There was a time when products would proudly wear the 'imported' tag to gain high aspirational and market value among Indian consumers. And this was not just with products; it was also with people, films, fashion, and values. 'Aping the west' was a cool thing to do.
Western Music, international fashion, movies and, of course, brands and products were looked up to with the same 'precious' values as the 'foreigners' and 'white skins' themselves were.
With the digital sweep across the world creating 'global' citizens, the Indian consumers today are more educated, well informed, politically and socially aware, and are value-oriented with a strong awareness and respect for their own roots. It is estimated that the Indian youth will form the fifth largest consumer market by 2025.
The new-found love and respect for 'Indian-ness' is evident from the increasing popularity of movies reflecting rustic Indian protagonists speaking regional dialects. For example, the stardom of unconventional artists like Swara Bhaskar, Radhika Apte, Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui et al who represent strong Indian characters. Further, the appreciation of Indian stories reflecting the regional culture and socio-political background is also gaining popularity over the westernised action/ sci-fi and fairy-tale movies; namely, films like Bahubali and TV shows like Porus and Prithvi Vallabh etc.
To add to that, millennial professionals and entrepreneurs returning to the homeland after living the 'western' dream, have begun to find meaning in the uniqueness of their roots. The rise of the Indian Swag - the proud expression of all things Indian, is finding a new form of expression that celebrates the vibrant and aesthetic heritage of the country.
While millennial consumers have been discussed in detail across sectors, their impact on brands and their marketing strategies has rarely been acknowledged. Here are a few key observations:
1. Generation I: The rise of individualism
Consumers today are increasingly becoming individualistic and prefer to own brands and products that are a true reflection of their unique styles, beliefs and inclinations. The uninhibited expression of their views is another character of Generation I which also extends to their presentation - from Indic tattoos with Indian mantra's and symbols to 'desi' expression with beards for men and nose rings/ anklets for women etc. Unlike the older generations, they do not believe in blindly mimicking trends and adhering to set norms. However, they are, in a strong and unique manner, more connected to their roots and are not afraid to flaunt it.
Indians no longer crave looking for pre-conceived traits. Today actors like Irfan Khan, Swara Bhaskar, Radhika Apte, Vinay Pathak, Boman Irani etc. are accepted in mainstream commercial movies as heroes and heroines. Also, movies based on kingdoms/ kings like Bahubali, are widely watched and set the global benchmark and its spin is even evident even on the small screen with the likes of Porus and Prithvi Vallabh etc. that are launched for Indian consumers.
2. Personalisation Vs a Me too factor
Gone are the days when a product was bought merely for its brand value. Consumers today prefer products that can be personalised while also being functional. Comfort, aesthetics, identity, and brand ethics associated with the product matter as much to the modern consumer as the product patronage of the brand. Further, with widespread access to digital platforms and social media promoting lightning fast access to information, consumers today do not hesitate from speaking their minds about their brand experience. The increasing number of millennials identifying with folk and fusion music has given a new birth to the Indian folk artists and the rise of Indi-Pop and the Coke Studio genre that celebrates Indian regional poets and artists. This is driving several brands to reconsider their marketing and product design framework. MTV Coke Studio has become a rage among the Indian consumers. There is an increasing demand and love for Indian classical and fusion music among millennials.
3. Exotic novelty Vs Prized possession
With the rise in individualism and access to personalised brands, consumers continue to be on the lookout to connect with and own exotic and rare pieces of product that are unique and compliment their personas. Further, the rise of innovative infusion of 'Indian-ness', in the form of motifs, colours, patterns or paintings, is another reason for the rise in acceptance and pride in 'Indian' products. For example, the rise in preference for 'Indic' products and accessories like Indian tea brands, handloom fashion products (Biba, FabIndia etc.) and handicraft stationeries with handmade papers etc. Also, for instance, youngsters are now opting for fruit juices and alike and spending time at various Tea cafes like Tea Villa Cafe, Tea Palace, Chai-Point for a new and Indianised experience.
Socially and environmentally responsible
The rise of the socially and environmentally aware consumers has contributed to the popularity of traditional hand-made and organic products. Bamboo and jute-based functional products, as well as Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy-based healing and wellness offerings, are increasingly becoming fashionable. Apart from giving a new lease on life to these otherwise dwindling traditions, modern consumers today are heralding the ancient wisdom and art. There is a rage these days to buy local 'haat' and artisan products at flea markets and festivals which are again, accepted by youngsters apart from the established brands.
5. Open global markets
With markets now surpassing geographical boundaries and time-zones by reaching out to the world through virtual media, the Indian traditional art forms, organic products and environmentally safe alternatives have led to several global patrons who have been owning and appreciating the Indian brand, thus, adding the pride to the products. Further, this popularity has also brushed off onto the popularity of Indian music, food and traditional fashion, all gaining massive acceptance across the globe. The trend of sporting a beard or a moustache is inspired by the looks of kings/ maharajas.
The Indian millennial today makes up for one-fifth of the global youth population and thus, are actively driving brand design, concepts and marketing strategies. A strong paradigm shift from a family and pride-oriented purchase to a more individualistic, personalised and 'belief-oriented' ownership of products and services, the Indian consumer is slowly but surely bringing in the 'Indian Swag' meter to all parts of his 21st-century urban lifestyle.
(The author is head, marketing, Syska Group)