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Internationalisation of Nicolites e-cigarette in India
There are a number of factors that compel businesses to trade and market their products internationally. For instance, international marketing enables businesses to (1) increase their customer base and market share, (2) minimise their reliance on any single market and (3) avail benefits of becoming multinational brand (Buckley and Ghauri, 2004). Over the last decade and a half, international marketing has become substantial (Hill, 2012); to the extent that consumers barely notice the fact that a majority of the products they consume routinely are either sourced from international markets or contain components that are sourced from international markets.
Successful international marketing requires a diligent strategic planning process involving the assessment of the business environment and suitability of the target market. A conductive business environment of the target market and the presence of a lucrative market gap render a target market as suitable (Tallman, 2007). Following this assessment, a brand intending to internationalise needs to plan and execute ‘the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organisational objectives’ (Sak and Shaw, 2004 p. 3). This essay relates to the internationalisation of Nicolites, the company that produces Nicolites electronic cigarettes in the UK to the Indian market. This essay evaluates the suitability of India as a selected target market for the expansion of Nicolites. It also evaluates a suitable entry method for Nicolites in India and suggests marketing strategies for the product as well.
Despite being widely considered as hazardous to health, smoking of cigarettes prevails at large across the globe. Therefore, any measures that can reduce the consumption of cigarettes, including providing an alternative for smoking are widely seen as a positive development. Provision of an alternative for smoking tobacco based cigarettes is the core marketing concept behind Nicolites e-cigarette.
Nicolites e-cigarette was first introduced in 2007 in UK (Nicolites, 2015). Nicolites e-cigarette does not have any tobacco whatsoever, and hence it is free of more than 4000 known toxic chemicals and substances present in a regular cigarette (Nicolites, 2015). Nicolites e-cigarette is an innovative product that offers smokers a right alternative for regular cigarette through a true simulation of smoking experience – which is cleaner, safer and healthier. Despite having a glowing red tip depicting a real flame, Nicolites e-cigarette does not require any flame or fire to burn. Moreover, it does not cause any unpleasant smoke and odor, or gather smoky residue on walls, clothes, skin and hair of the users (Nicolites, 2015).
Justification and Evaluation of the Target Market
According to the Datamonitor Market Insights report titled ‘Tobacco in India’ (2011), the overall tobacco industry in India was estimated to be worth approximately INR 58,730 crores (or $10 bn), in 2009. During the period 2004-2009, tobacco industry in India grew at an average of 8.5 percent; whilst during 2009-2014, it grew at an average of 6.5 percent (Tobacco Free Kids, 2015). The overall tobacco market in India is dominated by smokeless tobacco sales which constitutes 75 percent of the market (Tobacco Free Kids, 2015). Out of the remaining 25 percent tobacco market, 20 percent tobacco consumption comprises of smoking bidi, which is a hand-rolled, small, thin cigarette (Tobacco Free Kids, 2015). Thus manufactured cigarettes form only 5 percent of the market. Despite cigarettes being not one of the most popular tobacco products in India, Indians consumed 96 billion cigarettes in the year 2014, making the country the 6 largest cigarette consuming nation in the world and an important target for international tobacco companies (Tobacco Free Kids, 2015). A large, growing product market of cigarettes in India signals a lucrative product market for alternate products – such as Nicolites e-cigarette. Thus it is established that India has a huge potential for alternative products to cigarettes such as Nicolites e-cigarette.
After establishing the existence a lucrative market for Nicolites e-cigarettes in India, it is also important to assess whether the overall business environment of India is conductive for international brands. In terms of political environment, the Indian market has become liberal following the reforms in 1991 (Nuruzzaman, 2011). However, the capital market in India remains vulnerable to political changes (Nuruzzaman, 2011). In terms of economy, India has been growing steadily over the last decade. Last year, the Indian economy underwent a 7.5 percent growth (Ayres, 2015). According to the World Bank estimates, Indian economy has become the world’s third largest economy in purchasing power parity terms (Ayres, 2015). The country has an escalating middle class which will continue to drive its economy and demand. Socially, India has a very diverse population in ethnic, religion, culture and socio-economic terms (Nuruzzaman, 2011). These factors can either be advantageous or disadvantageous for an international brand depending upon how it deals with them. Technologically, the urban centers in India are advancing with most of the urban middle class Indians having access to internet and media technologies through which branding and marketing communication activities can be pursued (Nuruzzaman, 2011). The economic and technological factors of India indicate towards a favorable business environment for Nicolites e-cigarettes. As for the political factors, any adversities posed by the political environment can be easily negated by choosing a right market entry strategy by Nicolites e-cigarette. The social factors of India are unlikely to be impactful upon Nicolites as the company will most likely target a small niche market in India.
Selecting an appropriate international marketing entry strategy is a critical important decision within the process of internationalisation as it can be vital for the sustainable competitive advantage of the company (Buckley and Ghauri, 2004). There are many ways in which a brand can enter a foreign market. These can categorized as (1) direct production – direct entry, acquisition, and joint-ventures – (2) indirect production – licensing, franchising, technical agreements, service contracts, etc. or (3) exports – indirect, direct agent/distributor, direct branch/subsidiary, etc. (Rugman, 2009).
The suitability of one of the above market entry modes for Nicolites depends upon the combination of several internal and external factors (Koch, 2001). For instance, Nicolites is a relatively young, medium size company with around one hundred employees (Nicolites, 2015). The company currently operates only across UK and does not have any international operations. The limited size of the company – and subsequently its resources – coupled with its inexperience in internationalisation makes it very unlikely for Nicolites to adopt a direct production as a market entry method. Direct production methods are the most capital and resource intensive methods of market entry requiring highest levels of commitment from the internationalising firm (Ireland, et al. 2011). Moreover, although Nicolites is the largest UK’s e-cigarette brand (Evening Standard, 2013); it currently does not have the global brand equity and popularity of a multinational company. Therefore, Nicolites is less likely to be able to attract investors to operate franchises in India or secure favorable license agreements for indirect production. Resultantly, the internal factors of the company oblige it to pursue internationalisation through exports.
Exporting local products to a foreign market is perhaps the most simplest and common methods of entry in international markets. Exporting involves sending goods from the home country to another for distribution, sales and services (Ireland, et al. 2008). Since the amount of goods exported can vary, exporting enables internationalising firms to move into an international market in a controlled manner – that is, without risking high capital or making intensive commitments initially. This gradual process of market entry provides internationalising firms with the opportunity to explore the prospects of the target market and gain knowledge and experience before making large investments (McDonald and Burton, 2002). It is noteworthy that exporting strategy is vulnerable to exporting tariffs and can often face supply chain/logistics challenges in getting their goods to the international markets and eventually to the end-consumers (Ireland, et al. 2008). Additionally, exporting firms may also face difficulties in managing and dealing with local distributors (Ireland, et al. 2008).
In case of NIcolites, exporting is the seemingly the most appropriate market entry method, as this method will negate any major risks of failure by allowing the company to gain experience in many facets of international business and particularly learn about the Indian market. This method will incur the least amount of initial costs for internationalisation. Considering that Nicolites’ products are value added finished goods, Nicolites will find it most suitable to continue to use its existing production facilities and supply chain to manufacture e-cigarettes and export it to international destinations. In order to overcome the challenges related to distribution and sales activities, Nicolites can hire its own local managers to avert the disadvantages of underperforming agents in a foreign market. As for the concerns regarding export tariffs, this is less likely to affect the business strategy of Nicolites in India as currently the Indian government has levied heavy taxes on all tobacco products (Narayan, 2015) which make tobacco free Nicolites e-cigarette an attractive alternative for smokers.
Targeting customer segments in marketing strategy enables firms to decide ways for acquiring competitive advantage (Proctor, 2000). ‘A market segment is a fraction of the whole target market that has one or more unique attributes that provide it a distinction and sets them apart from other consumer segments’ (Proctor, 2000 p.24) . Customer segments can be identified through demographic variables – such as sex, age groups, family life cycle, literacy, earning, religion, ethnicity, etc.; and geographic variable – which divides customer segments according to their localities (Proctor 2000). In India, Nicolites should target upper-middle and upper class consumers specifically from young adults and adult age groups – who are open to new technologies and brands – from various professional classifications living in upscale urban centers of major metropolises.
After identifying the targeted consumer segments, a firm should then determine a suitable targeting strategy (Kotler, 2000). By applying the marketing mix model in the Indian context, Nicolites can adapt its marketing strategy for Indian consumers. Internationalising firms have a choice of targeting their customers through either a standarised strategy – in which standarised products are sold all over the world – or through adaptation – in which products are localised to meet the preferences of each target market. In the current context, it is suggested to apply a mix of both these targeting strategies.
Nicolites has a trusted reputation as a brand and offers a high level of choice to its consumers in terms of strength and flavour of its products (Evening Standard, 2013). Moreover, Nicolites uses most advance cartomiser technology for e-cigarettes unlike most other brands which use 3 piece models that are associated with poor quality and leak (Evening Standard, 2013). Therefore, it is suggested that Nicolites should export the same high quality products in India to target its affluent consumers; although the company can bring in some variation in the strength and flavour of its e-cigarettes according to local preferences.
From the four basic pricing strategies – that is (1) premium pricing, (2) penetration pricing, (3) economy pricing, and (4) price skimming (Kotler, 2000) – the current pricing strategy of Nicolites can be termed as premium. In India, the company should pursue the same pricing strategy to target its affluent consumers.
In the UK, Nicolites works in conjuncture with a number of high street retail firms such as Tesco, Superdrug, WH Smiths, Co-op, Sainsbury, etc. as well as local newsagents and online (Evening Standard, 2013). Partnering with the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), Nicolites has been filling the shelves of local corner shops across the country in pursuit of penetration and consolidation (Ansoff, 1965) growth strategy. In India, Nicolites can similarly distribute its products through high street retailers in upscale posh area of urban centers.
Nicolites pursues a push strategy (Kotler, 2000) in UK in which it tries to make its e-cigarettes available in as many high street and corner shops as possible to penetrate the market. However, in India, it should focus on creating a niche market of affluent consumers out of the 5% consumers of manufactured cigarettes through a pull strategy (Kotler, 2000). In this way, it will be able to establish a superior international brand image in the minds of its consumers and increase its attractiveness among them.
This essay concludes that in order to expand the consumer base of the company and negate its reliance on a single market, Nicolites e-cigarette should internationalise its brand and enter the lucrative Indian market – which is the 6th largest consumer of cigarettes in the world – through exports. India has good market prospects for alternative cigarette products and a conductive environment for international businesses. By using a mix of standardised and localised marketing strategies, Nicolites should target the upper-middle and affluent class consumers of the country to pursue its international ambitions.
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