India and Bharat no longer that dissimilar | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

India and Bharat no longer that dissimilar

ByShuchi Bansal
Oct 05, 2023 08:38 AM IST

The gap between India and Bharat has narrowed in terms of consumer behaviour due to technology adoption and reverse migration

The reference to India and Bharat in the Constitution of India that states, “India, that is, Bharat, shall be a Union of States” may have settled more than one India versus Bharat debate -- politically as well as for the purposes of business.

India and Bharat no longer that dissimilar PREMIUM
India and Bharat no longer that dissimilar

Traditionally, marketing experts divided the country into two markets -- India and Bharat – with the former comprising the metros and big cities and the latter constituting smaller towns to push their brands according to their distinct demographic profiles.

However, a recent webinar on ‘Small Towns, Big Opportunities’ organised by Market Research Society of India (MRSI) said the gap between these two markets has narrowed in the last 5-6 years in terms of consumer behaviour.

‘India Versus Bharat: Blurring Distinction’, a report by data and insights firm Kantar, said that what people in small towns buy, watch, think and aspire for, is akin to their counterparts in the metros.

It classified small towners as people inhabiting tier 2 and 3 cities with a population of less than 5 lakh. The top metros and tier 1 cities (population above 5 lakh) were called the rest of urban India. Speakers from research firm Kantar, ad agency BBDO and FMCG major ITC Ltd inferred that the chasm between the buying behaviour and mindset of people in these markets has reduced on the back of rapid adoption of technology, social media usage, e-commerce expansion, proliferation of digital payment systems and, above all, reverse migration during the pandemic.

Aditya Kaul, group account director, Kantar, said the role of the internet and its influence on small town users is in line with the rest of urban India. While internet access in smaller towns grew 83% between 2017 and first half of 2023, for metros and tier 1 cities it grew by 54%. Smartphone ownership jumped by 85% in tier 2 and tier 3 towns compared to 75% in the metros and tier 1 cities in the same period. Online shopping, too, grew 37% in smaller towns compared to 20% clocked by rest of urban India.

With the world at their fingertips, more consumers in small towns than in big cities said they would call themselves somewhat westernised. Much like their metro counterparts, they are happy to pay a premium for products that make their life easier. “This indicates their increasing focus on self-love,” Kaul said.

“Also, attitudinal shift is visible in the way they are thinking about equality and gender roles. Men should share household chores and women must continue to work after marriage are the concepts that came up during the survey,” he added. Kantar gleaned data from a sample size of 38,000 people.

Kantar study highlights the degree of change happening in lower town classes and the homogenisation of aspirations in the absence of information asymmetry or digital divide between a young person in a metro and one in a tier 3 town, Kaul said.

“Basically, there is no longer ‘us’ versus ‘them’ for brands looking to target Bharat or India. There is no small versus big either,” said Suraja Kishore, CEO at ad agency BBDO. The longstanding assumptions about India versus Bharat consumers are outdated. He said Mumbai’s service industry employs millions of people from small towns. “So, is small town a geography or mindset? And does that mindset even exist?” he said.

Earlier, people from small towns came to metros in search of livelihoods. However, Covid 19 triggered reverse migration which bridged the gulf between the two markets. “People realized they could work remotely from their home towns. Digital revolution helped these people stay in the reverse migration mode,” said Kishore.

Those who moved back also generated demand for brands that they were used to in their big city life, driving companies to relook at their product and distribution strategies for small towns, said Ashish Shukla, consumer & markets insights lead at ITC Ltd. People are buying premium beauty brands and high-end mobile phones. Tier 2 city Coimbatore has seen its new Imax theatre run to packed houses despite steep ticket prices.

BBDO’s Kishore said consumers across markets and income classes are up-to-date on the diversity and inclusion debate. “Brands are picking up these signals. They know if they are not including everyone, people will gate crash. They want to celebrate the differences,” Kishore said.

Kantar’s Kaul said such changes in convictions and increased individualism are bringing small towns on a par with the metros.

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