How U.S. Businesses Can Really Win in India

December 1, 2010 at 9:30 am

Western outfits looking to sell products should forget “glocalization” and embrace reverse innovation

After this month’s midterm election results, which showed voters single-mindedly concerned about jobs and the economy, President Obama quickly rebranded his trip to India and other Asian countries as a trade mission. The goal of the trip, he said, was to stimulate overseas demand for American goods and services.

It’s certainly true that, for many U.S. businesses, emerging nations present rich growth opportunities. In China, India, and elsewhere in the developing world, rising prosperity is expanding the market for consumer goods from high-tech razors to high-tech cars. But the traditional way of serving those markets suffers from flaws that eventually limit the growth potential.

Typically, multinational companies create stripped-down versions of products developed for Western consumers. They then offer these products in the developing world at a reduced price. To do this requires removing certain premium features or bells and whistles, and perhaps substituting lower-cost materials. Even so, the prices such products command are often unaffordable by all but a small percentage of people at the top of the local markets’ income pyramid.

In this model, innovation flows in only one direction: downhill, from the headquarters of the multinational corporation out into the world. The same basic products made for the developed world are modified for poor-world consumption, mainly through de-featuring and substitution.

“Glocalization” Fizzles
This strategy is called “glocalization.” But while the word “local” is embedded in the name, in truth there is very little locally relevant insight reflected in the design of glocalized products. Thus, after an initial flurry of sales made largely on the cachet of the multinational’s global brand, the approach fizzles. As one Indian executive told us: “Emerging nations used to aspire to have rich-world products. Now they want rich-world quality in their own products.”

In the end, businesses that practice only glocalization will fail to exploit the full emerging-market opportunity—to the detriment of their bottom lines and the economy as a whole. Read More

Source: V. Govindarajan and L. McCreary, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, November 16, 2010

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Entry filed under: Business Cases, Business Development, India.

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