Spinning the Globe: How markets are evolving (differently)

One of the holy cows of global marketing in the 20th century  is the concept of market evolution. The idea is that markets develop along broadly similar lines along a spectrum where the habits and behaviours of consumers in the  poorer, developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia will eventually become more like those in the West.  At a very broad level, this theory has held true for most of the 20th century. As wealth accumulated in the West and innovation concentrated in Europe and the US, it was common and sensible practice to roll out these innovations to developing countries.  A typical chart might look something like this:

This has now changed in two ways.

1. A Leap in Evolution. Consumer habits in some developing countries, particularly in urban Asia, are now more advanced than in the West, in several mass market categories.  (This excludes Japan, which cannot be considered a developing economy.)  The repertoire of products and services used, per capita consumption, category penetration and trial rates of new products in several categories are considerably ahead of  Europe and the US.  This is driving innovation in some categories at a rate far higher than that in the West.  Consumer habits and preferences are also evolving in ways that are very different from those in the West. The recent failure of Apple’s iPhone launch in India illustrates this:

Analyst estimates that total official iPhone sales here have yet to touch 20,000 handsets. (iSuppli) estimates iPhones cost less than $175 to build, (but) both Apple and Airtel stuck to the approximately $700 price for the phone in India, vs. $199 with a two-year AT&T contract in the U.S.  In India, then, three iPhones equal one Nano, the $2,000 car that Tata Motors  launched in India just two weeks ago.  For Airtel and Vodafone, subsidizing the phone has not been an option (because) the vast majority of Indian users have prepaid accounts…
According to Sanjay Gupta, the chief marketing officer of Airtel’s mobile business, Indians just use their phones differently. Indian customers like to forward text messages; Nearly 70% of them do that at least once a day, says Gupta. Until recently, the iPhone didn’t allow users to do that. “It’s a big functionality issue,” says Gupta. (via BusinessWeek)

2. Home-grown Innovation. The cost and infrastructure constraints of doing business in large, developing countries are fostering a reverse wave of innovation that originate there and in some cases are then rolled out to or copied by the West.  Not all these innovations are relevant in the West (in some cases they are kept out due to legal or market structure barriers) but they are certainly relevant and easier to bring to market in other developing countries. This is changing the pattern of both sources of innovation and evolution of markets.

The M-Pesa service offers Kenyans the ability to send and receive money using SMS messages. M-PESA is a new Safaricom service allowing you to transfer money using a mobile phone. Kenya is the first country in the world to use this service, which is offered in partnership between Safaricom and Vodafone. M-PESA is available to all members of the public, even if you do not have a bank account or a bankcard. (Via PSFK). This idea is now being copied in other markets like India and South-east Asia.

(In designing the Tata Nano car, which costs only $2000 ),  there were three possible ways they could have gone: work down from a car design, work up from a scooter or start with a clean sheet of paper.  By going for the third option, Tata has created a new template for developing ultra-low-cost cars…  The team even asked whether there was a need for doors and whether plastic instead of steel could be used for the bodywork. Tata has filed for three dozen patents for the Nano, mostly for innovations that are out of sight. (Via The Economist)

…from Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations on the planet.  France’s Groupe Danone built local microplants that produced one one-hundredth of the yogurt of a standard Danone facility, in part due to the lack of refrigerated storage. The microplants produced yogurt almost as cheaply as the larger ones and have now been rolled out to Indonesia. Lessons from operating in Bangladesh have also helped Danone launch Ecopack, a low-cost yogurt line, in France. (Via Fast Company)

Clearly it’s time to throw away those old market evolution charts! The constraints imposed by low incomes and poor infrastructure are leading to product and service design innovations in developing countries. These together with cultural differences are driving consumer habits and preferences in new and diverse ways – not necessarily along the same path as consumers in Europe or the US.

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