Transformative change is in the air. Are marketers ready? That was the urgent message being communicated at the BrandXcel Consumer Brand connect 2023 conclave held on Friday evening in Gurgaon. As Lloyd Mathias, business strategist and investor said, “Change is underpinning the next opportunity in India.” The changes are digital and tech led, which is blurring the rural urban divide as well as the age divide. Gender roles too are changing leading to shifts in consumption behaviour in some categories.

The event was the culmination of a study undertaken by MarketXcel to understand consumer behaviour shifts and decode brand relevance at unprompted levels. The sample size included 20,000 consumers across rural and urban India. Like the earlier 2022 survey, in this edition too the researchers have analysed the consumption pattern during different times of the day when touchpoints with the brands could be different.

The study also tried to understand the patterns of change, what elements are permanent and what are transitory. For instance, it finds that while the focus on health and wellness has stayed, some of the fashion trends (like loungewear) have been more transient, with demand picking up for outerwear and formal clothes.

Overlapping markets

Telecom, digital and social media are the catalysts for the blurring of boundaries seen between the rural and urban consumers. But as Ashwani Arora, Executive Director of MarketXcel points out, the blurring lines are not just confined to urban and rural, but have many dimensions. With the elder generation now becoming digital savvy and comfortable shopping online, the age boundary is being bridged.

Gender divides are blurring too. Men are coming to the fore at home and this has led to many a choice in the kitchen being decided by them. According to the study, 25 per cent of men participate in household chores. Meanwhile, personal grooming which was earlier skewed towards women has seen a bit of a swing with male grooming taking off. So, in a nutshell, as Arora says, “Marketers cannot rely on one age band or one cohort – every one is our consumer now and marketers have to do a mindful balancing act.”

Sustainability on the rise

The survey corroborates the growing consumer focus on sustainability with 33 per cent of respondents claiming to use sustainable products. It also finds there is growing inclination towards home-grown and local and 29 per cent of people frequently shop at Kirana stores.

Acccording to Sancheeta Ghosh, Lead, Monitoring evaluation and learning, Oxfam India, women are leading the sustainable charge, especially in the rural areas.

A key learning from the research report is that brands that show consumer empathy do well in staying relevant, and that is the critical differentiator – not digital technology, since everybody is now on the digital bandwagon. “Legacy Brands need to maintain their momentum on empathy yet find innovative tech-oriented ways to reach out to consumers … on the contrary, digital brands need to dial on the empathy quotient to drive their relevance in the long run,” says the report.

Finally, brand consultant, semiotician and founder Leapfrog Strategy and Consulting, Hamsini Shivakumar, has an interesting point to ponder — amidst all these transformative changes, what is the consumer’s role? Is the consumer a passive recipient or playing a big role? Is the consumer the change maker or change taker? But that’s a story in itself.