Girish Upadhyay
Guest Article

Social influence and taking sustainable consumption mainstream

The author talks about building the EV category and it gaining user acceptance.

India has emerged as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing automobile markets over the years, with an estimated production of about 60 million vehicles by 2022. It is also the leading manufacturer of two-wheelers in the world. It is a hub for small cars, contributing approximately 30% of the global sales.

Low vehicle penetration (20 vehicles per 1,000 people) and the growth of the middle class with increasing purchasing power, along with the strong growth of the Indian economy over the past few years, have inspired major OEMs around the globe to turn their attention towards the Indian market.

In this complex and underpenetrated category, electric vehicle (EV) has entered as a new mode of mobility solutions. Catering to a vast domestic market, reliance on the conventional modes of fuel intensive mobility, will not be sustainable. The harmful impact of conventional petrol/diesel vehicles on the environment, is now very well documented.

Drastic changes, in the way we consume energy and resources, are needed for the survival of humans requiring a system-wide change in practices and uptake of sustainable products and behaviour.

To address acceptability of EVs, federal policymakers are developing a mobility option that is “Shared, Connected and Electric”, and have projected an ambitious target of achieving 100% electrification by 2030.

Regardless of the country’s ambitious targets, India’s EV space is at a nascent stage. EV car sales was 0.7% of total car sales in FY21-22. Of the total volume of EVs in the Indian market, three-wheeler constitutes around 65%, and 25% is held by the two-wheeler category. The remaining 5% is a mix of everything else, including cars. (Source:

So, where is the gap?

To understand this better, decoding consumer attitude and behaviour, becomes critical. Although consumers are increasingly engaged with sustainable factors, when forming opinions about products and making purchase decisions, recent studies have highlighted significant differences between consumers' attitude to consume sustainable products, and their actual purchase behaviour.

This ‘attitude-behaviour gap’ or ‘values-action gap’ is where 30% of consumers report that they are very concerned about environmental issues, but they’re struggling to translate this into purchases.

Technology adoption model, or TAM (Davis, 1989; Davis, Bagozzi, & Warshaw, 1989) has shown that because new technologies are complex and an element of uncertainty exists in the minds of decision makers, with respect to the successful adoption of them, people form attitudes and intentions toward trying to learn to use it.

User acceptance and confidence are crucial for the further development of any new technology. Hence, it important for EV marketers to not only build their brand, but also build the category and gain user acceptance/confidence.

The next critical question: how do you build the EV category and gain user acceptance?

Automobile purchase, by its very nature, is a high involvement process, and is usually pre-planned, with near certainty of completion. Auto manufacturers compete to gain new customers and advertise heavily to retain existing ones for repeat purchases.

To add the path to purchase, is getting increasing complex, with more than 30 touchpoints (Google Automobile Gear Shift Study, 2017) identified from the discovery stage to the final purchase stage, which influence the consumer’s buying behaviour. Out of all these cars buying steps, approximately 24 are digitised.

Earlier, a lot of these touchpoints were physical, such as checking out the same model and test-driving it. Now, while the number of touchpoints remains the same, the mode of getting information has changed to digital. A customer now goes to online forums, where thousands of existing users offer their advice on that particular model. Similarly, earlier if a customer used to visit a dealership to check out the car, the same now can be done using AR/VR tools.

Based on this change, it can be deduced that digital enthusiasts will be more likely to adopt a sustainable and technology product, like an EV. Hence, build a team of EV digital enthusiasts. EV diffusion may spread naturally through social networks of these digital enthusiasts. Beyond building targeted awareness, more direct penetration campaigns can help.

Marketing strategies can target trustworthy and respected individuals in communities and neighborhoods, and use them to reach beyond the early adopters. Give them your brand of EVs, let them drive, charge and bust some of the misconceptions around it. Once threshold geographical penetration is obtained, social influence will contribute to the diffusion of the product myths organically.

Social influence is the process by which an individual's attitude, beliefs or behaviour are modified by the presence or action of others. This social influence can take wide variety of forms – obedience, conformity, persuasion, peer pressure. Brands could leverage social influence to follow up and engage with buyers, creating a sustainable, cost-effective equity, for not just the individual brand, but also the category.

Introducing a new, sustainable category isn’t easy, and conventional ways of building a brand in a nascent category, won’t work. Albert Einstein said, “If you do what you always do, you get what you always get.” We need to use the power of social influence to take sustainable consumption mainstream, not just for EVs, but across product categories.

The author is chief marketing officer, Axis My India, a leading consumer data intelligence company.

Have news to share? Write to us