Social and economic
forces are reshaping
the Indian market
Brands find purpose
in the national vision
While most brands avoided taking a political stand, they aligned with aspects of the government’s national-building agenda that are most brand-relevant. Dettol, a soap brand, campaigned for improved sanitation and hygiene. Sports brands, including some cricket teams, supported government attempts to improve the status of women by having the athletes display the names of their mothers or daughters on their uniforms. The free data offer by Jio gained the new brand over 100 million new customers in its first few months, and simultaneously helped advance the government’s Digital India initiative. Meanwhile, the Ayurvedic and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand, Patanjali, intensified its nationalistic message by suggesting that its Indian provenance made the brand more authentic than the brands of multinationals.
A countertrend opens
Connected with the rise in nationalism is a soothing nostalgia countertrend to the many changes jolting India’s tradition-based society. These changes include greater equality for women, which redefines gender roles, and increased mobility, which strains strong family ties. The most obvious expression of nostalgia is the interest in Ayurvedic products, a phenomenon also driven by nationalism, concern about health and wellness, and the search for products deemed trustworthy.
Paper Boats, a local soft drink brand, based its business proposition around nostalgia. Using the strapline “drinks and memories,” Paper Boat markets flavors that Indians associate with an earlier and simpler time. The nostalgia wave is also evident in the changing attitudes and behavior of young people. While they adopt the latest technology and trends emanating from the West, more young Indians are returning to live with their families and embrace traditional life.
Access and Inclusion
Digital expands access,
but not always inclusion
Digitization drove access, enabling people even in the smallest villages to have smartphones and engage in e-commerce and online banking. But greater access did not always result in greater inclusion. That requires understanding people, helping them benefit from new opportunities, and communicating in the appropriate language and tone. Ultimately, brands can benefit. Amazon, for example, is positioning itself as an online store for India’s dreams, and many of those dreamers reside in small towns and villages.
Brand messages meet
Another global trend has reached India—distrust. Rather than rely only on brand communications—or even word-of-mouth—Indians, particularly in cities, are more likely to research online to corroborate brand claims. Having been disappointed by some brands, they do not want to be disappointed again. Brands need to earn the trust of Indian consumers. And brands need to communicate in ways that inspire trust. Reaching young people requires projecting authenticity, for example. Idealized celebrity brand ambassadors or overly romanticized commercials will resonate less than messages presented with a sense of realism.
Optimism is strong
but varies regionally
Consumer confidence is generally strong, but how strong varies by geography, according to the Shopper Barometer of Kantar IMRB. In most urban areas consumers felt more confident and spent more. But confidence sagged in areas known for IT, like Bengaluru, because a startup slowdown impacted employment and the Trump administration America First declarations raised concerns about working or studying in the US. These findings suggest that brands face great opportunity in India, but maximum success requires identifying and adjusting for local fluctuations in spending.
The dream is closer
to some than others
The rich are getting richer, and some of the poor are still left behind, as people pursue the dream of a New India, but progress at different speeds. Within the SEC classifications of household spending hierarchy, Kantar Worldpanel identified a group it called “Elites.” Adding a few more household characteristics, such as car ownership, revealed a group that spends more on FMCG than other households in top SEC classifications. For brands across categories it is useful to know who these people are and how they spend. It is also useful to understand the less affluent, and to help them become more capable consumers.
not define India
The urban-rural divide is less useful now as a marketing framework for several reasons. First, the urban-rural gaps are narrowing, in income, education, and other dimensions. Second, the notion of Multiple India’s more closely captures the reality of one country combining many differences in geography, language, and culture. Third, all of India is changing. And rural Indians do not match the conventional stereotypes. Increasingly, they do not aspire to be just country versions of urban people. According to research by Kantar IMRB, rural Indians want to retain their rural identities, while improving themselves and their communities. These changes affect all brand activities, including product development, communication, and distribution.