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The new CAP: Connected, Aspirational, Proud

Harish Bhat | Updated on January 27, 2019

The Indian consumerof today couldn’t be more different fromthe one 25 years ago

So many consumer trends have come and gone over the past 25 years. But there have been a few big, sweeping changes that have transformed our landscape, and have come to stay. Here is my pick of the top trends during this period that altered the Indian consumer forever.

Ubiquitous mobile phone

Just imagine, 25 years ago, there was no mobile phone in India. That seems virtually pre-historic today. The smartphone is now our constant companion and, for better or worse, the sleek electronic brick rules much of our lives.

Since 1995, when the first mobile phone call was made in our country, consumer habits have transformed totally. Now, over 800 million Indians use mobile phones every moment to speak with or message others.

Nearly 400 million Indians use smartphones to browse and shop, book tickets and taxis, watch streaming video, play games, and even to remotely offer prayers at famous shrines.

Marketers have had to alter virtually all elements of their marketing mix to serve this new ever-connected, phone-addicted consumer. And, meanwhile, Nokia and Motorola phones have come and gone; Nokia came back, too.

Samsung, Apple, Airtel, Vodafone and Jio have become part of modern folklore.

March of the digital

Accompanying the rise of the mobile phone has been the relentless march of the digital, fuelled by the new and cheap oil — data. Digital has, in turn, enabled many new trends that came out of nowhere to surprise and envelop us. Social media, including Twitter and Facebook, is now embedded in our daily lives. The sharing economy — represented by Uber, Ola, Swiggy, Airbnb, OYO and their likes — has come to become the first preference of young India; and, not to forget, online shopping, with its energetic flag-bearers Flipkart and Amazon.

All these digital platforms collect and use (and some sadly misuse) consumer data, to target us with greater precision. Digital has also enabled numerous other useful things that we take for granted today — for instance, email and net banking — but which have altered our behaviours completely.

Rise of aspiration

Indian consumers aspire for world-class products and services today. Twenty-five years ago, they made do with mediocre desi offerings. This new-found aspiration has been driven by increased affluence, the rapid rise of the upper middle class, and a mindset shaped by what we see on thousands of media channels that beam into our homes and phones throughout the day.

It has been facilitated by the liberalisation of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, and the subsequent entry of global brands into India. From Toyota and Starbucks to Zara, the best brands in the world are here now, opening new windows of aspiration in consumers’ minds.

Simultaneously, reputed Indian brands such as Tata, Amul, Godrej and ITC have brought to market products that are world-class, providing further fillip to these aspirations. In short, out with shoddy stuff; we now aspire for the best.

Pride in India

Over the past two decades, there has been a sea change in how India is perceived, and, equally importantly, how Indians perceive themselves. We are now the fastest-growing economy in the world, having put behind us the stodgy ‘Hindu growth rate’ of the post-Independence era.

The Indian IT services industry flies its flag high across the world. Indian products, ranging from ethnic garments and jewellery to single-malt whisky, compare favourably with the best on the planet. A large majority of Indians are optimistic about our future and that of our children, which cannot be said about all other nations at this time. We now have many more Indian world champions in sport—– not just cricketers, mind you, but also boxers, wrestlers, shooters and badminton players.

All this has led to a strong undercurrent of pride in India among Indian consumers, notwithstanding many other shortcomings and social fractures that, of course, need to be fixed. This pride is a strong force for the good that marketers can both leverage and amplify.

In summary, the mobile phone and digital led to the connected consumer, liberalisation and economic growth to the aspirational consumer, and a resurgent nation to pride in India. That’s the new Indian consumer CAP — connected, aspirational and proud.

The author is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons

Published on January 27, 2019

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