Date posted: 13/09/2017 10 min read

How to do business with the wealthy Indian community

Wealthy Indian consumers in Australasia are growing fast in numbers, but marketers are missing opportunities.

In Brief

  • Indian-born Australians will increase nearly four-fold to 1.4 million, outnumbering the China-born population by 2031.
  • Accountants can improve services by using specialist advice, personalisation, data and alliances with the Indian Business Council.
  • The Indian diaspora numbers 610,000 in Australia and is a rich source of innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurialism.

Most companies and commentators have missed it - the growth of the Indian market segment, and the huge wealth it controls in Australasia. For more than 20 years, the cultural marketing focus has largely been on the Chinese or “Asian” segment. Things are about to change.   

Key statistics

Chartered accountants (CAs) with an interest in marketing will have noticed a remarkable statistic from Australia’s 2016 census. There are now as many people of Indian origin as Chinese or New Zealanders living in Australia (SMH June 2017). And it’s been forecast that the number of India-born Australians will increase nearly four-fold to 1.4 million, surpassing the China-born population by 2031.

In New Zealand, the picture is similar. India is the third-largest source of foreign-born Kiwis, at 6.7%, slightly behind China at 8.9%, according to Stats NZ figures from the 2013 census. Hindi is also the fourth most widely spoken language in New Zealand (66,312 people). In Australia, 159,637 people speak Hindi as per the 2016 Census. More people in both countries speak other Indian languages like Tamil or Punjabi.

The high numbers of Indians in Australia has been the result not just of the country’s attractiveness as a family and business destination, but of policy shifts, especially the creation of business migration categories in 1976.

Indian customers tend to become exceptionally loyal and good referrers of business.

Between 1981 and 2000, 54,424 India-born migrants arrived in Australia. This figure increased to 205,275 between 2001 and 2011. The Diversity Council of Australia estimates the Indian diaspora at 610,000, and says: “They are a rich source of innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurialism. Yet they are under-utilised.”

One expert in marketing to the Indian segment describes Indians as “The new Chinese, and very well off – wealth that has been hard-earned in Australia, and of more recent times, transferred from families or businesses in India.”

The head of marketing for one major trading bank said: “We know all about the Chinese market, and have our marketing plans to Chinese well-covered, but know nothing at all about the Indian market. Help!”

The challenge

Marketing to Indian customers requires a tailored and mindful approach. Indians tend to buy more communally; or based on family advice; like to “shop around;” and if not properly respected, have comparatively low conversion and referral rates. 

The good news for companies is that once convinced, Indian customers tend to become exceptionally loyal and good referrers of business.

In a real-world case study, a property company’s outbound customer service manager said: “A large per cent of our prospect database are Indian. They tend to say yes, yes, yes, attend all our free functions, take all the free information and advice they can get, and then, at the last minute, disappear and buy somewhere else.” 

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The company had no Indian speakers, no Indian market strategy, and were receiving no specialist advice. Not untypically, the company had never considered developing a strategy specifically for the Indian market. Perhaps this was because the segment spoke English, or maybe it simply never occurred to them. The company also ranked low in both gender and cultural diversity, despite being successful with “mainstream” male Australians.

What the company did see was the high cost of low conversions, frequent dropouts, and limited referrals. Therein lies the opportunity for improvement – an opportunity that CAs will want to be across, well before competitors.  

Says Mark Cutfield, digital marketing expert, and marketing head or adviser for multiple companies in Australia and New Zealand: “Segmentation and personalisation has never been more important. As access to elusive markets and competition is more complex, understanding the intricacies of each segment and providing relevant customer experience becomes a differentiator. 

“Businesses that recognise and commit to the segmented customer experience throughout the purchase journey, using data, insight and human commonsense will win in the digital market. CAs and marketers should work together to ensure there are measurable returns on investment. Starting as so many businesses are, from a low base, the potential for improvement in performance is high.”

Understanding for success

Says Div Pillay, chief executive officer and co-founder of leading cross cultural performance company, MindTribes: “Indians are collective, and follow behaviours of those Indians who have come before them, living in similar areas or precincts, for example, the Dandenong or Glen Waverley areas in Victoria. There is trust and support in these communities, and referrals of decisions about work, schools, money, and housing.” 

Pillay makes an important marketing point – Indians are not, and should not be treated as a single homogeneous group. “Understand not just whether you have Indian diaspora in your customer demographic, but understand other characteristics: When did they emigrate? What age groups are they in, what areas are they living in, are they working in their chosen profession? Did they, or are they, planning to bring parents to Australia?”

It is also important to understand the hierarchies – cultural, national, and family – which are important. Some firms have made the mistake of hiring someone purely because they are Indian, which is not enough.

“Companies should see their products and strategy grow with the lifestyle and professional milestones of Indian Australians. Indians are brand loyal, so planning for the whole lifecycle, not just in phases, is critical,” says Pillay.

Some companies, including big four CA firms, make the mistake of trumpeting diversity while holding fast to a mostly white, older, male-dominated executive. Diversity at all levels is important.

In terms of internal focus, Pillay recommends companies look at the cultural and ethnic diversity within their organisation. “Do you have the right representation and competence, at the right levels, to service or advise your multicultural customers? For life-changing financial decisions, Indians need to trust and build a relationship, they need to share their story and have the advisor keenly listening without jumping in with prescriptive questions.”  

“Age is also a significant factor in the buying behaviour of Indians. They find senior and qualified people more credible, and will themselves seek advice and or approval from senior family members before all major life or business decisions.”  

Advertisements for credit cards in India are poignant in demonstrating cultural differences. They show older people teaching younger people the value of managing money, whereas advertisements down under tend to feature individual freedom, acquiring possessions and the ease of obtaining credit. 

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Molina Asthana, a leading lawyer and influential director of multiple high profile Australian organisations says: “There are opportunities for mainstream companies to access the Indian community, especially through popular, for example, Bollywood-based, cultural events in Australia. But it is important to seek good advice so as to not offend, and get maximum benefit. It’s a little like doing business in another country.” 

And one size does not fit all. What might work for the African or Chinese community will not necessarily be appropriate for the Indian market segment.

Team projection of brand

Some companies, including big four CA firms, make the mistake of trumpeting the diversity of their organisations overall, while holding fast to a mostly white, older, male dominated, executive. Diversity at all levels of organisations, reflecting the changing demographic makeup of Australasia, is important.

Some firms have taken the potential power of the Indian segment further, and drawn Indian professionals to Australia, including HCL, Infosys, Tata Consulting, and Tech Mahindra. The advantage is that once projects are complete, talented team members and their families tend to stay.

Tips for success 

  • As a starting point, get a cultural assessment of the organisation’s Indian segment knowledge and affinity, from an experienced expert.
  • Train and monitor team success in selling to the Indian segment – including lead acquisition, conversions, drop-offs, spend and referrals. Ensure there is a good cultural mix at all levels and find out where Indian people meet and socialise. Make full use of alliance partnerships, for example, with the Indian Business Council.
  • Feature Indians in advertisements and use them as storytellers, or to run seminars for the company – Indians are traditionally great storytellers and love stories.