yet another trick. Unfortunately, the lines between jugaad and sab chalta hai (everything goes, as far as the job gets done in the interim) are blurry. And that’s the reason I hold jugaad responsible for where India is today.

 

You’ve pooh-poohed the craze for reaching out to a billion-plus Indians. And how many products are blinded by mass-market thinking. Our Prime Minister paints a rosy picture of ‘demand’ in his speeches. Do you see a rise in this mindless chase of the billions?

I think from a socio-political perspective, the Prime Minister has indeed to care for the 1.25-billion population. This is imminent when you realise that almost 600 million (Census 2011) of this population doesn’t even have access to clean drinking water and toilets. But the business and marketing community needs to realise that there isn’t a consuming class out there which amounts to 1.25 billion. According to the Census of 2011, not more than 56 million people own four wheelers, while around 198 million claim ownership of two-wheelers. The projected size of the middle class at 300 million then, is a big question mark.

 

My sense is that businesses are beginning to realise this. Many businesses in sectors such as telecom, retail and auto — that went on the mass-market chase — are under huge debts and haven’t tasted profitability even now. Meanwhile, those who have played an upgrade game, have fared much better. Brands such as Mahindra & Mahindra in utility vehicles, Zara in retail and Micromax in mobile phones are a few examples of businesses doing well on the back of upgrade-market-thinking.

 

In the book, you have written on the contrasts and contradictions which exist in the various regions in the country. Does it make it exceedingly difficult to develop a strategy for reaching out to consumers?

I think we have made too much of a deal about the diversity in India. It doesn’t take more than a second to prove that India is a diverse country. The oft-repeated refrain is that India changes every 100 kilometres. This diversity view of India defeats the idea of India as one big market. How do you devise products and services that change every 100 kilometres?

 

The good news is that the diversity of India is powering a unified, national, popular culture. Dosa is now a national snack and Karva Chauth is a national festival. India has witnessed a huge amount of cultural mobility in the last few decades. Looks like what divided us in the past is now uniting us – our cultural influences. Marketers now have a national pop culture where influences such as YoYo Honey Singh, Rajnikant, Chettinad and Mughlai, all sit at the same table. This textured national culture can be of great use to brands and businesses.

 

A recent [PwC] research report says that as countries like India grow, aspirations of the Indian consumer, too, are growing. Due to this, the Indian consumer expects more from product and service providers. Your comments?

I agree fully with that. Many companies have been busy building cheap, stripped-down products and services for the so-called poor Indian consumer. Consumers, on the other hand, are now on an upgrade cycle. Even the bottom-of-the pyramid consumer wants to be top-in-status. This is apparent in the demand of products such as smartphones in the smaller towns of India. We need to look at the Indian consumer through the window of aspiration, not affordability. That’s a major shift required in the way businesses have traditionally approached mass markets.

 

This is your second book and you have a day-job that possibly requires you to give 500 per cent of your time. How do you manage the time to write a book… and your advice to those who want to, but can’t get around to it?

It’s certainly not easy to write with all the work and family commitments. When I am on a book project, I am writing in any free time that I get – in the morning, after work, on flights, over weekends. My reason to write is that I really want to put these debates out there, on the centrestage. I think to be able to write 65,000 words that make sense, the purpose must come from within. If you have that, you’ll definitely write your book.

 

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