NEW YORK — Procter & Gamble executives say it was striking the first time they witnessed a man shave while sitting barefoot on the floor in a tiny hut in India.
He had no electricity, no running water and no mirror.
The 20 U.S.-based executives observed the man in 2008 during one of 300 visits they made to homes in rural India. The goal? To gain insights they could use to develop a new razor for India.
“That, for me, was a big ‘a-ha,’” said Alberto Carvalho, vice president, global Gillette, a unit of P&G. “I had never seen people shaving like that.”
The visits kicked off the 18 months it took to develop Gillette Guard, a low-cost razor designed for India and other emerging markets. Introduced three years ago, Guard quickly gained market share and today represents two out of every three razors sold in India. The story of how Guard came to be illustrates the balance companies must strike when creating products for emerging markets: It’s not as simple as slapping a foreign label on an American product.
To successfully sell products overseas, particularly in developing markets, companies must tweak them so they’re relevant to the people who live there. And often, that means rethinking everything from the product’s design to its cost. More companies will have to consider this balancing act as they increasingly move into emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil to offset slower growth in developed regions such as the U.S.
For its part, P&G has doubled the percentage of its roughly $20 billion in annual revenue coming from emerging markets since 2000 to about 40 percent. Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who follows P&G, said the Guard razor, which has been used by more than 50 million men in India, serves as a roadmap for companies seeking to court emerging markets.
“It made P&G realize how much investment it really takes to be successful in India,” he said. “That’s the art of emerging markets.”
The takeaway: In the U.S., razor makers spent decades on marketing centered on a close shave, adding blade after blade to achieve a smoother cheek. But men in India are more concerned about not cutting themselves.
With that knowledge, the Gillette team started making a new razor for the Indian market. In nine months, P&G developed five prototypes.
The resulting Guard razor has one blade, to put the emphasis on safety rather than closeness, compared with two to five blades found on U.S. razors.
One insight from filming shavers was that Indians grip the razors in many different ways, so the handle is textured to allow for easy gripping. There’s also a hole at the handle’s base, to make it easier to hang up, and a small comb by the blade since Indians hair growth tends to be thicker.
Next, the company had to figure out how to produce the razor at the right price.