Emotional appeal was the secret sauce of the Swadeshi movement in 1905, a scalable surrogate for sending the foreigner packing. In 2020 though, the self-reliance mission will succeed when rational parameters are firmly in place, in consumption and evaluation. Brands need to create compelling value propositions and not rely on sentimental messaging alone.
For a glorious precedent, look no farther than homegrown hero ITC, putting India first as a corporate credo. Which begins by converting natural and skill-based assets of the nation to compelling consumer products, while global benchmarking is rigorously observed. In addition, or perhaps fundamentally, enhancing the self-sufficiency of farmers, fisherfolk and other intermediaries – by both knowledge development and a revenue stream. I call this Integrated Nationalism, a community-inspired business strategy that delivers world-class excellence through indigenous resources, creating exceptional shareholder value.
Do note that every brand from ITC is designed to surpass the evaluation criteria of knowledgeable customers – Bingo versus Lay’s, Yippee versus Maggi, Fiama versus Lux and Fabelle versus Lindt. Self-reliance thriving on a customer-centric excellence strategy, not merely a guttural plea. As the Indian has most certainly evolved over the decades, now a global villager balancing national pride with a neutral eye. Fab India understands this beautifully, ethnic wear an abettor of our urban style ensemble, not a nationalistic khadi pitch. While Patanjali failed to factor this truth – however provocative the emotion, simply not competitive as a composite experience.
Assisting this neutrality in evaluation is the dual citizenship carefully cultivated by many foreign brands. Pepsi, Coke, Nivea and Samsung are as much Indian in spirit as Dabur, Lakme, Marico and Parle – years of marcom investment successfully conjuring an empathetic identity. Also, the post-liberalised Indian customer often seeks the overseas partner, as a long-awaited antidote for enforced nationalism before the 1990s. Notably, apart from China, none of the usual sources have ever been considered enemy states, quite unlike the British Empire as 1905 context. Exactly why, for self-reliance 2020, the value proposition is crucial, aided by insightful and not blind patriotism.
The origin of this ‘value’ is the human resource, migrant returnees whether from Delhi or Dubai can become game-changers. In foreign lands, within or outside India, unique skills are acquired and honed, now available for local entrepreneurs. For instance, process complicity and measurable professionalism can alter the work ethics of a garment factory or a biscuit maker, enhancing quality and productivity. While the intellectual capital seeking profitable repatriation can lead the next IT boom, this time in value-added tech services. Equally notable is the vast pool of MNC-experienced management resources (in the age band of 30 to 60) seeking a second innings or simply a career reboot, affected by corona economics. India today has a potent human resource advantage, firmly entrenched in their home bases and thus intuitively secure.
So quite like the ITC model, there must be a convergence between available resources and potential demand. The high-growth sectors dominated by global fellows must be identified and India-inspired solutions created in a competitive format. Definitely feasible for low-tech FMCG, foods, tech-enabled services, apparel, accessories, education, healthcare and many more sectors – wherever the IP skillset is at hand locally. India customer insight certainly being the point of difference, like the flavours in snacks and the colour palettes of clothes. Sealing the story of integration will be the sustainable impact on livelihood and entrepreneurship – by the local and for the local.
What will also help is the stimulation of nascent demand – ethnic clothes becoming eco-friendly office wear for men, as a simple illustration. Wellness is intuitively more trustworthy when ‘ayurvedic’ and yoga-centric, so this can be intelligently escalated. Hospitality, currently in the boondocks, can be revived by regional tourism-friendly infrastructure and city-trained personnel can make us happily self-reliant. Just like Sula in wines, there is absolutely no reason why any form of F&B cannot be resurrected courtesy our nature’s basket.
The content industry is already localised so the remarkably talented ‘nautanki’ cadre can became digital heroes overnight. On pure-play hi-tech like TVs, laptops and cars, this gap will take longer to bridge but maximum permissible local assembly can be an interim elevator. I do predict a larger role for trains in business and pleasure, further expanding the bigness of India, abundant stations versus limited airports. Done well, self-reliance can become our global impact strategy– when Japan began post-war industrialisation the initial motivation was also self-reliance. Engineering and process was their battle cry, for us it can be intuitive innovation and personalised wellness.
But then the beginning of self-reliance must be the rock-solid value proposition, the local an equal of the global or unquestionably unique. On this the layers of rational and then emotional value-addition, navigated by consumption insight. Finally, will be the patriotism pitch justified by genuine value creation – for people and the economy. This is the formula of Integrated Nationalism, ‘vocal for local’ largely rational and not simply emotional.
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