`India set to be global innovation hub'

Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on November 09, 2017

Dr Mohanbir Sawhney takes a look at the future of media.

Dr Mohanbir Sawhney is the Robert McCormick Tribune Foundation Clinical Professor of Technology at Northwestern University's renowned Kellogg School of Management. A globally recognised consultant in strategic marketing and innovation to some of the world's top corporations such as Microsoft and Kraft Foods, among a host of others, Dr Sawhney is the co-author of five books, the most recent one being Collaborating with Customers to Create .

Recently in Chennai at the invitation of IT products and solutions company Bahwan Cybertek, to which he is an advisor, Prof Sawhney spoke to BrandLine on some of the sweeping changes one can expect in the coming decade in organisations, fuelled by rapidly emerging technologies. Excerpts:

The decade just gone by has been pretty momentous. Today we have categories which didn't even exist at the turn of the decade ? Facebook is six years old, the iPhone is three years old, there have been dramatic changes. So if you want to look back on the past and be a bit clairvoyant about this decade what would be your take?

Well, making predictions about the future is a hazardous occupation! But I will hazard a few guesses. I see three big themes in the evolution of media and media consumption. Media is becoming social, mobile and rich. At the intersection of these are interesting opportunities. Choose any two: mobile + video, now there are a whole bunch of interesting applications for mobile video. Pick any two permutations of social, mobile and rich media and apply them to commerce, entertainment and communication, and you find interesting opportunities.

I can't even being to visualise what a mobile device in 2015 will look like. But I can guarantee that you will have your lifestyle at your fingertips. And that will create interesting opportunities for marketers, because they will have extreme visibility not only into the individual but also into their location ? and that too, 24 hours a day. So you have real-time information on location, transactions and communications, addressable down to the individual consumer. This will create fascinating opportunities for marketers and media companies.

The other interesting thing I think will happen is the social networking phenomenon becoming pervasive in enterprises. So far it is a consumer phenomenon, but now organisations will start and make some interesting changes to organisational structures.

And I think the mass availability of computing power and broadband and wireless connectivity will create new sorts of interactions such as machine-to-machine transactions featuring automated agents or ?bots?. For instance, I will be able to download all details of my preferences, my personality, and upload them to the cloud. Then, I may provide this information to a ?shopping bot? (robot or automated application) that I will then delegate the task of negotiating and transacting on my behalf. You will see the evolution of ?D2D? commerce (Device-to-Device commerce) without human intervention. One very interesting phenomenon that is latent and which will become more evident is that more of us will reside digitally. The limiting case of this is that you may be able to upload your consciousness to the cloud. So that when you die, your ?digital you? is still alive! Until then, the phenomenon of the cloud and intelligence in the cloud will be interesting and create some potentially scary outcomes.

Of course, as Richard Bach said in the last page of his book Illusions, ?everything you read in this book may be wrong!? So I can offer no assurance that any of this will actually happen!

You have been doing a lot in the digital marketing space. What are our Indian companies doing there?

I think if you look at what's happening in India it's a mix of blurs and bright spots. It goes back to the penetration of different channels. For instance, broadband penetration in India is low, as is PC penetration. But mobile penetration is rapidly increasing, so marketing communication on mobile devices in India is more advanced than in the US. The way SMS is used for marketing is far more advanced. On the other hand, the way that rich media is being used on broadband in the US and the way social media is used in the US is probably far ahead of India.

So the development of digital marketing reflects the nature of the audience and the digital maturity and the penetration rates. For example, major players in the West such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft and McDonald's have become very advanced in the use of social media to drive customer engagement.

What innovation have you seen coming out of India?

India is poised to become a global innovation hub and this trend has been accelerating in recent years. I talk about three waves of innovation: Wave 1 is forward transfer - where developed market products were adapted for developing markets; that's what we saw in India till about 10 years ago. For Kellogg, Mercedes Benz, BMW or Nokia there were some initial adaptation failures and people learnt their lessons. Phase 2 is localised innovation, which is when you actually start to build products in emerging markets for emerging markets. Localised innovation has been going on in India for a long time, especially in consumer packaged goods. For example, Fair & Lovely and Rin were developed by Hindustan Unilever specifically for the Indian market. More recently, there has been a lot of local innovation by companies such as Reliance, ITC, Airtel, McDonald's and Nokia.

Wave 3 is reverse transfer of innovation, a relatively recent phenomenon where innovations created for emerging markets are being globalised. There are some unique characteristics of emerging market innovations. Because of the lack of infrastructure, harsh operating conditions and limited consumer purchasing power, products developed for emerging markets tend to be robust, energy-efficient and highly affordable. For instance, because you have limited purchasing power, you need to build radically affordable products and services. Godrej's Chotukool refrigerator is compact, cheap and it does not use electric power because you can't count on having reliable electric power in Indian villages. Responding to these constraints, Godrej has created an easy-to-use, energy-efficient, battery-operated refrigerator. That has some really interesting applications in developed markets, such as outdoor camping.

We are going to see this reverse transfer at a product level and also at a component level where engineering companies are starting to build specialised expertise. India has not been as quick to grab product innovation as it has in the services domain. If you think about it, in exports we lead in services, but we have very few Indian branded products that are sold globally. At the end of the day, while services generate a lot of revenues they don't build scale like a Google or Microsoft. In future, I would like to see more product innovation coming out of India.

Rethink of marketing: See Page 3

Published on January 07, 2011

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