May 23, 2016

The native wisdom of Indian companies was never in doubt. Time and again they had shown the way to disrupt existing markets, create new markets, bring to consumers products they had never thought of, and shown many a seasoned MNCs the door to doom! Once upon a time, Nirma did it to HUL. Then Ghadi detergent rubbed the salt on the wound. With passage of time, Paras Pharma created big brands like Moov, Krack, Itchguard, and Dermicool with ample use of native wisdom. Then Micromax came from nowhere and disrupted the mobile handset market. Some years back, the native wisdom created a brand called Fogg which suddenly made all other deodorant brands look like cheaters! All these while, Patanjali was spreading its tentacles to create a phenomenon that is being hotly discussed in boardrooms these days. And more recently, we had experienced the magic of “Rs 100 Crore in 8 months” Pulse! All these examples are such that make MNCs open their mouth in awe and think why we didn’t think of it.

They didn’t think of these because they were shackled to the chains of various processes and templates. Unfortunately, in India, templates and processes don’t work so well. What works here is ingenuity, serendipity, juggad, hard work to experience firsthand the problems that need solutions, and ample amounts of street smartness. While MNCs try to figure out things within the confines of a well-defined box, companies with native Indian wisdom look everywhere without the limitations of any lakshman rekha.

Processes and templates are a good way to standardize and control but they are also responsible for slowing things down, cultivating bureaucratic mindset with risk averseness, and hindering innovation. A diverse country like India where language and culture changes every hundred kilometers, one size fits all is a recipe for disaster. We Indians are complex creatures whose needs and aspirations cannot be trapped in processes and templates. We want the best for us but preferably dipped in our localness and micro-cultural experiences and at a price that looks like a steal. And we love the underdog, the quintessential David courageously walking in to slay the Goliath.

When companies are operating in such a complex environment with such complex consumers, standard, normal and obvious strategies don’t give astounding results. Unless a marketer ventures beyond the obvious, the true potential of Indian consumers remains hidden like an iceberg. That’s where native wisdom comes to play through serendipitous discoveries in an unfettered environment. As a result disruptive products, disruptive distribution, or disruptive strategies emerge and create an awe effect. It is in these moments of discoveries that one experiences the power of Rs 5 price point, the magic of a sachet, the need for a kamar dard kaspecialist cream, a deo without gas, a candy with a salty core, distribution channels we never imagined ever existed, pricing models that appear counter intuitive, and a baba who effortlessly peddles ‘natural and healthy’ consumer goods with yoga! The uniqueness of Indian markets and Indian consumers is that there is a rhythm in chaos that cannot be found unless one gets soaked into the chaos. It takes random experiences and intuitive awareness to unravel the mystery called Indian consumers that no linear system or process can decode.

The Djin of native wisdom of Indian companies will keep achieving remarkable feats as long as it is not trapped in the bottle of rigid processes and global templates.