Girish Balachandran
Jun 6, 2016

India: Being brand-relevant in India’s habit economy

Indian consumers’ enthusiastic uptake of new technology presents countless opportunities for brands to connect with them, but shortening attention spans spell trouble for those who fail to engage them genuinely.

India: Being brand-relevant in India’s habit economy

Indian consumers’ enthusiastic uptake of new technology presents countless opportunities for brands to connect with them, but shortening attention spans spell trouble for those who fail to engage them genuinely.

It’s 7.30pm, and I'm shutting shop. I pull out my phone to call a taxi with my Ola app. The app offers me the choice of ‘Share’, ‘Mini’ or ‘Prime’ service, then shows me exactly how far off the taxi is and the time it will take to reach me.

I get into the taxi and my driver—a smiling Ghan Shyam Ji—reminds me of the free wi-fi service available for the drive home. In a few minutes, we pull up at my door and instead of my usual fumble for cash, I refer to a laminated sheet of paper for a merchant code and pay using FreeCharge, a digital payments wallet service.

So far, I have received between four and eight text and email messages confirming my requests, thanking me and asking me for feedback for the services used.

Welcome to India's new ‘habit’ economy. The access to new technologies and services is helping redefine how we live our lives, breaking old habits and practicing new ones. It's a huge opportunity for brands to become part of our lives by aligning with our lifestyles. 

With many of the countries traditionally defined as emerging markets slowing in growth and China's workforce beginning to shrink, India's growth forecast comes across as break-neck in comparison. An Ernst & Young report states India's workforce will grow to 900 million by 2020, quickly replacing the Chinese economy as the one to be ‘feared and respected’.

The Indian government's focus on spurring entrepreneurship through big-ticket campaigns like ‘Startup India’ and ‘Make in India’, and providing a sense of urgency to improve infrastructure through ‘Smart cities’ and ‘Digital India’ has helped create an environment for new ideas and commerce to flourish. Our business dailies are flushed with updates on new deals with ecommerce companies, the rapid expansion of telecom services and 4G roll-out, and in turn positive business indicators, including sales of FMCG and automobile sectors.

What this presents from a consumer perspective is a trade-off between choice, convenience and peace of mind. Imagine more than 800 million with a phone in their hands. Now imagine the ability to share, connect and collaborate. For the ‘always-on’, the ability to identify and connect with social units, or tribes of common interest, and create, access, consume and share targeted content, is offering an experience of life like never before.

The trade-off for this abundance of connectivity and the creation of new ‘habits’ is a scarcity of privacy and peace of mind. We’re morphing into a strange hybrid of producer and consumer, and the role is addictive. Our addiction to our devices is becoming so psychologically powerful it’s not just affecting what we do but who we are as individuals. Our online personas allow us to control, edit and ‘touch up’ the bits of us we want to present to the world. While our offline relationships are rich and messy, our online personas are life as we want it to be, one status update after another.

Consider this: research has shown the average attention span today is five seconds; 10 years ago, it was 12 minutes. 

This has huge implications for the manner in which brands in India are having to interact with an ecosystem of employees, customers and the community at large. According to the media-buying unit of a global marketing services conglomerate, India will be the fastest growing advertising market in 2016, with advertising spends growing by 15 percent.

The need for brands to differentiate, communicate a higher sense of purpose and create emotional connections with consumers has never been stronger. Businesses are beginning to realise the difference between ‘doing social’ and ‘being social’ as an enterprise. Brands with vision are taking a long, hard look at the information flow between customers, the supply chain and staff. Because today's connected customers, or Generation C, don't have the time to wait for brands to sort out internal processes and communication to listen and respond to their voice.

Those without vision continue to let marketing and the rest of the business operate in silos where the job of marketing is to highlight and accentuate the positive, regardless of what principles and values dictate business practices. ‘Social’ then becomes a tactical exercise meant to amplify company-controlled-messaging, through social networks, creating disconnect between how consumers experience a brand and its communication.

It's the business of defining a brand's DNA, it's reason to exist and how it's going to change our lives for the better that will determine how socially relevant it will be. The rest will just burn through marketing dollars in the hope that we might ‘like’ their posts.

Girish Balachandran is chief strategy officer, Avian Media 



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