Battling for the Middle in Emerging Markets
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
To expand in rapidly developing economies, Boston Consulting’s Jim Hemerling says, global companies can’t limit themselves to the market’s top end
Consider the following five countries: China, India, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico. With a combined population of approximately 2.9 billion people, they have nearly 10 times the U.S. population. Their combined gross domestic product approaches $5.8 trillion?nearly half the U.S. GDP. Several of the economies are growing at breathtaking rates: approximately 11% last year in China and more than 9% in India, far exceeding the 3.3% U.S. growth rate. They have expansive industrial sectors?accounting for 48% of China’s GDP, 19% of India’s, 20% of Brazil’s, 26% of Mexico’s, and nearly 37% of Russia’s. And their domestic markets are hungry for Western products and technology, with China alone importing some $780 billion worth of goods last year, Mexico importing $253 billion, India $188 billion, Russia $171 billion, and Brazil more than $91 billion. (These statistics are from the CIA World Factbook and the Economist Intelligence Unit.)
These are the kinds of hard-nosed facts that have driven Western companies and investors to stake out huge financial positions in the rapidly developing world. These are also the kinds of compelling facts that don’t tell the entire story and can’t predict the future.
While some Western companies are doing business in these and other rapidly developing economies (RDEs) strictly for the low-cost sourcing advantages they provide, most international companies also are lured by the size and potential of the RDE markets. Not only the current and the “next billion” consumer market, but the business-to-business (B2B) market as well?perhaps even more so.
Western companies typically have attacked RDE markets from the top down, especially the B2B market. Local companies, on the other hand, typically build their businesses from the bottom up. Both approaches have worked well. At the top of the pyramid, you find companies that want, value, and can afford Western brands and technology. At the bottom of the pyramid, you find thousands of widely dispersed companies for which the main considerations are usually cost and convenience; if something isn’t inexpensive and available locally?including maintenance and repair services?it might as well not exist.
The problem is, the top of the market is limited in size and getting more crowded all the time. International companies that focus narrowly on the top-end market are running out of room. If they want to expand their presence in the RDEs, they will have to join the battle for the middle.
Unlike the high end, in the middle only a small percentage of their competitors are other Western companies. The majority of their competitors are indigenous companies?we call them RDE challengers?that barely registered as a blip on their radar screens in the past. While the mid-market is far bigger than the high-end market; accounting for 30% to 50% of total spending in most cases; many local firms that started at the bottom are now capable of competing for mid-market customers and are effectively and aggressively doing so. The infotech, telecom, and numerous industrial sectors are crowded with them.
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