Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

'Lilliput Land' book review: Decoding India's consumer market for multinational marketers

A user manual of sorts to help one understand the unique facets that frame the Indian economy

India is the fifth largest economy, and on its way to emerge as the third largest in the world, in a decade. It is the fastest growing free market democracy with over 1.4 billion consumers. For global marketers, this is a dream destination.

Harvesting the opportunities in a huge market is, however, far from linear or easy. At a granular level, with a per capita income of under $2700, India forces companies to rethink their economics models. The challenge for them is to identify who their consumers could be, and what they could sell. The identity of the consumer is an ever-evolving avatar, frequently migrating with context.

How do you triangulate who, what and where to make a meaningful mark on the top and the bottom lines? How do you decode the dots that make up the mosaic of paradoxes? You pay attention to the insights offered by Rama Bijapurkar in her latest 304-page tome, Lilliput Land- How Small is Driving India’s Mega Consumption Story. The book is a validation of the truth that small can be bountiful. It traces the contours of the Indian marketplace, underlines the need for customisation of costs to craft a path from preconceived perceptions to pragmatic profitability. It also notes the fact that India’s consumption story is grainy—and the pixels are mystifying and mesmerising.

The book begins with the enduring truth—India is the land of many truths and they are all true. Bijapurkar demystifies the ephemeral and enigmatic consumer, demolishes misplaced notions harboured by multinational marketers, and in that rapid breathless tempo, tells the pilgrims of profit to stop looking for the singular narrative, and pay attention to the plural; the diversity of the market.

The book honestly “paints the whole picture of Consumer India, the good and bad news, the counterintuitive and changing facets of it”. It doesn’t shy away from deconstructing clichés or from defending the many so-called contradictions that baffle residents in corner suites. Lilliput Land is quintessentially a user manual, rather a GPS app, to navigate market complexities which defy description. It tells you the importance of size in the opportunity of scale—that for a long time, it will be driven by “lots and lots of small consumers, earning and spending just a little bit each, which adds up to an enormous amount”.

What makes the book interesting is that it is not infested with jargon. In keeping with her penchant to induct cultural colloquialisms, Bijapurkar introduces readers to the interface of artha (prosperity) and kama (pleasure) as a foundational axis in consumption patterns. It is an easy read, and takes the reader back and forth to appreciate the nuances presented. It is set in the nature of a conversation between the author and the reader, dotted with arguments and counterarguments, a travelogue, which traipses through the history and geography of the marketplace, laced with riveting anecdotes illustrating the sociology and psychology of consumer behaviour.

A useful prism, she suggests, is understanding the people to recognise the opportunities embedded across 308 million households. Conventional wisdom has it that supply triggers demand. Quite counterintuitively, Bijapurkar points out that mere arrival of supply is not sufficient to drive demand—this, after all, is a value-sensitive, cost-conscious collective of individuals, whose choices vary.

The book is divided into sections on how Bijapurkar would like the audience to think about the issues. One could call it a set of commandments. Early on, she warns that God is in the details; that understanding India’s consumption demands cognition of the drivers and shapers; elaborates on how to make sense of the structure and understand Consumer India’s behaviour, and the interplay of demand and supply; it outlines the history, the lessons and provides a framework for those interested in unlocking mass-market opportunity.

Lilliput Land is scaffolded by decades of observation and study, leverages Bijapurkar stint at multiple corporate boards, her intuitions with years of research, and backs her unabashed conclusions with academic rigour. The book—a must read—is a timely primer on the capillary connections, for understanding the exceptional uniqueness of the facets that frame the Indian economy.

Lilliput Land-How Small is Driving India’s Mega Consumption Story

By: Rama Bijapurkar

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 304

Price: Rs 599

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The New Indian Express