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India 2016 | Indian Society and Culture | Individual-Collective

Fluid identity influences
many purchasing decisions
New research provides insights into consumer mindset
India historically is a collective society, but collectivism is increasingly in tension with a move toward individualism, rooted in the country’s democratic principles and agitated by the evolution to a free-market economy. Almost 70 years after India achieved national independence, Indians are redefining the meaning of personal independence. This development informs changing consumer attitudes and has important implications for brands.
The India that emerged from British rule in 1947 was a hierarchical and rigid society in which the prerogatives of the individual generally were proscribed by the dictates of the collective, and the largest collective at the time was the caste system. That limiting social structure began to relax in the early years of nationhood as the government attempted to engineer a society that would help the nascent state flourish.
In that context, where the government controlled the economy, people began to identify their place in society by their rank in the stratified offices of government employment rather than by their caste. With the beginning of privatization in the ‘80s, and accelerated by economic liberalization in the ‘90s, corporations introduced less bureaucratic organizations, and certain sectors, including financial services, pharmacy and technology, led a shift to privatization and a more individualistic corporate culture.
In the current era of startups and entrepreneurship, the goals of the individual and the collective begin to align. Even family, the fundamental collective, is changing. Young people pursue independence while trying to dialogue with parents. Brands often need to articulate the attitudes of young people, who represent future growth, without upsetting their existing customers, the more traditional parents and grandparents
Communicating in ways that gently point to modernity while respecting communal traditions requires delving into the Indian psyche, which embraces multiple identities, including local region and culture, religion, and language. Knowing the consumer mindset is critical for brand communication. Is the consumer wondering “What will the brand do for me?” or “What will the brand do for the society?” or are both considerations present?
Insight into multiple identities
In extensive, multi-country research, Kantar Millward Brown discovered a correlation between mindset and per capita income. Higher per capita income correlates with individual identity. When per capita income is lower, people tend to have more of a communal identity. Using BrandZ™ brand equity metrics, the research examined consumer mentality when purchasing. It found that people experiencing financial stress have more of a communal mindset and gravitate to brands that satisfy communal needs. In contrast, people with greater wealth are drawn to brands that fulfill personal needs.
To fully understand consumer purchasing behavior, mindset needs to be married with context: What product or service is the consumer considering, and why? For example, a TV purchase often is a communal decision, because it is for the family. A mobile phone purchase, in contrast, typically is for the individual – but not always. When mobile phones first became widely available in rural India, phone charging was a problem because of lack of sufficient electricity. Micromax introduced a phone that promised to operate on one charge per month. The proposition was relevant, solved a problem, and improved life, because at that time families shared mobile phones.
A car purchase provides another example where the purchase can be driven by either communal or individual needs depending on the context. In India, a first car typically would be a family purchase. And many members of the extended family could be involved in the purchase decision. A second car might be purchased for individual use, with less collaboration about the purchase and a faster decision-making process.
These findings resonate universally, but the tension between the individual and the communal may be more exaggerated in India because of the position of the family at the center of Indian culture. In much of rural India, family can include several generations. In those circumstances, with input from parents, grandparents and others, decision by committee can overpower individual choice.
The Kantar Millward Brown research also revealed that the individual-communal phenomenon is not the linear continuum of attitude that it appears to be; rather, it is a loop. When people satisfy their individual goals and feel successful and self-actualized, they may circle back and assign greater importance to collective concerns. A consumer may continue to buy luxury cars, but with greater consciousness about the carbon impact on the environment. When individualization is realized, collective concerns reemerge and expand to include not just family, but also the greater society. 
Brand Building Action Points

Communicate in a positive tone

In tonality, brand communication needs to celebrate individuality without disrespecting tradition. Do not challenge collective traditions head-on. Consumers understand the desire to celebrate individuality, but it should not be at the cost of tradition.


Know the context of the purchase

It’s important to know whether individual or communal needs and concerns primarily drive a purchase. Two factors help reveal the consumer mindset:  the number of people who have a say in the purchasing decision, and the length of the purchase cycle. More people consulted in the decision-making process and a longer purchase cycle indicates that the purchase more likely is driven by collective needs.


Focus on effective drivers

In principle, Salience (coming to mind quickly), is important for reaching consumers who are purchasing to satisfy communal concerns, as when selecting a home appliance to be used by many people. Demonstrating Difference (how a brand is distinctive) is more important when the consumer is purchasing an item for personal use. Most purchasing decisions are nuanced, of course, but this BrandZ™ framework provides a good starting point.