How well do Indian marketers understand the Indian youth?

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What’s the Indian marketer’s YQ? Or youth quotient.

Youth is contributing heavily to the rapid change in the Indian economy and are fast becoming the darling of India Inc. India is one of the youngest countries in the world today with nearly half of all Indians (approximately 50 crore) below 25 years and more than 65 per cent below 30 years of age. No surprise then that youth have become a key focus in the marketing blue prints of most of the brands. Estimates suggest that India has a median age at 26 years (as of 2010), trending towards 28 in 2020. Compare this to median age of other countries in 2010: Brazil at 29, China at 34, US at 36.6, Russia at 38, UK at 40 and Japan at 45.

For reference in this story, we are talking about the 18-24 age group as Youth, which essentially is on the radar of every marketer in India.

Changes in the consumer patterns started happening 7-8 years back, when the economic scenario changed in the country, coupled with the increase in availability of hang out places. The mall culture, café culture and increased disposable income have changed the way youth today conduct themselves and manage their funds.

The pace of change in consumer behaviour of youth  itself has increased. And advertisements – TV, print, outdoor are not apt. That seem too dictating. Engaging them is the mantra, and experience the tantra. So marketers are engaging them online, and on-ground. And so, what’s the yantra? Sports – adventure, cricket, football, Formula 1 – music, and brand extensions like cafes. And how are brands doing that. Read on to find out.

Meanwhile, the pertinent question is: Are Indian marketers and brands able to keep pace with the Indian youth? Do they understand the Indian youth well? Do they know what Indian youth want? Do they speak their language? Pitch decided to explore this further and so we went to the marketers and threw some questions at them to check their youth quotient.

But before we get on with the youth quotient of marketers, let’s first try and understand their consumer behaviour and what they want.

Who’s the best friend?
It’s the mobile phone! Yes you heard it right. Instant access to information and the urge of “always staying connected” through social media and instant messaging has made them glued to their mobile phones making it their best friend.

Pratik Seal, Head – Marketing, Micromax, agrees,“The youth need a smart device that enables them to do all this, which is indeed driving the smartphone market in India which touched 27 lakh units during last quarter of this year.”

And the result? Certainly, this trend has been a boon for handset and telecom services brands.

Krishnadeep Baruah, Marketing Director, Research in Motion (Blackberry) says, “The popularity of BlackBerry smartphones among consumers owing to BBM services and a wide array of applications for being connected on social media is an example of the increasing shift in behaviour and preference among the youth today.” The increasing availability of relevant apps for consumers, further boosting the business for telecom service providers.
Mobiles clearly present an immense opportunity for brands to reach consumers on this medium. Simeran Bhasin, Marketing Head, Fastrack and New Brands, Titan Industries, rightly terms the mobile phones as “the new Televisions for the youth”. “We are focusing a lot on this medium along with our efforts on web”, she adds.

Age of digital shoppers
As the youth go through their day, their comfort level with technology is incredibly high. Commenting on behalf of Microsoft Xbox, Anshu Mor – BG Lead, Interactive entertainment Business, Microsoft India, shares, “Microsoft Advertising’s Pre Family Survey 2011 shows that they feel naked without technology and that the internet is providing young people with a platform to carry out increasing portions of their offline life with regard to searching, seeking information, creating content and using these inputs to shop online.”

This clearly points to one clear emerging trend over the last one year that today’s young consumer has developed a strong taste for shopping online! Another study done by Microsoft Advertising and Aegis Media reveals that 2011 was a year of ‘digital shoppers’; the study further showed that at least 48 per cent of the those shopping decisions were spontaneous.

Naman Sharma, Executive Director, U’th Time Integrated Media Services says, “The primary source of traffic for online shopping (and other e-commerce portals) plus social media activity are young consumers (in the age group of 13 to 25). As a result, the number of online shopping platforms has increased and/or expanded dramatically over the last few years.”

Adds Manu Kumar Jain, Managing Director, Jabong.com, “As per our data points, people in the age group of 18-25 comprise significant share of sales on our website. We are also seeing an increasing trend of repeat buy in this age group and at the same time they are open to it and are trying out new things every time they browse through.”

Since the consumer behaviour of youth is extremely dynamic, to gain consumer confidence, e-commerce websites are offering additional services such as flexible payment options, Cash on Delivery, and flexible return policy. Online shopping comes with added benefits of time saving, fuel saving, quality control and  privilege of being able to compare brands/styles/prices easily.

Keeping pace with speed
It has now become a regular practice for youth to search for customer reviews on web, blogs, consumer forums and other social media websites to gather insights before purchasing anything. Mohit Hira, Chief Marketing Officer, Career Building Solutions, NIIT, says, “Facebook has become the most popular source for almost all information: be it movie reviews or educational courses.”

Not just Facebook, extensive research is undertaken by youth on the web about the company, quality of customer service, and kind of products a retailer offers. Staying cool in the eyes of the youth has become a lot harder since all brands are trying to tap into the huge market that India has to offer. Fastrack’s Bhasin thinks, “They consult each other a lot more, critique instantly and voice their opinions to the world in an instant. More and more youth are travelling today and seeing the world. Within India, Tier-II and III towns, students are moving to the big cities to live their dream and have newer experiences. Brands have to constantly keep pace with the speed of communication among circles of friends and work that much harder to be part of their conversations.”

Spoilt for choices
With numerous brands, both from India and outside, have made them spoilt for choices. Samar Singh Sheikhawat, Senior Vice President, Marketing, United Breweries, agrees, “They are faced with a bewildering plethora of choices in everything they do.”

And this unlimited choice also makes them more demanding from a brand’s perspective. They want better quality, more value-for-money, superior experience and more.

What’s up with the small town cousins?
If the industry reports are something to go by, about 70 per cent of the retail consumption is contributed by smaller towns of India. “The young people in smaller towns have bigger ambition and are much more driven,” feels Aditya Swamy – EVP & Business Head, MTV India.

Tarak Bhattacharya, Chief Operating Officer, Mad Over Donuts, feels that the youth in these pockets, generally try to connect and get inspired by urban lifestyles and trends. “The onset of a mall culture in the smaller towns is opening up new avenues for the consumer to discover and adapt to. These markets being untapped by us, open up a plethora of marketing opportunities.”

Nili Zur, General Manager (Beverages), Nestle India, doesn’t want to find differences between the Tier-II/III youth and their metro cousins. “They are both very significant. We now factor in for this and try to ensure that our communication is more universal and not layered with references that would limit it to an urban context. The story needs to be equally relatable, no matter where you are based, since our distribution system is already reaching our coffee products to consumers across different market,” she says.

Anand Chakravarthy, Executive Vice President, Marketing, Reliance Broadcast Network, adds, “A discerning buyer will go in for branded and lifestyle products, irrespective of location. With social media coming of age, the knowledge of new products and values towards lifestyle are generic in all age groups across geographies.”

The small town youth is equally digitally savvy and in fact their level of involvement with the digital medium is higher than youth in bigger cities. Their contribution to e-commerce, in fact is more than their metro cousins.
One such e-commerce portal, Yepme claims that 70 per cent of its sales is from small town and only 30 per cent from metros and big cities.

Mukesh Bansal, CEO & Founder, Myntra.com agrees, “Even the consumption pattern is growing like it did in the metros. We are aiming at reaching out to our customers in these cities in a much bigger way by using a mix of various marketing activities.”

As for the differences, marketers feels that there is a certain cynicism and a higher level of expectation in the metro youth and so they require a little more sophisticated marketing strategy compared to their rural and small town counterparts.

United Breweries’ Shekhawat says, “Our whole package approach has to be more sophisticated and slick for a metro youth at the moment as opposed to the rural youth. But the more they are exposed, this will scale up and their expectations will become very similar to the urban youth in many areas.”

Hira, meanwhile, has an interesting observation to make. “The metro youth tend to expect extremely higher salaries from their first jobs but are reluctant to put in extra effort for this. Students from smaller towns, however, are a lot more pragmatic and willing to work harder,” he adds.

Marketing mantras while dealing Gen Y
At the same time, this dynamic set of consumers, irrespective of their geography, is posing a challenge for marketers. Only those with an appetite for aggressive innovation and ability to offer entertainment seamlessly fused with a social experience will manage to do so before the consumer loses interest and moves on. Marketers feel when it comes to reaching youth, it’s never one medium that  serves the purpose to target the youth today. “If you have to talk to the youth today, you have to surround sound them, so we look at four zones to talk to young people including: TV, social media, digital and  real live space,” says MTV’s Swamy. He further points out that social media is dealt differently from digital, because social is another stream. It’s a hangout: so if 10 years ago, there was a PVR or a cafe Coffee Day where the youth used to hang out, today it’s social where they hang out.

Nescafe’s Zur shares, “We consider ‘digital’ to be a very exciting medium, especially when it comes to connecting with the youth. We have already made a beginning in digital with our very successful Facebook page ‘Know Your Neighbours’ and will continue to create initiatives of consumer interest on this medium. At the same time,  since personal exchanges play a very significant role in creating more intimate and lasting experiences we will continue to emphasise on-ground interactions.”

The company has Café Nescafe hubs in colleges to boost the brand’s on-ground presence amongst the youth.

Similarly, Puma has taken the music route to connect with youth. It launched ‘Puma Loves Vinyl’ platform which brought together seven bands, got them to record an original Puma social song and will now press a limited edition

Vinyl LP featuring these songs. Puma’s Mehta says, “We have never been a ‘logo presence’ brand. By simply sponsoring a property we get no value. We rely on BTL engagement and activations that are event led to target the youth.”

Music events are also favourite of media brands targeting youth. Over the past one year, youth channel, Bindass has focused a lot on music content too. The channel had a mix of Indian and international artists like Lady Gaga and David Guetta in its fold. The channel also associated with names like Rabbi and Swarathma to offer Indi Pop and Folk Rock and add some spice to its music offering. Kunal Mukherjee, Director, Marketing UTV & BindassNetworks, says, “The youth has responded very well to these properties. We have also delved into connect programmer where we have aggregated platforms for advertisers and their youth consumer target group.”

When one is talking about connecting with youth, it’s very difficult to miss a brand like Red Bull. Last year the brand utilised the Formula 1 platform very heavily to connect with Indian Youth. It launched Red Bull Speed Street with the Formula 1 show car running in front of India Gate.

Another brand which went berserk on ground to lure youth is PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew. The brand launched Mountain Dew Xtreme Tour in India, with the objective to drive increased consumer engagement by making them experience and witness action sports, going well with its positioning of ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’! Under this initiative, Mountain Dew organised consumer workshops across metros and smaller cities in addition to bike mobs in various colleges.

From PepsiCo stable, another youth focused initiative was complete brand refresh of 7UP with a new upbeat positioning of ‘Dil Bole I Feel UP’. Ruchira Jaitly, Executive Vice President – Marketing, Beverages (Flavours) PepsiCo India, says, “7UP introduced a peppy anthem that caught on very well and is still on a lot of people’s cell phones as their caller tunes and ringtones for which, we got over 50 lakh downloads across the country. Of course, the TVC which has Sharman Joshi doing a dance-off with a penguin is directed at the youth, who have liked the concept and found it fresh.”

For some, youth brands extending the brand beyond their usual realm is another way to connect with the consumers. For instance Channel V launched brand extensions like The V Spot Cafe+Bar and Indiafest. The latter is a college festival property created by the brand. Prem Kamath, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Channel V, says, “We realised the limitation of conventional marketing, owing to the clutter and noise all the brands are making. Brand extensions such as The V Spot Cafe+Bar and Indiafest have obvious commercial benefits but they’re also invaluable platforms to connect with the youth.” The brand has also integrated Indiafest in the screenplay of the story lines of its fiction shows.

The channel in the recent past has also done some major changes in its programming and has increased focus on fiction shows. Kamath feels, “In the ‘90s, music programming was a rage and the VJs were demi-gods. Today, YouTube has changed the way youth demand and consume music. We took a hard look at these facts and did the unthinkable for most – stopping music programming.” Contrary to popular cynicism, ratings according to him “have remained steady and audiences hardly seem to be missing it.”

We certainly cannot afford to not talk about Airtel’s successful ‘Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota Hai’ campaign. Apart from its above the line campaigns, Airtel has also focused on sports. Most recently, it announced the launch of Airtel Rising Stars – a rigorous scouting programme that will cover 16 cities across India and choose 12 talented footballers who will get the chance to attend a week long training camp with Manchester United in Old Trafford, England.

While, most of the above have been concentrating on sports and adventure buffs, Cupidspeaks.com, a popular youth portal, is trying to not leave the geeks out. In May, earlier this year, Cupidspeaks.com in association with Dell, Belkin and Yebhi.com organised the Delhi Chapter of Blogathon, which brought young bloggers from different cities together. Akshita Jain, CEO & Founder, Cupidspeaks.com, says, “The meet totally defined the purpose of the network. The fact that we trended in India not only on the day of the event but also the next three days, says the scale and the effect of the initiative completely.”

Amidst all this, the bigger question is, do youth follow brands or do brands chase the young? Do our marketers understand the youth well? What picture do Indian marketers behold of youth brands in India? In the following pages, we try to peek into the mind of the marketers of some of the youth brands in India. While MS Dhoni still remains a hot property amongst marketers, this year, Mark Zuckerberg and Deepika Padukone too make it to the list. Meanwhile, i next’s Editor & COO, Alok Sanwal finds India’s former President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam as a youth icon.

With more inputs from Ruchika Kumar & Abhinav Mohapatra

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Abhinav Mohapatra

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