SPIRE SIGN IN Register

SpirE-Journal 2008 Q1

Bipolar Marketing – The highs and lows of marketing to an unequal Asia

Reader's Ratings:

Bipolar Marketing - The highs and lows of marketing to an unequal Asia

While economic growth has brought millions of Asians into the consumer marketplace, fuelling talk of “base of pyramid” marketing, rising inflation is creating price-sensitivity at the mid-end of the marketing spectrum. At the high end, Asia’s wealthy are commanding “global incomes” and seeking extravagant pleasures beyond the ordinary. As income inequality in Asia approaches Latin American levels, marketers in Asia now have to focus on one or both ends of an increasingly polarized spectrum.

Asia’s growth spurt

For three decades now, the developing countries of Asia have enjoyed the world’s fastest growth. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty. In 1981, 64 percent of China’s population lived on an income of less than a dollar a day. By 2001, that number was reduced dramatically to 17 percent. In India, the poverty rate has declined by 7 percentage points in a decade.

The flip side of the coin is that the affluent are accumulating wealth at a much higher rate. According to a 2007 report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), income inequality increased over the past decade in 15 of the 21 countries it studied (see Tables 1 and 2).

In Southeast Asian countries, the richest 5 percent draw 16 percent of all national income. The same trend pervades China – in 1999, the richest 20 percent of households accounted for nearly half of the total national income, whereas the poorest 20 percent had to make do with only 7.1 percent.

The primary reason for rising inequality, particularly in emerging economies like China, India and Indonesia, is the growth differentials between rural and urban households and between the skilled and unskilled.

In 1978, when China rolled out its market reforms, its economy was still largely agricultural. Roughly 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas. Today, the proportion of rural dwellers is close to 50 percent and their incomes are far below their urban counterparts. Moreover, since the 1980s, foreign investors have focused their attention on the eastern and coastal provinces. As a result of the boom in the east, about 150 million people have moved either permanently or seasonally between the interior and the coastal provinces, and the western provinces have trailed behind.

India’s economic strides in the early 21st century were propelled by the services and manufacturing industries located in urban areas. The 2004 electoral defeat of India’s governing BJP party was interpreted as the rural areas’ call to benefit from the country’s sterling economic growth. Agriculture, on which most of the poor depend, has been growing at a much slower pace than manufacturing or services. Increases in productivity and income in the agricultural sector have left much to be desired.

Economic growth and the increasing integration of Asia into the world economy have enhanced the financial benefits of higher education. Across the region, the salaries of qualified and high-skilled workers are becoming more aligned with international levels.

Increasing inequality has led to a bipolarization of the Asian marketplace – the wealthy are in search of the ultimate luxuries whilst the middle and low-income gravitate towards bargain selection.

Luxury living in Asia

The growing ranks of Asia’s affluent are seen in the soaring sales of luxury goods, where Asia’s growth has outstripped the rest of the world. Add to this the fact, well known to luxury brand owners, that among the world’s wealthy, it is the millionaires of Asia who tend to flaunt.

According to a 2006 Merrill Lynch survey, high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) living in the region – those possessing more than USD1 million in net assets besides their primary residence – poured 30 percent of their spending into “luxury collectibles” such as yachts, airplanes and extravagant cars. In 1998, the Asia-Pacific had 1.33 million HNWI. Today, that figure has doubled. There are 2.6 million high networth individuals in the nine economies that dominate the Asia-Pacific – Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Mercedes and BMW vehicles in Asia, for example, enjoyed double-digit sales growth in 2006. A record 2,019 Mercedes-Benz cars were sold in India alone in 2005, making it one of the biggest potential markets in DaimlerChrysler’s books. The German auto-maker sees a strong target market in young, successful IT professionals.

The brisk sales of luxury items should come as no surprise. The growth of the high net-worth population in the Asia-Pacific accelerated from 7.3 percent in 2005 to 8.6 percent in the following year. Singapore led the pack not only in Asia but worldwide, with its number of high net-worth individuals (HNWI) soaring by 21.2 percent to 66,660. It was followed by India at 20.5 percent (100,015 HNWI) and Indonesia at 16 percent (20,000 HNWI). China meanwhile saw a 7.8 percent climb in wealthy individuals to 345,000.

They have a combined wealth of USD8.4 trillion, with the largest share in Japan – 43.7 percent – followed by 20.6 percent in China, which has more than a quarter of the 17,500 so-called ultra HNWIs in the region. Their total wealth is expected to expand at an annual rate of 8.5 per cent, outpacing the global rate of 6.8 percent, and reaching USDUS12.7 trillion by 2011 as they benefit further from the
region’s continued growth and with newly minted HNWIs joining their ranks.

Brands matter

With excess wealth to go around in Asia, luxury goods manufacturers are enjoying boom times in Asia that are helping to offset sluggish sales in the US market. For the past two years, companies such as LVMH and Richemont, owner of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, have enjoyed sales growth of 40 to 70 percent in Asian emerging markets like Greater China.

It is no wonder then that luxury brand Coach sees Greater China becoming its third-largest market and plans to open 30 more stores there. Gucci has eight outlets in Hong Kong, almost triple its stores in Milan. Hermes operates seven boutiques in Hong Kong compared to only three in Paris and two in New York. Donatella Versace is building nine more stores in both China and Hong Kong by the end of this year, up from the current five.

France’s LVMH posted sales of USD24.1 billion last year with an 8 percent increase in profits, due to the “spectacular growth” of Moët & Chandon champagne in China, Russia, India, and Central Europe, and the “exceptional vitality” of Louis Vuitton in China and South Korea. Its Tag Hauer timepiece line will expand in India and the Middle East this year. Sales in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia (excluding Japan), which already holds a 30 percent share in global luxury sales, will jump by 20 percent in 2008.

At the moment, only the top 2 percent of the Chinese purchase high-end items, but 150 million more Chinese are likely to join the urban middle-class in the next 20 years. In fact, a third of all luxury goods are expected to be sold in China, Russia, and India in the coming decades.

The high life

The ultra wealthy have luxuriated in their own success, as they are served by an increasing array of tailored products and services. MillionaireAsia, a magazine “dedicated to the celebration of the millionaire lifestyle”, has localized editions in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. With the launch of a Japanese edition in May, total readership is expected to reach 200,000.

In October 2008, Millionaire Fair in Shanghai, touted as the world’s leading fair for all things luxurious, will showcase its most exclusive products and services, including art and antiques, boats and yachts, private jets and helicopters, resorts, and haute couture.

International and private banks catering to the rich have likewise trooped to Asia. A host of specially-tailored offerings is needed to manage the wealth of China’s 30,000 new millionaires every year, while India, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Korea each produce nearly the same number of HNWIs annually.

In March last year, the Bank of China and Royal Bank of Scotland jointly opened their doors to clients in Beijing and Shanghai who possess at least USD1 million in liquid assets and who would be interested in foreign-exchange structured products, subscriptions to initial public offerings, and private equity lines.

Barron’s, a premier financial weekly, projected that Singapore will surpass Switzerland soon as the world’s top private-banking hub. Since 1998, private-banking assets in Singapore have multiplied six times to more than USD300 billion. Presently, Singapore is home to only a third of the global private-banking assets that reside in Switzerland. But with accelerated growth that could hit 30 percent this year, compared to single-digit growth in Switzerland, the balance of power could shift swiftly.

The prosperity is reflected in developments on the island republic. Reclaimed land on Sentosa Island has given rise to Sentosa Cove, an elite oceanfront residential community of 2,500 units. Precious views of the open sea or waterways can be bought with bungalows and condominium residential plots. Here, residents can dock their own yachts and partake in exclusive cruises organized by the Sentosa Cove committee.

For the adventurous, The Flying Club, launched in February 2008, offers a tenyear membership ofUSD30,000 that includes flying lessons and the use of brand new aircraft equipped with advanced avionics and auto-pilot control. Members can fly on their own or book a pilot to take them to neighboring countries. The private club is open to only 350 members in all and targets the wealthy who are “43 years old and driving a Porsche”.

Life in the fast lane

Porsche revved up the aspiration of Indians when it unveiled its showroom in Mumbai in 2007. Upcoming European car models such as the Fiat 500 and the New Beetle will whet the appetite of India’s avid car collectors later this year, with the Fiat preparing to unveil customization plans.

In view of this trend, some mid-range brands have attempted to move a notch up the ladder of opulence. Nissan, for instance, decided to create a luxury brand image prior to a full-fledged entry into India in early 2010 through the local production of a subcompact. Nissan has enhanced its brand image by importing and marketing its Murano sport utility vehicle in India. On Indian waters last year, Ferretti, the “Rolls Royce of yachts”, made a splash in Mumbai and the French Sun Odyssey line of luxury yachts set sail.

Asia is also transiting to a much bigger slice of the market for high-end private jets. Some billionaires have turned to the extreme end of the luxury market, seeking larger, more lavish aircraft.

Take Joseph Lau, one of Asia’s richest businessmen. The Hong Kong real estate magnate has a net worth of more than USD2 billion. Along with his modern-art collection, which includes a pricey Andy Warhol portrait of Mao Zedong and a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, Lau can now claim ownership of a VIP Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The plane can fly up to 10,000 nautical miles nonstop and sells for USD153 million.

Serving up success

“You are what you buy” is rising in popularity not only in China where the phrase was coined, but also in the rest of affluent Asia. The rich favor luxury brands that loosely translate to prestige.

The key success factor for marketing to the wealthy is service – in-depth knowledge of the product being sold, a deep understanding of the clients’ needs and aspirations together with a lavish attention to the finer points of service.

“In the past, the golden rule for success in the luxury business was to be elegant, consistent and effective: Don’t ask consumers what they want; tell them what they should have,” Bain said in a 2005 luxury report. But today, confronted with an unfamiliar market, a self-centered approach will no longer work. “Strive to know your consumers, not just be known by them.”

After Moët Hennessy opened its Beijing office in 1996, it embarked on a five-year market research exercise on consumer psychology and behavior, distribution channels and media advertising. It formally entered the market in 2001 and less than half a decade later, Moët Hennessy’s annual growth reached 15-20 percent, making it one of the most successful luxury wine and spirit brands in China.

With global luxury brands pouring into Asia, the risk is of too rapid an expansion without solid strategic branding. Entering any market should be seen as a long-term investment. Even if the growth rate is high, it will take time for the market to become established. The most successful companies began the process of building their brands long before they first opened their doors to business.


Bottom of the pyramid

Living alongside Asia’s growing number of high-net-worth individuals is an even greater mass surviving on low incomes. They are referred to as the bottom of the pyramid, defined in 1998 by Professors C.K. Prahalad and Stuart L. Hart.

Prahalad proposes that the poor not be viewed as victims but as valuedemanding consumers. He sees hugeprofits for companies that serve the needs of these markets because the poor of today will be the middle class of tomorrow. These people comprise about 60 percent of the world’s population, their sheer numbers translating into immense purchasing power, especially for the food industry.

Thanks to economic growth, more Asians are adjusting their diets, resulting in increasing demand for nutritious foods like meat and dairy products. In China, an average person now consumes 50 kg of meat per year, more than double the average in 1980. The same trend has been observed in other emerging Asian countries.

The same pattern is evident in terms of rising calorie intake. In India, the daily per capita energy intake has increased to an average of 2,440 kilocalories from 2,080 in 1980. A Vietnamese now consumes 2,580 kcal of energy a day compared with 2,030 two decades ago, and Chinese intake has increased to 2,940 kcal a day from 2,330 in 1980.

The mounting demand for all foodstuffs coupled with constraints on supply has driven up food prices, fuelling inflation in the process (see Table 3).

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index, which is based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, surged 37 percent in 2007. The prices of wheat, rice, soybeans, corn, palm oil and cocoa have reached record levels. The International Food Policy Research Institute has fore-casted that food prices will soar by up to 20 percent by 2015.

High levels of inflation have increased pressure on even middle-income earners to be price-conscious. Products and services catering to the lower-income segments are consequently gaining from strong demand.

Low-cost revolution

Neglected in previous years, the under-served lower-income segment is becoming an attractive consumer market for two reasons: their rising affluence in absolute terms and their growing share of the world’s population. Citizens of developing countries are set to grow to 90 percent of the world’s population, or 7.2 billion, by 2025.

Expansion in developing countries such as Russia, China, India and Brazil will drive the automotive industry in the next few years, according to Nissan Motor Co. chief, Carlos Ghosn. The Russian market surged by 25 per cent last year, just ahead of China’s pace, and in two years’ time will become Europe’s largest auto market.
In India, the automotive industry is expected to be revolutionized by the launch of Tata Motors’ Nano, the least expensive car in the world at a price of 1 lakh (USD 2,500). Car ownership is now within the reach of tens of millions of people in India.
The Nano has set a trend in the industry, as French auto maker Renault and its Indian partner, Bajaj Auto, are planning to build and sell a small car for less than USD3,000. Not to be outdone, General Motors India will roll out more models in the small-car segment, encouraged by the more than 50 percent share of its small cars in total sales.
The IT industry is gearing towards small and affordable as well.Last January, Indian hardware manufacturer HCL Infosystems, with assistance from Intel, introduced the world’s cheapest laptop, priced at Rs 13,990 (about USD 350). Called HCL MiLeap X and Y Series, each weighs less than a kilogram, has a seven-inch screen and is Wi-Fi ready.
In 2007, Asustek caught the attention of industry leaders with the worldwide success of its low-cost Eee PC, which is designed for students in emerging markets. Dell has launched low-cost notebooks for both consumers and small businesses in Asian markets and plans to roll out even more. Hewlett-Packard and Acer are likewise developing low-cost notebooks to be introduced this year.
Another technological breakthrough is a household water purification system produced by Philips for the Indian market, where millions have no access to clean drinking water. Philips aims to bring this solution to the masses while building early brand awareness in the country.
In a similar move, German insurance and financial services conglomerate Allianz is introducing a new type of micro-insurance in southern India in cooperation with the Non-Governmental Organization CARE. The monthly premiums are just about five cents, affordable to India’s poor.
GE Money in Singapore has launched the ezyCash service, a personal loan targeted at lower-income earners. The award-winning loan program is available to Singaporean citizens and residents with a minimum salary of S$1,600 per month.

Wholesome retail gains

Rising price-sensitivity among the low and middle income segments has found reflection in retail sector trends, favoring low-priced brands, house brands and discount retailers.

To cope with rising costs, Singaporeans are turning to cheaper house brands and frozen foods. According to local supermarket chain FairPrice, the demand for house-brand products has been overwhelming since December 2007. Two other Singaporean supermarket chains, Cold Storage and Giant, also reported rises in the sale of house-brand items of between 10 and 20 per cent last year, compared to 2006.
Chinese retail sales climbed 20.2 percent in the first two months of 2008, buoyed by a 17 percent increase in urban incomes last year. The high city spending aided the expansions in China of two of the world’s biggest discount retailers, Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour.
In 2007, Carrefour recorded a 12 percent jump in sales in Malaysia. Carrefour expects to grow sales by a fifth to 1.58 billion ringgit (USD490 million), spurred by outlet expansion and a better performance from existing stores. Carrefour Malaysia’s customer operations and marketing director Sivakumar Haridas commented that its strategy will be to focus on pricing, house brands and value for money products.
Light at both ends of the tunnel

Even though inequality has risen sharply, the poorest 20 percent of households in Asia are still better off in real terms than they were ten years ago in all countries studied by the ADB, with the exception of Pakistan. As more of the previously marginalized rural residents and urban poor join the consumer marketplace and as the middle-class feels increasingly squeezed by inflation, marketers will have to focus sharply on value to gain volume sales. On the other hand, as the highly qualified and skilled earn incomes that are increasingly pegged to rising global levels, marketing to the apex of the pyramid looks set for bright future as well.

With both inflation and inequality on the rise, the field of marketing will become increasingly bipolarized between high-volume/low margin and low-volume/high margin. At one end of the spectrum will be the price-sensitive low-to-mid-end consumer market, which will turn to value offerings, including generics, house brands and no-frills products. At the other extreme will be Asia’s wealthy individuals, who will continue to be luxury brand-seekers and early adopters of new technology.

And then there are the companies that will cater to both the top and the bottom of the pyramid, such as Tata Motors. Traditionally, Tata Motors was present only in the low- to mid-end segments in India and a handful of other developing markets. But with its purchase of the venerable Jaguar and Land Rover brands, it will sell luxury vehicles alongside the compacts.

As the marketing landscape becomes increasingly bipolar, it is the potential at the low-to-mid end of the spectrum that is clearly more important. Companies that succeed in addressing the need for value from the masses of the low-tomiddle income consumers will be well positioned to develop the scale economies and internal rates of innovation necessary to succeed in all market segments. In contrast, those focusing only on the high-end may find themselves confined to smaller and smaller niches and eventually marginalized altogether by larger companies that are able to leverage scale economies to diversify across a broad array of segments.

In this light, the future may belong to those companies that pursue the vision of Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Japan’s Panasonic, who said: “I watched a vagrant drinking tap water outside somebody’s house and noticed that no one complained about it. Even though the water was processed and distributed, it was so cheap that it didn’t matter. I began to think about abundance, and I decided that the mission of the industrialist is to fill the world with products and eliminate wants.”

Back to Top

Back to Home
BTBTBTBTBTBT