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India 2015: THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Empowerment

Women leverage their household decision- making experience to pursue new family and personal goals

Brands need to respect and connect with this new empowered spirit 

Shaziya Khan
VP and Executive Planning Director
J. Walter Thompson

J. Walter Thompson is South Asia’s leading and most admired marketing communications agency that offers a truly integrated network across South Asia. It provides powerful 360 degree total communication solutions to its clients across India through: Mainstream advertising, Hungama Digital Services, Social Wavelength, Encompass, Thompson Social and J. Walter Thompson Rural.


As brands attempt to succeed in the vast and complicated Indian market, it’s important to consider the views of someone who is in many households fondly called the “finance minister.”

In a traditional Indian family, the lady of the house is given a monthly budget, which she is responsible for prudently stretching across essentials (items replenished every month), value adds (premium food products for the children, for example), occasional indulgences (such as beauty care) and gifts (the festive season must-haves). 

Women adopt savvy strategies to manage their household finances smoothly. Many of these strategies are discreet and important for brands to understand and take into consideration. To mention just three:

  1. Women have a “secret pocket” or hiding place where they save money for personal needs or family emergencies.
  2. They keep an ear to the ground to extract value when prices rise. Instead of buying vegetables from the nearby vendor, for example, they’ll shift to buying from the wholesale market, or mandi, which sells cheaper produce but at a faraway location
  3. Women will collaborate to gain economies of scale by buying bulk quantities of high quality farm fresh staples like rice, wheat, lentils and oil and sharing across five or six households.

As women become more empowered, they’re adapting these savvy household management strategies to more aspects of their lives. And interestingly, we notice that in their new manifestations, the strategies are no longer discreet and covert, but refreshingly candid, according to the J. Walter Thompson Sonar Survey on “What Women Want,” which examined the attitudes of middle class Indian, Chinese and Indonesian women ages 20-to-45.


Women believe they are the decision makers across a range of products, the J. Walter Thompson survey found. We asked, “In your household, who would make the final decision about which product or service you were going to buy/use?” And 70 percent of women replied that they would be the decision-maker for these products and services: home appliances, mobile phones and smartphones, and bank accounts.

Over half of the women indicated that they’d be the primary decision maker for life insurance and travel purchases. In China and Indonesia the figure is higher, over 70 percent.

The expanded decision making role is linked to easier access to information and being better informed. Our survey revealed that over 55 percent of women across Asia do pre-purchase research using a variety of digital and non-digital resources. The top five resources are: search engines (like Google), recommendations from friends/ family/ colleagues, price comparison websites, brand/company websites and advertising. In-store demonstrations and product sampling also contribute to decision-making.


As women adapt their household budget strategies outside the home, they retain the prudence that characterized their management of household budgets. We asked, “Imagine for a moment that you were given $350 (in local currency) what would you do with it?” Generally, Asian women would invest the money or save it for a rainy day.

But the story does not stop at saving and sacrifice. There is another chapter. There is a new and refreshingly bold articulation of financial aspiration among Asian women. Over 40 percent of women have larger goals like financial independence, career advancement, and international travel. Half the women in Indonesia want to open their own business!

When asked, “What was the most expensive item you purchased for yourself?” women answered: jewelry, cars, laptops, and smartphones; with average spending of $656 in India, $880 in Indonesia and $967 in China.

In sum, the household “finance minister” is better informed today and more empowered. She’s applying her prudent family budgeting, investment and saving strategies to personal financial goals and purchases. As the J. Walter Thompson Future 100 report concludes, “Feminism is being rebooted in the digital era across all generations, with a newly collaborative, open and empowered spirit.”

Brand initiatives need to connect with this spirit and champion these now overt financial goals. Brands that provide savvy and timely enablers so that these goals can be realized will forge a life-long connection with women audiences.