This study builds on the authors‘ previous work, which had questioned the validity of certain assumptions of the lead market theory in the face of changing ground realities in a globalized world. Sustained economic growth and proven technological capabilities in some “emerging economies” like China and India call for a reassessment of the appropriateness of the “conventional wisdom” that had held true until recently. While our previous study had built a theoretical background the lead market model by introducing new elements, and doing away with certain others, with the help of two in-depth case studies, the purpose of the present study is to specifically assess India’s potential as a lead market for cost-effective frugal innovations.
The study crystallizes the inherent characteristics of frugal innovations, their development process and market success in the domestic and overseas markets by analyzing four successful product innovations from selected industries in India. The factors identified thus are then incorporated in the theoretic model to derive propositions about India’s lead market potential. Whereas affordability and economies of scale have traditionally constituted the primary concern for frugal innovations, an increasing shift towards “value proposition” is identified. Intensifying competition and growing customer aspirations are changing the nature of frugal innovations. The hitherto unserved customer demands attractive designs and modern technologies to come out of his shell of “non-consumption”. Our research confirms that frugal innovations can benefit end-consumers and firms, simultaneously. Better-designed products also have positive impact on the lead market potential, creating a virtuous cycle. The study also discovered that the increasing need for sophistication coupled with continued cost pressures is shifting the product development processes into the domain of “open global innovation”, which also helps reduce the negative country-of-origin effects faced by developing countries. The research would have implications for location decisions in setting up global innovation/R&D activities.
Keywords: Lead Markets; Frugal Innovations; India; Bottom of the Pyramid; Global Innovation; Open Innovation; Emerging Economies.
India has emerged as a vibrant and versatile source for cost effective, “disruptive innovations” of various varieties. Price-sensitive consumers in a large and growing market keep inducing firms to apply “frugal engineering” for creating affordable products and services without compromising excessively on quality. Because, as The Economist asserts: “Frugal does not mean second-rate”. Such innovations are characterized by high affordability, robustness, and “good enough” quality in a volume-driven market. Resource constraints motivate firms and entrepreneurs to think out-of-the-box. The trick lies in creating solutions that are able to circumvent given environmental constraints in a cost effective way. India’s large and enormously young population faced with limited budgets, but well-endowed with high aspirations, provides an ideal experiment ground for many firms. Solutions created for the Indian market are often suitable for other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that frequently face similar socio-economic conditions. In some instances they succeed even in developed country markets by enabling significant cost reductions. This emergence as a hub for “frugal innovations” possibly suggests a “lead market” role for India.
On the other hand, lead markets, as understood today, are characterized by high per capita income, great customer sophistication and high quality infrastructure. Such assumptions imply that lead markets, almost by default, can only exist in economically developed countries because only they can finance the development effort. Using two anchor-cases of product innovations aimed at price-sensitive segments in India we generate preliminary evidence to challenge some of the core assumptions of the “lead market” theory and propose that lead markets can emerge in developing countries too because market attractiveness (e.g. volume of demand, export possibilities) and technological capabilities are able to offset many other deficiencies. The supposed absence of customer sophistication is channelized into a challenge for supplier-side sophistication to design cost effective, “good enough” solutions (“low-cost, thin-margin”) that can meet the aspirations of consumers in a highly competitive market. In order to master this challenge companies need access to a competent and sufficiently large technical base with first-hand knowledge of the ground situation of targeted customer groups (“social capital”). Keywords: Lead Markets; India; Frugal Innovations; Frugal Engineering; Disruptive Innovations; National Innovation System; Sectoral Innovation System.