Ten years ago, the great Indian bazaar was just barely cognizant of the changes that were to unfurl upon it, even as five years of market liberalization saw such landmark moments as the re-entry of Coca Cola, the launch of Levi’s jeans, the no beef McDonald’s lamb Maharaja Mac and the first cellular phone call had recently been made in Calcutta, signaling the changes yet to come.
The details are best left to the experienced experts in the fragmented advertising industry, long the bastion of brand power, media strategy and marketing influence. The big picture however coalesces into three megatrends shaping the minds of the ‘global indian’, whether she be living in Mumbai or a fisherman’s wife in a coastal village, each adapting to the influence of the shifts according to their social and cultural constraints.
The keywords are aspirational, ambitious, entreprenuerial, forward looking and pragmatic.
To quote my source, “There’s an instant high when they see their neighbour succeed and become wealthy in front of their eyes, it inspires them to strive harder for their own rewards”.
In the context of the disparate Indian market, it is understood that products designed for local conditions that meet local needs and price points are what is required. That understanding however was based on a static image of India, where the assumption was that once a product or service was designed appropriately, the rest would be simply a matter of marketing and distribution.
Today’s information implies that that is a simplistic view, the shift in the past decade has been profound and must then be taken into consideration for all aspects of new product introduction, from product or service concept through to marketing, distribution, and most crucially, end of life. The urbanized consumer has become as demanding and sophisticated as any in the world and the aspirations of the rest are influencing their purchasing decisions even more.
Information sources have proliferated across the nation, creating a state of flux as aspirational levels across all segments have gone through the roof influenced by the stories of success spread virally by word of mouth, the reach of the mobile phone coupled with the social networks of communication that have always existed. The speed and penetration of information exchange assisted by technology means that brands can live or die based on their performance in the market. Reputation is still built by performance, price and durability, not branding alone.
Wealth creation and the exponential rise in disposable incomes, especially amongst young graduates employed in the so called sunrise sectors of retail, hospitality, customer service and of course, information technology has fed consumerism and an unheard of level of obsession with possessing the ‘latest and the greatest’ in gadgets and goods. “Lifestyle” – once an unheard of concept except in coy cigarette advertising is now a mainstream marketing approach across every segment from coffee shops to children’s toys. Increased travel, wide open markets, access to online and broadcast information has heightened awareness of the potentialities and possibilities of shiny shopping centres everywhere.
This has directly influenced the demands and expectations of the local consumer – they want the best, but their heritage and experience with scarcity adds a bottomline value to their evaluation of products, services and brands. They will not pay a premium price with blinkers on, even if they can afford it. It must provide value for money remains a steadfast value across all income segments – but the definitions of value are certainly changing and in flux – it could be status, exclusivity, luxury or any other – but the goods purchased cannot be shoddy or barely localized versions of stale products. They must work well in the conditions in which they must reside and they must be robust and provide their money’s worth of service and functionality.
Flat & Spiky
The concurrent retail explosion, hypermarkets, malls and media have fed the demands of the customer, turning the tables on the local companies that just a decade or two ago had a captive audience who had no choice but to take what was offered in the limited, regulated market. The customer has woken up to the wider world out there and realized that he or she is royalty, this has now become the buyer’s market. In this transitory era, where connectivity implies that new models or products launched anywhere in the world become aspirational goals elsewhere almost as soon as they’re announced if not before, there is no breathing room for a time lag to allow for the natural diffusion of innovation. Witness the prolieration of fake ‘iPhones’ available in Asia even as the original is yet to be launched in the region.
This combination of information awareness and choice creates its own demands on the new product development and innovation strategies of the corporates that choose to serve the Indian consumer – nothing less than world class quality, design and functionality will suffice, and that too at an India price. The psyche of the Indian shopper has not changed – the marketplace has always been a bazaar to look for the best bargain, a social activity where one haggles over goods, touches and feels them for quality and value, plays out the eons old drama of the price negotiations. While fixed price stores can be a relief, pricing products and services is a sensitive game in nuance when the transaction culture has always had an inherent expectation of being prepared for signs of a ‘fraud’ or be ‘taken advantage of’. This intangible cultural expectation translates into a skeptical consumer mindset that will not simply accept a brand’s global reputation or premium if the product does not meed the needs and functionality expected from it.
This is an original piece of work based on interviews, prior experience working in the Indian advertising & design industry and personal observations, authored and copyrighted by Niti Bhan.