Launching your brand in India: why digital-first may not always work

It is far too easy for brands to fall into the trap of approaching their marketing strategies.

With big brands such as Spotify, Ikea, Kia and Ralph Lauren all announcing moves to enter the market, it would be fair to say that India is becoming an increasingly attractive proposition for brands that want to grow into new and emerging markets.

It is set to become the world’s third-largest consumer market by 2030, with consumer spending expected to grow from its 2019 levels of $1.5 trillion to nearly $6 trillion in just over a decade. What’s more, it is rapidly becoming easier to do business in the nation with the country moving up an unprecedented 44 places from 130 to 77 in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankings in the last two years.

It would be easy, but simplistic, to fully attribute India’s appeal in its entirety to this expected market growth. The good news is that, beyond these tantalizing statistics, there are other appealing features that make India attractive to brands.

As an example, India is increasingly digitally savvy, with a recent Adobe study finding that three-quarters of consumers in India are now constantly using more than one device simultaneously, while 90% reported spending their workday interacting with devices. As a result of this digital adoption, it is estimated that approximately 25% of all retail spending in the market will take place online by 2020.

This advanced digital adoption means that the market perfectly aligns with the digital-first strategies that many brands already have in place in western markets.

Alignment not replication

However, while the alignment between the Indian and UK markets will likely make India initially appealing if brands are to fully tap into the opportunities in India, it is vital that they don’t see this alignment as an opportunity for mere replication.

It is far too easy for brands to fall into the trap of approaching their marketing strategies, often with an emphasis on digital-first, in a similar way. Falling into this trap creates two issues.

First, and perhaps most obviously, for all the similarities mentioned, Indian consumers have different expectations than markets such as the UK. Second, and more importantly, it means that some of the unique opportunities that exist in India get missed, meaning that brands don’t realize the full potential of the market by failing to adapt to the localization required for success.

New approaches, new opportunities

By being open to new and different approaches, brands will be in a far better position to make the most of the opportunities that exist. This is something that I very quickly learned while overseeing Digitonic’s own launch into the market.

Prior to the launch, we conducted extensive research which showed us that our conversational marketing platforms and solutions would be well received by Indian consumers who, our research showed, were perhaps even more open to receiving communications from brands than UK consumers.

So, we started to create conversation flows with Indian consumers utilizing our proprietary mobile messaging platform, enabling us to start engaging with consumers over platforms such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Within a short time, this engagement had generated just over 2m fully opted-in consumers, giving us the foundations of a powerful ad network.

At this stage, with this in place and it has been well received, it would have been really easy for us as a company to replicate the business model that has served us so well since our inception and open these channels up to our client base to trigger communications. However, throughout the process, those consumers in India that had engaged with us had told us that what they really wanted was to be engaged by brands as opposed to simply receiving promotions. This told us that, with a different approach, even more, opportunities existed for our solutions and services.

An asset-based approach

This insight, coupled with further research, led us to believe that if we could turn what had been initially intended to be an ad network of opted-in consumers into more of a community, the opportunities for marketing would increase exponentially. As such, we developed an asset-based strategy centred around India’s favorite obsession: cricket.

Surprisingly, given Indian Premier League Cricket is valued at over $6bn, there was a lack of professional digital platforms that offered premium news, analysis or reporting that was solely dedicated to the sport. So, having received feedback that the base would like to receive a cricket e-zine, we set about testing the theory, using a UK-based journalist.

The response was phenomenal with high dwell time and strong click-through rates illustrating an appetite for this approach. Over the last 18 months, we have driven over 2.5m brand views for our clients, with a strong click-through rate of consistently between 8% to 25%. As a result of this success, we began looking at what other assets we could develop to tap into the opportunities that existed.

Taking cricket digital

For us, it was clear that the logical next step was to develop and launch a range of digital assets dedicated to cricket. Later this month we will launch, having purchased the premium domain name, to deliver a trusted source of high-quality cricket content including interviews, reports, analysis and live scores. To deliver this we have taken an ‘India-out’ rather than ‘UK-in’ approach, employing a team of journalists in India to produce the content managed by an Indian county manager based in Lucknow.

Following this, in Q4 2019, we will launch a cricket podcast dedicated to cricket punditry and we are in the process of building a free-to-play cricket score predictions game in the form of a mobile app called ‘InPlay Cricket’ – that we have developed in-house. As these assets are launched, we will use our extensive digital marketing experience to drive traffic to the content we are developing, including the creation of social media profiles that will be utilized to stimulate further conversations. We are also investing heavily in SEO in the territory.

These assets will ultimately enable us to both further grow the opt-in base and engage them to trigger conversational marketing opportunities. Our clients will, in turn, be able to harness these assets to run highly targeted marketing campaigns as they look to tap into the Indian consumer market.

Trust, engagement, success

What’s more, as a result of those assets, the audience will have trust in what they are receiving and already be engaged in the platforms as brands start triggering conversations with them. In addition, as they enter the conversation funnel, they will be far more likely to take positive actions such as clicking links. If we are able to sustain the high click-through rates, which we’re currently achieving, this will put us in a very strong lawful marketing position.

This level of success proves that taking an asset-based approach, that bridges the gap between the opportunities in the Indian market and the tried and tested digital strategies of brands, delivers a powerful marketing solution. Ultimately, as the Indian market continues to grow and an increasing number of businesses look to capitalize on its spending power, it shows the power that the approach can deliver.

Grant Fraser is the chief executive officer at Digitonic

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