Connecting With The Future Consumer India

The Economic Times - May, 2003

A staggering 45% of our population is below the age of 19. Born after 1984, this is our post liberalization generation. Even the oldest of them would have been a mere 7 years old in 1991, when liberalization happened. 6 out of 10 households have at least one member who is from the liberalization generation. This is the first non-socialist, market economy generation, growing up in the thick of the information revolution, the connectivity boom, coalition politics, IT enabled everything and the rise of the service economy. And as this age cohort wends its way through life, it will be shaping, or rather re shaping markets, and the fortunes of marketers.

There are a 100 million 17 to 21 year olds (as of 2003) who, in the next four to eight years, will be hopefully in a position to earn their own money and who will be wielding greater decision making power in their own households. But consider this statistic - if we consider the people between the ages of 25 to 50 to be the 'heads of households' (assumption being that if you are below 25 or over 50, you have to defer to your parent or to your child), today, there are no heads of households who are liberalization children. But by 2025, about half of the 25 to 50 year olds (heads of households) will be liberalization children and half will be pre liberalization children. Lessons for marketers. The tipping point for change is around the corner as the liberalization generation (born, say from 1984 onwards) begins to come of age. This generation is very different from its previous one, in ways that go beyond the normal differences you would expect from any two consecutive generation. There is a transition from Nehruvian 'brahmins', to Naiduian banias.

From destiny driven to destination driven. From inward focused to outward focused. From government employed to self employed. From 'stuck in my station in of life thanks to 3% GDP growth and 2.6% population growth' to 'upwardly mobile with sea change in lifestyle in just ten. This huge demographic shift - the passing of the baton to a discontinuous generation - will lead to a huge consumer behaviour shift, dragging even the remaining 50% of households, headed by pre liberalization generation folks, in the tide of change. Even for B2B businesses, as this generation starts moving into decision making positions in organizations, the change will be felt.

Therefore, it does appear that now is a good time for marketers to start a 'catch them young' conscious strategy to hook into this generation and learn about them, and secure the future. At the very minimum, it is about making your advertising more 'young', and MTV - ish. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. It is about getting them to experience your brand early so that they begin to develop an affinity for it so that when they have the money to become mainstream consumers, they view you more favourably than others. The larger task however would be to create special 'generation next' product and service offerings and brands, which are more in tune with this special segment than a brand based 'one size fits all' offering. And an even larger task would be to be the one company in the category that has become a part of the canvas of life of this generation - something that they identify is as 'that's me / mine / part of my life / understands me better than anything those old fogies ever used before'

While affluent India and marketers who target products and services towards them will be far more affected since the pace of change in this group is far more marked, no one can escape. Lets take the example of financial services - the liberalization generation, for a whole host of reasons discussed earlier in this column, have a totally different attitude to consumption vs. savings, to accessing credit vs. living within your means, to what their consumption hierarchy and priorities are, and what constitutes necessity and what a luxury. Lets take the example of holidays and travel and entertainment - again very different mind sets and needs across the generations, and a hunger to 'see the world'. What of farmers who buy tractors? Younger farmers, many of whom are better educated than their fathers, want productivity and time released to earn money through other means; their notions of how to manage a fundamentally unviable farming business and how to augment income are very different from their fathers. What will the Liberation generation seek from newspapers? From Governments? Will voter behaviour change? I would suspect that the extent of fundamental insight about the liberalization generation is limited with most of us today. We seem to think in terms of 'youth marketing' and the 'Pepsi-Coke-MTV' view of such customers often becomes the substitute for really understanding how and why this generation will interact with any given category, and what needs to be offered. A big trap that I have often seen happening is the belief in the 'universal truth' disproved often enough by market experience and consumer research, is that the liberalization generation will rock to the tune of fun and frivolity. But the truth couldn't be further. They are a regular, boring, work hard generation, in a hurry to achieve coveted material goals, so that they can play hard in addition to working hard. They know that rebellion is a bum trip, their icons are gilt edged heroes, they are looking at a canvas of opportunity that is well beyond their immediate neighbourhood, or even India's borders, they have no time for love and prefer the business of finding partners, or at least short listing suitable ones to be relegated to parents. With apologies to Frost, this generation is saying "the world is vast, wide and complicated; and I have aspirations to meet; and miles to go before I sleep; and miles to go before I sleep." Can marketers walk along with them, from even before they begin this journey of life.