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Book Reviews: We are like that Only.

We are like that only', put simply, is an indispensable proposition for those who seek to decipher Indian consumption riddle. Positioning Guru Jack Trout in his bestseller 'Differentiate or Die' calls India a land of non-standard marketing. India truly is unique in ways more than one. There is a veritable cornucopia of evidence available where multinational firms have entered India with predisposed marketing agendas and far-fetched projections, only to be baffled by the existing heterogeneous structures within structures in the country. Consequently, many firms were forced to spin their marketing strategies on head. Rama Bijapurkar, I must say, has pulled out all stops in her enlightening book. Her insights about Indian market's demand structures and her informed assumptions about how to predict change in consumer India are as informative as they are intellectually satisfying.

'We are like that only' starts with a foreword from late C.K. Prahlad (author of 'Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid'), where he argues that there is no single India and that GDP per capita is not a good measure of the capacity to consume. Rama extensively builds upon these arguments throughout the book. She highlights that consumption patterns in India should not be equated with those in other emerging markets or for that matter, with developed markets in their infancy days. Reason being that demand structures in India are quite different from any other country. India is a country where millions of people consume a little bit of each and that little bit adds up to a lot. She further avers that multinational companies and strategic consultancies need not wait for that magical per capita number at which 'consumption' is supposed to take off. Taking a cue from CK Prahalad's BOP concept, Rama emphasizes that consumption in India has already taken off at the lower income levels (citing the example of success of sachets in shampoo market and how sales of millions of sachets trumps the sales of bottles) and it's the marketers who need to realign their thought-processes if they are to sustain their success in Indian consumer market.

Rama Bijapurkar's arguments about three consumer segments - Premium, popular and discount - being equal in value and being different only in the number of consumers in each, are mighty thought-provoking. Towards the end of the book, author draws upon her knowledge in Demographics, Psychographics, Cultural science, History and Philosophy to further elucidate upon the topic of heterogeniety in Indian consumer market. Rama acknowledges the shift of society's stance towards consumerism when she mentions in Chapter 9 that the most important cultural shift has been the emergence of discontentment with the incorrectness of having to continue with whatever little you have.

Author's mantra to succeed in Indian market is pretty simple - a) Don't be bogged down by the financial expectations based on macro GDP numbers; b) Have a plan which 'India' do you want to target, remember the heterogeniety and c) Innovate for those at the BOP (bottom of pyramid) - companies like Nokia have run way ahead of their counterparts because Nokia designed phones with optimal performance and low price that fitted into the scheme of BOP segment. The size of BOP segment itself is approximately 650 million...you can work out the rest of Maths. What shines through the book is author's finesse in using numbers, tables, grids and at the same time, not making the book a laborious read.

Finally, it's one of those books that you would love to read till finish. An important book for both B-School freshers who wish to pursue careers in marketing or market research - such a piece of literature can help lay the initial framework - and marketing executives.

WE ARE LIKE THAT ONLY Understanding the Logic of Consumer India: Rama Bijapurkar; The focus of the book is the central question of all marketing and strategy thinkers as well as managers: how large really is the Indian market, and how can we reach it profitably? For, surely there is no altruism or developmental orientation at all in the eyes and minds of Big Business be it Indian or international. The fact is that the bottom of the pyramid, presented most recently and forcefully by C.K. Prahalad, is a chance for them to make a fortune. Rama Bijapurkars book provides, among other things, some directions as to how one might define this as well as the rest of the pyramid, starting from the creamy layer on the top. Much has indeed been said in the past decade, and since 1991, about the mammoth consumer market of 300 million people. Some chief executives of foreign companies and money men have been foolish enough to think of this as a market the size of the U.S., all speaking English and reachable by television. No wonder so many companies came salivating over the prospect. Yet, reality soon caught up with them, through the slowdown in the late 1990s. What they did not have is an appropriate mental model, a picture that was true to the reality of the Indian market in terms of both its structure and behaviour. They used analogies, at best, of experience in countries such as Brazil and Thailand, to size the Indian consumer market. Fallacies What they should do, as Rama argues is to see the fallacy of facile simplifications and clichs about market segmentation. Many are irrelevant to India. It is fashionable to say that there are two Indias, and the sound-bite makers have coined the terms, India and Bharat to describe them. The truth is that there are far more than two types of India, perhaps a dozen. Much depends on what parameters you are looking at in segmenting and aggregating the target population. To the CEO of a newly entering multinational, the issue is of great importance because it is a major step and a significant commitment of management time. Assessing the true potential means making adjustments to ones lenses and seeing the reality as it is, not drawing inappropriate European or American parallels. She makes the point strongly that the sheer variety and diversity of the population is more than that of continental Europe.

Yet another fallacy is the great rural foray that everyone is so convinced about today. It is easy to think that the rural areas comprise mainly farmers and therefore incomes come mainly from agriculture. This is yet another fallacy that needs to be exploded, as the author does, showing the power and the growth potential of the self-employed and trader segments of the population. In fact, the purchasing power of the rural middle income group in the aggregate is as large as that of its urban counterpart. What is more the purchase and consumption of durables amongst the non-farm rural population follows a pattern not dissimilar to that of the urban counterparts. Insight, the key I like this book personally for the reasons that we like most things; because it says what one wishes one had done oneself. For instance, her persistent use of the new and more research based mental models is very encouraging. The fact of the matter is a good marketing strategy in India of today demands a combination of the skills of a sociologist, anthropologist and economist, which is quite rare in any individual and difficult to come by among the permanent staff of a company. Insight rather than information or statistics should guide thinking on any relevant, innovative marketing strategy. It is a lesson that many CEOs tend to learn slowly and somewhat reluctantly. Here is a book that should help along the way, if they are so persuaded. A common friend once described Rama Bijapurkars chief strength as the ability to popularise difficult concepts and turn research findings into laymans language. I thought that it was a perceptive remark, considering how she has used a career in marketing research, and understanding the complex entity called the Indian consumer market as a springboard to becoming a wellrecognised publicist for marketing and a strategy consultant. After reading the very interesting volume full of insightful arguments and convincing data, one tends to agree. The book demonstrates that Rama is like that only.