While consumers across the world are seeing a growing number of "Made in India" labels on the goods they buy, Indian shoppers are witnessing a more subtle change. Increasingly, multinational companies are selling products that are not just made in -- but that are made for -- India. Entire generations of Indian consumers, who once felt grateful simply for being able to experience the same brands as the rest of the world, are now realizing they can ask for products that cater to their wants and needs. And they stand a good chance of getting what they want.
"The willingness of big brands to customize their products was never the issue," says Harminder Sahni, managing director of Technopak Advisors India, one of the country's largest management consultancies. "What has changed is that the Indian market has finally reached a critical mass -- after the U.S. and China, this is the largest consumer market in the world -- that justifies the investment." That wasn't always the case. Before the Indian economy opened up in the early 1990s, "imported" goods were a sought-after commodity, their foreignness often being their most desirable attribute. Not surprisingly, then, many multinationals didn't think success would require much effort when their brands finally entered the country after 1991.
Things have changed. As Indian consumers became more aware of trends and advancements in technology, they began to demand similar sophistication. More important, they wanted products built to their needs. That meant not just automobiles, household appliances and consumer electronics, but also mobile phones, foods and apparel. "Earlier, there was a reverence for anything foreign because local products were of terrible quality," says Abraham Koshy, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). "But as the market developed, the focus started shifting from the product to the brand. Customers started patronizing a brand only if the product suited...
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