Functionality is hardly what makes a brand relevant to the young ones.

First it was our tryst with rejection where we discovered, with some sense of shock, that the cool folk (people aged 14-34) are very comfortable rejecting brands or products for reasons beyond the karma of the brands. And this was even true for brands which had satisfactorily served them for a reasonable period. Then it was our discovery where we encountered them operating at either end of the consumption spectrum as if the world is nothing but a seamless consumption environment.

While this group of people would do what they would, without wanting to be trapped in the old world value system of loyalty, they are incredibly demanding of brands. They seek transparency from ‘their-kind-of-brands’ and to be relevant to them, a brand need not have functional value. (In an earlier probe, only 16 per cent rated functionality as the reason they get hooked on to a brand.) It indeed reflects a complete shift of power from the brand owner or brand promoter to the consumer. The brand has to now stand up to make itself relevant and acceptable to these cool folk who are fervently shifting gears all the time.

This time we probed into what all a brand could do to gain acceptance. Again, like most of our previous cool hunts, the exercise was an open-ended probe and we grouped the responses post the probe to be able to draw inferences by limiting ourselves to the top four responses and taking that as the universe. ( Wherever there were insignificant numbers, we dropped those responses from the analysis and the universe for the study.)

Indian consumers have really transformed and become as modern in their outlook as modern could be. Guess what? To cut ice with the cool ones, a brand has to have loads of oomph. We had as much as 41 per cent of our respondents seeking oomph, vibrancy and effervescence to be a part of the brand personality for it to appeal to them once they have figured it out to be a brand that’s relevant to them. All the elements as per traditional wisdom, such as reliability, extra features/benefits, value for money don’t even muster even half the numbers as compared to ‘seeking oomph’.

This is a significant shift in behaviour. The cool hunter spirit in us tells us we will be making a big mistake if we attribute it to obvious factors such as upward mobility, higher disposable incomes or the arrogance of the young. We see it as a sociological change that’s manifesting itself finally in the way the cool folk look at brands. If this change is unilateral then it would mean that even value-conscious folks who are lapping up new categories as first-time buyers and are typically looking at entry-level products would demand that the brands they consider must have their quota of oomph loaded in the propositions directed at them. Now that’s a cracker of a job for any marketer.

It is simple to stir up oomph in high-end products or new technology-backed innovative offerings but to do that for the entry-level propositions is not as easy. At the risk of being labelled as ‘judgmental’, one is tempted to state that marketers practising the art of piggy-backing on the marketing spends and efforts of top offerings and presuming these build-ups can be leveraged for lower categories better watch out. If they want it sexy, then sexy it be! Happy cool-hunting!

(Giraj Sharma is an independent brand consultant who is also a compulsive cool-hunter.)

(This article was published on July 19, 2012)
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