The Indian (or Bharat?) consumer

An enigma wrapped in mystery, that’s what Churchill thought of Stalin. Multinational companies can say the same about the Indian consumer. It’s a land full of contradictions, where the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban, the men and the women, the old and the young have got united in one aspect. They all represent the class of Consumers, who in many ways are unique to this country.

India and Bharat co-exist, both increasing their consumption spending by leaps and bounds. India has a small group of high-income people, demanding things that their counterparts in the US or Europe consume. Bharat, comprising lots of modest to low income people, refuses to be ignored, with the ever-increasing appetites for consumption.

The tussle between modernity and tradition is also not necessarily between the rich and the poor. Here, different centuries can survive simultaneously in the minds of the people. Technology, and in particular the satellite and the internet, has been the great leveler between the modern and the traditional way. The virtual world has thrown open newer opportunities – call centers to transcription services to analytics – making the young and the old of today much busier than they were a generation ago. Yet, the modern lifestyle does not necessarily discard the old. The shrines have gone online, with more choices of temples, godmen and prayers. Astrology has also gone virtual, with computerized horoscopes finding an ever-increasing market. Matrimonial sites make hay while the sun shines and more engagement ceremonies of long-distance alliances are now being conducted over Skype.

That India does not have one uniform culture, with numerous regional variations, is common knowledge. But, the same consumer – be it the city, the small town or the village consumer – too lives in various time and space constructs. The modern, young upper class woman is at home in miniskirts while at a rock concert and in a saree at a family engagement. She drives to work, shops at supermarkets patronizing both Indian and international brands, has made English the family language but prefers the Hindi movie or television soap opera. She has domestic staff – preferably live-in – like her mother did as she prefers freshly baked rotis than bread or tortillas off the supermarket shelves.

A large culture class of small businessmen has emerged, catering to the needs of the modest-income Bharat as well as the high-income Indian consumers – local shop owners, contractors, furniture makers, beauticians, restaurateurs, tutors, tour operators and so on. These businesses run side by side with the multinational businesses. So does the global, the national and the regional brands. Television channels beam soap operas in vernacular, but with content that seems to have been transported from a foreign country – viewers both Indian and Bharat remain glued to them.

Nowhere in the world can one have such a large market place – across generations, languages, cultures, incomes and social groups. Inside the mind of the consumer that we know as Indian, there is a global, national, regional and social identity, none of which refusing to give away. And that throws open an unlimited space to the marketer who can tap numerous consuming groups at the same time.