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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

We Are Like That Only !! 

Any attempt that sets out to unravel the myriad vicissitudes of Indian demographics & economics would have been deemed successful if the vast spheres of disparate and disjointed data that comprise it itself have been covered with a modicum of adequacy and wholeness. And if any attempt also undertakes the Sisyphean ordeal of organizing and modelling the endless labyrinths of information on Indian markets , then the affair is fraught with risk and as a construct can come unhinged if the wrong thread was yanked. To her credit, Rama Bijapurkar in her (first) book, “We are Like That Only “ pulls off both.

Given the overall canvas of the book, it expectedly takes the form of a well-knit compendium of researched ( and published ) articles which have been fleshed out in more detail, embellished with graphical representations and theoretical frameworks either borrowed or introduced for the first time. She builds her work on Consumption, which she says like Maternity is a certainty and decries Income-driven analysis likening Income to Paternity, a matter of opinion.

The bases for many definitions and models have been derived from the work done on Consumer Classes by Dr. S.L. Rao and I. Natarajan of National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in 1996, which divided Affluent Groups into Rich, Consuming Class, Climber, Aspirant, and Destitutes. As consumption-based objectivity that can be accorded to this model is limited, it is used concomitantly with a Household Potential Index which has been developed by the IRS, which ranks Consumption by penetration of a product/service which in turn has been weighted for penetration( the lower the penetration, the higher the score ). These identify ownership/consumption of Durables, FMCG products, Services and Demographic Variables.

She identifies the inherent mesh of contradictions that all such work is riddled with, and empathizes with the hordes of MNC marketers who have been repeatedly flummoxed at the relative paucity of the numbers of households in the Great Indian Middle Class. After broadly stratifying all households, she avers that in terms of value each broad division is almost equally spread ( 34%-Rich, 36%-Middle & 30%-Bottom ), What marketers and strategists need to do away with is a blinkered vision that unifies and homogenizes India as a consumer, and supplant “phoren” models that have worked elsewhere, brilliantly-conceived and executed as they may have been.
Hence there is a burning need to look at these data and arrive at some analyses to accurately determine what the need for a particular market segment is and then attempt to devise ways to fill the need, rather than foist pre-determined consumption behaviours which individually or unitedly may not be adhered to. She also links the much-touted Rural Purchasing Power to a reference point from where its relative position to an Urban Segment can be mapped. She also outlines some assumptions on Upscaling, Restrictions on what a segment may gravitate to and Lifestyle-driven changes that may engender a Segment leapfrogging a consumption hierarchy level.

While Rama adeptly leads the reader through what is a complex and even qualitatively difficult subject, the structure of the reasoning does appear to meander sullenly at times. Clearly her forte is her clarity of vision and comprehension of what these information nuggets stand for and how they may assist in dusting the cobwebs off a rusty and lazy media as it grapples and fails in this endeavour. Since this book has been literally stitched together, there are times where there are numerical variations of data in later chapters, evidently the sign of the values itself having changed during the editing stages. Certain passages are repeated and while the familiarity is comforting, it does not make for sharply-defined logical interludes. Personally, I have been quite taken with some articles that she has written elsewhere—on working women, urban travel and cooking aids come readily to mind, and I thought I missed some of that lacerating wit and insightful lightness-of-touch here. Still, a must-read for those interested in India and Indian markets and those patient enough to re-tread past follies.

A 7.5 on 10 !!


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