DM Conference Highlights Progress of Indian Economy

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BOMBAY, India - The Confederation of Indian Industry is sponsoring a major direct marketing conference here Sept. 28-29 designed to show off the progress the discipline is making in India.

Entitled "From Direct Marketing to CRM (customer relationship marketing)," the conference reflects India's growing marketing sophistication based on the country's hectic software development.

Database development and management has become "pretty sophisticated" in India, said Charles Prescott, the US DMA's international vice president. "A lot of companies have a lot of data managed for them in India. Swissair and British Airways keep all their loyalty program data over there."

This is the third time that the high-profile Confederation of Indian Industry has organized a DM conference, a signal of DM's growing stature in Indian business.

It remains a difficult business, however, mandated by the country's size, an indifferent infrastructure, poor postal delivery and a telco system that hampers e-commerce development.

"Once you log on you tend to get disconnected too often," said Abhijit Bhandari, the president of Royal Images, a DM company that handles Citibank's rewards program here.

The problem, Bhandari said, was offering a continuous range of successful products and establishing a network of franchise offices where customers can pick up what they buy via mail or phone.

"If you do that, however," he noted, "your cost structure gets very difficult and it is hard to achieve reasonable margins from the sales you do make."

Still, e-commerce is getting off the ground and the number of buyers is increasing modestly.

Even more encouraging, Bhandari and other India watchers said, was the progress of the Indian economy over the last six months, a progress triggered by a more liberal budget adopted early last spring.

The move was a surprise to most observers because the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition had a nationalist cast opposed to free markets. The policy switch seems to have worked on a number of fronts.

The Indian stock market is up 54 percent so far this year. The rupee has shown remarkable stability throughout the Asian currency crisis. Inflation has been benign. The economy, which has been growing at a 4 percent rate, is expected to hit 5 percent this year.

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