A Billion people customer behaviour experiment!

India’s population & the mirage of the huge middle class has existed for many years. It is only now that a few trends are coming together to make some of those projections into a reality.

In November, when the government Demonetised the currency, it set in motion what can possibly be called ,the world’s largest experiment, a billion people were forced to change their payment behaviour overnight. Banks were centre stage during this & would today have access to all the individual customer data that showed change in behaviour.Maybe companies can become a full-time laboratory? What if you could analyze every customer transaction, capture insights from every interaction, and have that data available real time? Actually technology now exists to make this a possibility for at least those businesses which have direct customer information-Banks &Telcos amongst others.Google has just launched a new feature to Google Calendars called Goals. This allows you to direct Google Calendar to fill in unscheduled hours with time devoted to work toward more personal goals, such as exercise more, meet your mother or read more. Google bought Dan Ariely’s company to launch this feature. Now with millions of customers using Google Calendar, they will have actually have transactional information that predicts how people prioritise between the short & long term goals. What a massive behaviour experiment that will be! And new age companies like Google have assembled the technology & people to constantly analyse the data that is generated by users consuming their products. New age companies, such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google, have been early leaders, testing factors that drive performance—from features on a Web page to the sequence of content displayed.

India’s urban population grew from 290 million, in the 2001 census, to an estimated 340 million in 2008 (this is 30% of India’s population) & according to Mc Kinsey estimates this could go up to as high as 590 million by 2030. It took 40 years for India’s urban population to rise by 230 million (between 1971 & 2008) & India will add the next 250 million in half that time.

Aadhar is probably the world’s largest database. But with this kind of demographics, companies operating in India will manage to create significantly sized customer databases. So data about the individual & how she responds to marketing triggers will now be available at large scale for marketers. As India becomes increasingly digital, customer data will emerge on:

  • How customer’s shop?
  • How they save?
  • How they react to cash & digital currencies?
  • How they transact?

About 40% of India’s population will be living in urban areas by 2025, and these city dwellers will account for more than 60% of consumption. Much of this growth will take place in small towns. BCG estimates that by 2025, wealthy urbanites will be responsible for one-third of total consumption. Again BCG estimates that nationwide, internet penetration rose from 8% in 2010 to almost 25% in 2016. It is likely to grow to 55% or more by 2025, when the number of users will likely reach 850 million. The composition of the user base is also changing. It is expected that expect that more than half of all new internet users will be in rural communities and that rural users will constitute about half of all Indian internet users in 2020.

This also means that thanks to Digital, a lot of consumers will become addressable through their mobile phones. The more marketers spend money on digital, the more measurable it will become. In developed markets, this is leading companies to make large investments in data analytics

The rate of increase in the amount of data generated by today’s digital society is amazing. According to one estimate, by 2020 the global volume of digital data will increase more than 40-fold.Beyond its sheer volume, data is becoming a new type of raw material that’s on par with capital and labour.Massive Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have shown the importance of collecting, aggregating, analysing and monetising personal data. These rapidly growing enterprises are built on the economics of personal data. I see many more companies beginning to take this very seriously in the years to come. Banking has understood this traditionally but I feel even the FMCG world will begin to grasp this in the years to come. Traditionally FMCG has been a data dark industry while service businesses like Banking, Retail, Travel etc have been customer data rich.

A lot of the growth in India would come with consumers moving up with affluence. And while consumers are becoming more affluent, companies now have the ability to reach & engage such customers through Mobile & other digital means.

Of the 650 million users expected to be using Internet in India by 2020, a whopping over 61 per cent will be accessing it in local language, forming majority of the online population, according to technology giant Google.

What kind of implications does this have for Marketers?

  1. FMCG brands should start to develop their own independent data to give them a picture of both consumer and shopper behaviour. Maybe the way to do it is through partnerships & creating coalition programs. Organized retail has low penetration in India. This impacts the largest “success criteria” for a coalition, the high frequency supermarket category. Consumers build points fastest with high frequency categories like supermarkets. But in India, organized Retail is less than 2-3 % of total retail spends. That makes it harder to effectively bring in a large number of smaller Retailers into a coalition program. Maybe the innovation required for India is that a consumer goods company leads such a Coalition & brings in its distribution muscle across small retail. Now that would be a game changer in India. Could such a venture be owned by a Unilever or an ITC? Or can the ultimate high frequency category, the newspaper pioneer this space in India. Imagine a Times of India led coalition!
  2. Loyalty: There are very large rural audiences in urban areas in India. This is due to the huge migration that is consistently occurring-moving people from rural to urban areas. I would look to experiment here. Build relevance amongst this segment with loyalty applications that are completely voice based. I would look at loyalty applications that allow this population to use voice based applications to share credits across: transportation, education, & money transfer!
  3. On boarding for new customers: Banks, Telecom companies & other service organizations will rapidly get new customers who are just not familiar with their services. There is likely to be a huge inflow of customers at the bottom of the pyramid who would with increased affluence be buying products & services for the first time. It would be critical to onboard such customers effectively. Also you would have a whole range of behaviours which would be getting triggered with the government’s move towards digitisation.  How do you get a customer to start using his debit card on POS without sufficient & relevant information?
  4. Growth of microsegments: need for analytics to study small consumer segments that may begin to display very different behaviour. As an example, youth in lower income household’s may take up Mobile banking in a much bigger way than what was traditionally thought-Marketers need to be watching this kind of behaviour change very carefully. Especially Banks, Telecom & retail companies have data at a customer transaction level which will help them watch this kind of behaviour change using advanced analytics.
  5. Impact on Retail: Many years ago during my Retail experience, I found that many stores were impacted by what we called the cluster effect-a store in Hyderabad got many shoppers from Vijaywada, a store in Pune got in customers from Solapur etc. And these customers came in for short visits to the city & ended up spending big time! So they were valuable high ticket customers! All this happens because these visitors had friends & family working in the bigger cities. It would be interesting to see Retailers develop focussed databases to identify such prospects in partnerships with Travel companies?
  6. Power of campaign management in local languages: Many brands will want to predict which language is their user or subscriber more comfortable in. Of the 650 million users expected to be using Internet in India by 2020, over 61 per cent will be accessing it in local language, forming majority of the online population, according to technology giant Google. So traditional campaigns in English would not be as relevant as content created in local languages. Google research shows that over 44% of local language internet users find it hard to comprehend product descriptions in English.
  7. Marketing technology can play a powerful role in all of this. Bring on a seasoned Technology guy into your marketing function to create a Martech vision.

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