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Changing cultural and social fabric of the Indian consumer

Changing cultural and social fabric of the Indian consumer

Preeti Reddy

CEO South Asia

Kantar, Insights Division


#rewind #thenewnormal

We’ve all heard that, “When the vaccine is launched, life will go back to what it was.” It could – but will it?

Watershed events have always triggered fundamental changes that shape society. The COVID-19 outbreak is likely to do the same, not only because it has spared no one – but also because in the midst of fear and anxiety, it forced people into a space where they had to be alone and suspend.

Introspection was our first reaction. We not only had to develop new routines, respect personal spaces, and don new, multiple, and varying role mantels. But also, our external personas converged with the in-home reality. We learnt how to Work From Home, multitasking personal and business tasks. Amid the chaos, we found time to reflect, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Going forward, need will get defined afresh and wants will clearly be called out.

Fluidity is our response to the crisis, as reflected in the altered course of our everyday living. Fluidity is the way of the day – and also, perhaps, well beyond this current moment. Creating a world within four walls, people are now constantly calculating the “fluidity of spaces” and their multiple purposes. New codes of connections are evolving as people reclaim their personal space.

This interplay of Introspection and Fluidity, though placid on the surface, could lead to tectonic changes. Physical and social distancing will give people the mental space to inspect and adopt new mindful ways of being. From reflex to reflect, real wants and desires will have fresh allocations. This journey, though singular, is not lonely.  Dave Hollis, CEO of the Hollis Company, which helps people build better lives, says, “In this rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

This journey through Introspection and Fluidity is a learning curve. It may lead to discoveries that leave one changed on the other side. Like people, brands too must practice the technique of Introspection: to rethink the new Need-Want matrix that is likely to emerge out of the change model. Brands must be fluid to change their narrative; to create new meaning in people’s lives; to blend, morph, and partner.

While we cocoon ourselves in safety, our social fabric is getting woven anew – but with a silver thread. Generations live under the same roof and are no longer passing souls. Physically and cognitively, they are coming closer and are not the disconnected “mental factions.”  They are one of the same lineage, separated in time, trying to endure and make sense of these strange, new days. Think of a vinyl player, cassette player, CD player, iPod, and Alexa simultaneously communicating with each other… attempting to synchronize their invariably different mechanics to produce the same music.

While the silver generation may be medically vulnerable, and see their physical freedom curbed – culturally, they are returning to a position of centrality in decision making because of their life skills and experience in navigating difficulties. Storytelling, the established method of learning and communication, is becoming the new family glue. Compelling experiences of past deprivation are teaching us new coping mechanisms. The silvers are now taking center stage.

The Gen Z youth who have grown up amidst affluence and proliferating choice (but also increasing inequality and polarization) are finding resonance in the simplicity and tenacity of the Silver Hair. Their fantasy flights are morphing into experience deep dives.

Changes are afoot not just within families. Isolation has forced our hand to make the choice of who we have the time and capacity to keep up with. Beyond family, few make the first cut. Friends need to ask: Are we blood enough? As we introspect about who we will take the risk for and interact with, social “busyness” may be replaced by mindful selection.

When the key forces in society are introspection and fluidity, it is difficult to predict what the dominant five changes will be, or what exactly the future looks like. As said before, we need to be on this journey with the consumer to be on the pulse of early changes. But it’s clear that as brands, we can’t be silent or missing. We also will have to deliver unique value as never before - because during deprivation, the consumer has experienced category as well as brand substitutability. As the consumer evaluates allocations, it’s important to be satisfying a need and not a want. In terms of messaging, the tone required is more hopeful, positive and victorious than lonesome and paralyzed. In an evolving world, we have to guard against slipping into use of existing stereotypes. The mindset is collective and connected.

Brands as curators of popular culture must recognize and participate in this cultural rejuvenation. They must take note, as they look to create new meaning in people’s lives. Meet the generations at their confluence, as the idea of “generation gap” appears to be an imperfect hypothesis. Celebrate the Silver resurgence, their return to center stage – both individually and socially. Rescue the Millennials from a dilemma of their own making, when planned paths take a new turn. Curate authentic, singular mind travel experiences for the Gen Z, and portray them in vivid shades as they review and reconfigure their cultural ideology.