The Search for Stability
For all that Indians are enjoying the fruits of innovation and disruption, there is also a growing sense of stress, insecurity, and unease among many segments of the population. According to Kantar’s Global MONITOR survey, 47 percent of Indians said that they felt stressed in 2018, up from 39 percent the year prior. The world remains a difficult place to navigate – quite literally, in the case of India’s metros, where traffic is some of the slowest in Asia.
As a result, Indians are naturally seeking out anchors in a stormy world, even as they continue to embrace some elements of disruption. These anchors could be anchors of identity, security, personal experience, location, or physicality. Regardless, their essential appeal is the same: they satisfy an increased desire for stability at times when life feels like it’s moving too fast.
In many ways, this is the modern paradox: consumers crave change and new experiences, but also seek comfort, reliability, and reassurance. It makes sense, then, that as the pace and demands of modern life draw Indians away from their homes – according to Kantar, the amount of time the average Indian adult spends daily outside the home has steadily increased, from 5 hours at the beginning of the past decade to more than seven hours today – Indian consumers continually reward innovations that allow them to spend more quality time with their families.
It’s no accident that some of India’s most important tech-services disruptors (from Amazon to Swiggy) help people to regain precious time at home by delivering goods to their front doors. And when people are at home, they want to spend more time relaxing and connecting to family, and less time performing chores – hence the continuing importance of innovation in the household goods category.
While disruption may lead to changes in certain household rituals (for instance, a decline in home-cooked meals), categories like household goods, home delivery, and food and drink continue to perform strongly in the BrandZ™ India rankings. That’s because the value of “home” as a place of stability and comfort becomes even more important for Indians in stressful, uncertain times.
And these are, indeed, uncertain times. It’s true that in the corporate sphere “disruption” has remained the buzzword of the era, and for good reason: India’s economy has made tremendous strides in the past decade, led by innovative companies like Ola and Jio that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Today, however, these accomplishments risk being overshadowed by growing macroeconomic concerns about unemployment and future slow growth.
The fear is that in the 2020s, economic instability will not be a temporary phenomenon (of the type caused by earlier, one-time adjustments like demonetization and tax reform). As India takes its place as a major world economy, it may become increasingly vulnerable to the same interconnected forces that are affecting other major geopolitical players: problems like trade tensions, weakening global demand, and VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) economic headwinds.
In today’s India, a brand can be hot one day and gone the next – quite literally, in the case of a company like the erstwhile Jet Airways. (For an example how a systemic and personal instability can intersect, look no further those travelers who were stranded when Jet shut down).
For a variety of reasons, then, it is time to reassess the role of stability in building robust, dynamic brands. Stability will never be as sexy or exciting as disruption – but that doesn’t mean it should be considered as disruption’s opposite or inferior. In 2019, the relationship between stability and disruption is not an either/or, no matter how much “disruption” may persist as the bigger cultural fixation.
Indeed, when you look closer at the importance of stability, you begin to see how the concept has been crucial to brands’ success even during this most disruptive of eras. Disruption without stability has nowhere to go: even the most disruptive brands need reliable infrastructure and a consistent brand vision to build out their offerings and truly change the world.
For perhaps the quintessential example of why and how this is so, consider Domino’s Pizza’s “30 Minutes or Free” promise. This is, first and foremost, a disruptive product offering on Domino’s part. It caused a sensation upon its introduction, and helped to pave the way for a now-booming category of delivery apps.
But the “30 Minutes or Free” mantra also serves as the cornerstone of Domino’s stable, resonant brand promise: that customers can trust Domino’s to do whatever it takes to get dinner to the table quickly.
Disruption and stability are intimately intertwined. Indeed, stability is often what makes disruption possible. Again, consider the case of Domino’s, and how its disruptive delivery service (which doubles as its core brand promise) is only possible thanks to a rock-solid, reliable, and above all stable delivery system.
(And then consider how for a company like Domino’s, in a country like India, a “stable” delivery infrastructure actually requires constant improvement: behind the scenes, delivery companies must continually evolve their technology and logistical insights to keep up with the ever-changing cityscapes in which they operate. If disruption needs stability, maintaining stability over the long term also requires more than a dose of disruption.)
Once you start looking for it, you will start to see stability everywhere you see a successful brand in India, no matter how disruptive. It’s there in the ways that many of India’s first wave of unicorns are now stabilizing to become part of the “new establishment.” It’s there in the ways that these unicorns have always prioritized reliable service, steadfastness of vision, and robust infrastructure even as they sought to change the world.
Stability is there even in the messaging of some of the most disruptive foreign brands. It was no accident that when Amazon first entered the Indian market, it introduced itself with a slogan – “Apni Dukaan” – that hearkened back to familiar, reassuring, and even nostalgic associations with consumer’s neighborhood shops… even as it promised a new kind of disruptive online store.
Stability is also clearly present in the DNA of India’s many legacy brands and companies – companies that, as Nirav Parkeh notes in this report’s collection of thought leadership on “stability,” are hardly destined to become also-rans even in this an age of disruption. To the contrary, Parekh highlights ways that stability can empower these legacy brands to take bigger swings and better risks than their less-resourced upstart competitors.
Stability aids disruption, and disruption aids stability. May it ever be thus.