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India Thought Leadership | Emerging Consumers

Mapping the many mindsets and points of intersection

By Divya Khanna

Assistant Vice President

Regional Planning Director, South Asia

JWT

It’s not easy to generalize in a country as diverse and dynamic as India. And emerging consumers, like every other segment, have not one but many different narratives. He’s the young villager trying to find his way in the big city and she’s the slum-mother trying to direct her children’s future. He’s the hard worker who lives for the one month he spends as the big man returning home to his small town and she’s the young college girl trying to mask her humble origins.

If the emerging consumer is not one person with one journey but many people with overlapping journeys, it would be good to draw ourselves a map, to identify the points of intersection, where we can be assured of heavy traffic for the messages we need to get out. So, rather than profile a single stereotypical emerging consumer, it might be more useful to profile an emerging consumer mindset – the attitudes, values and beliefs that they are adopting.

  1. Shedding the old attitudes in favor of the new The broadest narrative of emerging consumers is that of migration. This is not just in the literal sense from the village or small town to the city, but also in the metaphorical sense of migrating to newer attitudes and lifestyles. The first traditional belief shed is fatalism. Accepting your lot in life is passé and creating a better life is in. Like the crowds at the escalators in the big shiny malls, emerging consumers are eager to be on their way up, some jumping on and climbing quickly to speed things along, others hesitating and fumbling till they’re pushed forward. Yet all seem equally determined to progress and move forward.
  2. Flexible individuality Migration is also the easy way to adopt new values. Rather than stay with the extended family or community and fight daily battles, moving away makes it easier to assert individuality without compromising those relationships. While traditional values are still fiercely defended in rural strongholds, the urban areas are a kind of refuge for those who are weary of ideological debates, physical violence and simply want the freedom to live their own lives. It’s not about choosing between the extremes, just the flexibility to decide which values to hold on to and which to give up from a purely individual perspective.
  3. Merging with the mighty middle class With a new prime minister who boasts of a background as a chaiwalla, a humble tea seller, democracy in India is truly coming of age. Political ideology aside, this is the ultimate proof for the emerging consumers that they can base their identity on their ambition in terms of where they want to go and not by where they may be coming from. Ask them to classify themselves and they’ll tell you they are middle class. Only those looking for a handout would say they are poor. And they know that handouts will not get them where they’re aiming to go; only their own efforts will.
  4. 4.Fulfilling long-held aspirations As they migrate from being have-nots to haves, emerging consumers are starting to fulfill aspirations that they have long held. They may have not always consumed our products and services, but they have been consuming our brand messages. So assuming they know little or are less savvy than the other consumers could be dangerous. In fact, given their past struggles, they are likely to be more sensitive to disrespect and condescension.
  5. Life is to be lived, not just endured Every migration happens by degrees. Only Bollywood movies like to show a helpless country bumpkin transplanted into a big city. Emerging consumers are not so isolated and unaware. They too chart their journeys with care and foresight, trying to learn what they can expect, preparing themselves as best they can. Life is not something to be endured; it is something to be created. From how they dress to how they live, from how they talk to the new kinds of work they learn to do, there are many avenues to explore. They have already subscribed to the credo of most city-dwellers – “my life, my rules.”

The attitudes, values and beliefs of the emerging consumers are rapidly shifting, giving a boost to both their consumption ability and preferences. Yet, they are firmly in the driver’s seat. Rather than attempting to wrest control of the wheel or change the direction on their maps, we might benefit from understanding their journeys and where our products might fit in with their agenda. They may spend more on a mobile phone handset but may stop using soap if the brand raises the price by one rupee. It’s up to us to figure out why and what our brands/products can do to be invited along on these journeys.