The other month, I participated in a Singapore Sessions and Harvard Business Review video webinar on “What is the Right Entry Point for Emerging Markets?” I joined Harvard Business Review editor Angelia Herrin, P&G’s Bruce Brown, and Innosight’s Scott Anthony for a lively panel discussion. The full webinar can be viewed here and the executive summary can be found in PDF format here.
We only had limited time during the session to answer audience questions, so in this post, I’d like to address some of the queries we were unable to answer.
Q: Is price leadership the only option to enter emerging markets [with] companies jumping onto a differentiation strategy [later on]? After all, emerging markets have an understanding that imported stuff [is] costlier.
No, quite the contrary, my co-panelist Bruce Brown mentioned, P&G’s SK-II product has been selling very well in the Asian market at a premium position. SK-II is differentiated by its high quality and its technological advantage. We learn from these examples that consumers do not simply and gradually trade-up from lower tier products into higher tier products, but consumers trade-off from one category to another category. That is, they might save on furniture, but spend more on skincare products. These complex demand patterns need to be understood in order to make the smartest entry decisions. Companies who merely chase market size and economic development statistics will find the overhyped middle class in emerging markets attractive. Those same companies may find the middle to be an empty middle. An entry strategy and price premium position allows brands to capture surpluses that can then fund brand differentiation. Hilton captures this surplus through managing two brands, the more upscale Conrad brand and the Hilton in Asia.
Q: Does the increasing purchasing power in emerging markets increase brand loyalty?
Increasing purchasing power in emerging markets does not increase brand loyalty. In fact, the increased availability of information as the market ‘emerges’ makes consumers more promiscuous. The consumers in these emerging markets are being bombarded with numerous products and services at every price point, and they are discerning and sophisticated. It is more important for brands to tap into the consumer’s emotions and really relate itself to the consumer’s daily life ecosystem in order to generate any sort of brand loyalty.
Q: How about B2B market entry strategy? Do these principles hold?
No, they don’t hold for B2B markets. My point was that the emerging middle consumer market is a large opportunity, but the hype in its favor is mostly driven by an economic rationale. Economists forecast the growth in the middle class to double from today’s very small fraction in ten years, growing from the current annual per-household disposable income of $4,000 (urban consumers only) in China. In comparison, the standard of living in developed countries today is about ten times that number; in the US, per-household disposable income is about $35,000. In favor is the number of people in the emerging markets. There could potentially be 400 million people in China in 10 years, or 167 million households — though their disposable incomes will still be around $8,000.
When it comes to economics, I concur with the Danish physicist Niels Bohr who said: predictions are difficult, especially about the future. So, I still caution about relying on economic numbers. First, they suggest to me that while the market sizes are large, disposable incomes will remain relatively small. That’s why I recommended that companies enter emerging markets with a dual strategy, at a more premium position with their Western brand and at the low-tier with an entry through collaborations and partnerships with local firms. This provides at least some form of participation in growth at the bottom of the pyramid.
These ideas, however, do not apply to B2B markets.
Q: Can these entry points be applied to other emerging markets such as Latin America?
Though the research might yield different consumer wants and desires in emerging markets in Latin America compared to Asia, the concept of entering at a premium and tapping into consumers’ wants and desires remains the same. I am very familiar with Latin America, and I believe similar consumption patterns do exist.
As I mentioned during the webinar, in Asia, we are not seeing consumers moving in a simple pattern from the bottom to the middle and then to the premium. Instead, they are willing to spend their income on certain top-of-the-line items, but will spend less on other products. It would be essential in all emerging markets, including Latin America, to see where consumers are trading off.
At the same time, there definitely are differences between the Asian and Latin American markets. For example, in Asian countries like China, the Western concept or ideal of “the middle class” does not exist, nor is belonging to it necessarily a desirable thing. However, in Latin America, the concept of the middle class does exist. There is an understanding among consumers about who belongs to the middle class and who does not. In Latin America, membership to the middle class is largely desirable and also aspirational.
As mentioned in the webinar, culture and context trumps everything. But the constant in all emerging markets is that you will never win by making an ‘average’ product for an ‘average’ consumer. Consumers in all markets want premium (or the perception of premium) products, not ‘average’ ones.
- Erich Joachimsthaler