When Uber began allowing customers in India to pay for their rides with cash, it was more than just a business decision: it was an awareness that to scale its success, it needed to listen to the global middle class. The insight here was simple: consumers in emerging markets are mobile-ready, but they’re not all quite ready to adopt mobile payments. Technology has allowed companies like Uber to reach new markets, but winning consumers’ trust and loyalty here will determine how far they can go to build a brand.
We are witnessing a transition from a world that is mostly poor to one that is growing richer—by 2030, 5 billion people, or nearly two-thirds of the global population, could join the middle class. Driving this growth are emerging markets like India and China, fueled by their rapid population growth, rising income levels, and rapid adoption of technology. We’ll be exploring this theme at our upcoming Transition conference.
This move to a richer world is not ending any time soon: by 2025, emerging markets will drive almost half the world’s consumption. And a richer world means new opportunities for business, marketing, and advertising. How do marketers scale their messages to an entirely new breed of consumer, while ensuring they stay consistent?
Scaling brand reach through inclusive technology
It’s no secret that technology lets businesses scale globally—but it also brings millions more consumers into the connected, economic mainstream that brands can communicate with. And as smartphones get more affordable and online shopping catches on in these markets, brands have more touchpoints to interact with consumers. The challenge is doing it in a way that is inclusive of the largest possible audience.
The increasing penetration of technology, especially among the global middle class, introduces a new need for brands to ensure their global marketing teams are delivering the right messages at the right time.
Building brand associations from the ground up
Marketing to the middle class hinges on more than customer segmentation. Brands that can master localized messaging will look beyond the traditional, linear sales funnel to a more complex customer decision journey—an alternative model that McKinsey proposed in 2009 based on new purchase patterns in emerging markets. And emerging markets are fascinating laboratories for studying the customer journey—we’re looking at a more fragmented media landscape, lower access to digital channels, and generally lower brand availability, meaning these customers rely on different sources to help them make decisions.
And the feedback loops—systems that take customer feedback and translate them into improved products or services—that guide the emerging market consumer look different. With many of these customers buying cars, smartphones, laptops, and even hygiene products for the first time, they don’t have the same historical relationship with brands that Western consumers might. They also think of fewer brands at the outset, meaning the stakes are higher for marketers to create stand-out messaging.
Word-of-mouth informs purchases, shaping the final step of the customer journey and making affirmation from friends or family count for more. P&G introduced its sanitary napkins in targeted local communities in India by offering training and free samples to adolescent girls in schools. The network effect propelled the campaign to two million girls at 150,000 schools: and more broadly, let P&G emerge as a brand committed to improving feminine hygiene standards where they had historically been overlooked.
The emerging market’s customer journey is less well-defined, giving brands the opportunity to provide information alongside their products.
Investing in local expertise
Finally, it is an organization’s people that co-create brand identity, whether they sit in New York or Shanghai. Work culture is an oft-underestimated component of brand identity, but it is a powerful tool for brands seeking to establish their presence globally. How companies recruit and manage talent across the organization will be a determinant of their success in emerging markets. There is a strong connection between brand promise — a brand’s mission, values, and global reputation — and its culture, what employees experience on a day-to-day basis. CEOs need to pay attention to employer branding, building their reputation as an employer as opposed to boosting general corporate brand reputation.
A survey by global employer branding firm Universum found that 31% of CEOs and marketing and HR leaders said employer branding would become more important for building a global reputation. For instance, hiring skilled managers in local markets empowers brands to embed themselves in local culture and work ethic: and ensure that they are thinking with the home market in mind at every customer touchpoint. Skilled local teams can help build a “think global, act local” mentality for brands seeking to understand their customer base and create a more customized consumer journey.
So what’s next?
The world is becoming richer, and higher incomes will bring more consumers into the mainstream. Their awareness of and loyalty to brands will be accelerated by technology, which is opening up new channels for brands to interact with these audiences. All this means marketing teams need to be more culturally empathetic, have their ears to the ground in local markets, and make sure they’re reaching novice consumers and leveraging local talent. The brands that win will be those that zoom in on these complexities and endeavor to master them with local expertise and global resources.