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Open mind and open market: what India's scrapping of Article 370 in Kashmir will mean for brands

Kashmir Valley - described as Heaven on Earth, is one of the most welcoming places on Earth with preserved un-touched beauty. A Google image search for Kashmir Valley is all you need to make it a part of your “bucket list” right away.

However, many people were unaware of the law that prevailed there previously, which did not allow non-Kashmiris to purchase land, set up factories, reside or shift to Kashmir, and did not give them the right to scholarship or government jobs. This coupled with political tensions largely made it unattractive for businesses to set up and expand their scope to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s re-elected prime minister Narendra Modi and his government made a historic decision to scrap Article 370 and 35A which essentially brings the state of Jammu and Kashmir into One Nation, One Law, One Policy while the state previously followed its own legislature and set of rules as part of the treaty.

With Jammu and Kashmir being accessible to non-permanent residents, it will be a great impetus to the Indian Inc to extend their products and services to the locals and tourists. Industries like travel hospitality and tourism would be the greatest benefactor along with agriculture, IT, healthcare, real-estates and FMCG.

Economic growth cannot happen in a closed environment; an open mind and open market will drive the much-needed economic growth that Kashmir needs as it has been lacking far behind its potential. One example that indicates the economic environment of the state is the real estate prices hitting rock bottom.

For the past 70+ years, Kashmiris have not been at an advantage from the progress that has been made in various sectors mentioned earlier. Brands looking to enter Jammu and Kashmir would need to have a softer approach while communicating with the locals who take in pride their culture which is still as pure as it can get. Just when Instagram started to monetize its platform, it received negative reactions from its users; but with time, it became a way of life. In the same way, the road into Jammu and Kashmir will be tough at the beginning but the youth and the future generations of the region will embrace the positive changes that is expected to come along with time.

Brands will however need to understand the people of Kashmir and integrate with their way of life rather than change their behaviors or influence their culture. Brands also need to be serious in demonstrating their commitment to preserve the serenity of nature while carrying out business and have a solid corporate social responsibility in place. People of Jammu and Kashmir do not have proper access to competitive schools and colleges, this can be one of the market entry strategies for some brands by establishing themselves at the grassroots level to motivate and support the youth and give them a platform for a better future.

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has been doing exceptional work in rural India where there is a language barrier. In some cases, people don’t know how to read, there is low or no internet connection- HUL has used mobile technology to create audio entertainment for rural areas, adopting a common practice among frugal cellphone users – the missed call. To conserve talk time, mobile phone users dial a number, then hang up before they are charged, although the other person can see who called.

It’s a way of letting someone know you want to reach them. In 2011, HUL exploited the practice in a pilot promotion for its Active Wheel detergent in some of India’s poorest and most rural areas. People were asked to call a number that cut off after two rings, so it cost them nothing. An automatic free callback provided some comic dialogue from Bollywood stars like Salman Khan along with ads for Wheel detergent. In four months, HUL got 16m calls and Wheel sales tripled in the region.

In another example, HUL’s decade-old Project Shakti received a technology boost in 2012. About 40,000 Shakti Ammas were equipped with a basic smartphone. These smartphones had a specifically designed software that enabled them to take and bill orders, manage inventory and receive updates on promotional schemes run by the company which improved their efficiency. The Shakti workforce rose to 48,000 in 2012, up by around 3,000 from the previous year. Project Shakti equips women with basic entrepreneurial skills and facilities needed to set up and market FMCG products.

With the promise of stability, market access, and predictable laws, I am confident that people of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh will greatly benefit from this move. Indian INC’s also needs to put their CSR leg forward in developing the people and the region along with giving the best of products and services for locals and tourists.  Brands that ace the ‘cause related marketing’ will come out on the winning side.

Aashay Shah is the associate director and client lead at Neo Media World. The views expressed are that of author’s and not necessarily of Mindshare/Neo Media World.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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