Consumer of the future 2: The classic Markets A to E: my generation

Continued from previous post 1. Life couple of generation ago

Market A

As you saw in the lifestyle of the times of my grandma, the expenses catered purely to the minimal requirements which couldn’t be managed inside the house. The first terminology to describe this basic setup is “Market A”. (I would use diverse terminologies in the following section to show you how the market evolved. Please note that these are my own picks and not from any other source). Where a government couldn’t support the population with employment opportunities, it was this joint family system which held the whole structure from crashing down. Sharing was the basis for such economy and savings was the only way which could rescue a family in case of any mishap. Please note here that I’m not using the word “person” rather “family”. For this “Market A”, a person would always be addressed in a “collective” sense. So selling a product to such a person would be bought only if it made sense to the whole household, especially the women who will mostly be the users of the products. This mindset exists even today and can be seen with the Indian ad’s where they typically try to sell a product to a woman, even sometimes if it’s a product for the kid or the man of the house. Of such private produced products, the ones which made way in the initial years into the house were tooth cleaning powder. With this powder as an example, the evolution into further market types are described below, which then gradually in the end will tend to understand the consumer of the future. Products like tooth powder were the transitional products which led to a “Market B” which tried to ease the effort of running a joint family household.

Market B

Before arrival of tooth paste and a brush, south Indians used the branch of a lemon tree to cleanse the teeth and which was also not an easy thing to use. Convincing people to move from such a habit which had been in practice over decades and making them buy a brush was a humongous task. Instead of one simple branch, it’s normal that there was inertia to buy two products – a paste and brush – to do the same job! It felt as an expensive plastic alternative for a simple branch which was found everywhere. But the one problem the branch had had was the ease of use. If pressed hard, sometimes the tooth would bleed hard or even break in worst case. Colgate might have used this as an anchor and introduced a powder! The powder was packed in a can with some holes on the cap. One shakes the can and releases some powder on the left palm. Using the forefinger of the right-hand as a brush, one would brush their teeth. The powder did the same task as a lemon branch and was not hard on the teeth. It was just one product and not two. Moreover, the genius part of a powder was, the usage was left to the user. A conservative user will brush with a just a meagre amount of powder and would have the sensation that the product is lasting forever!

Over years, what really got ingrained in the heads of people was the trust on the brand. “Colgate” as the company was considered to have thought something for the customer after trying to sincerely understand their problems. Later when the company introduced a tooth brush and paste, the attitude towards these products weren’t seen as an alternative for a lemon branch, because, by this time one generation later no one was using the branch anymore. What went in the people’s mind was “Our trustable Colgate released a new product which will be certainly in good intention as how they got the tooth powder for us. It will certainly be something which will make my life better”. This modus of operandi was the same with many other products. The one hidden agenda what all the products targeted was to get the household outsource their jobs and also reducing dependency on nature. For which, the first thing was to break a habit which was many decades old. First release a product which addressed their immediate problem. Change the habit and simultaneously gain the trust for the brand by maintaining consistency over years and then release the actual product which they had in mind from the beginning.  In a similar fashion to tooth powder leading to paste and brush, external tailoring eventually led way to ready-made clothes, cinemas eventually led to a Home screens, external mills led to owning a Mixer and Grinder, milkman led to packaged milk, public transportation led way to private owner vehicle, automatic and electric cars are leading way to driverless cars and so on.  Not all the products had this pattern. A Radio was government driven, the savings mindset made the sale of Fridge easier and climatic conditions easily led to an electric fan to be accepted in the market.

Market C

When one by one the products started increasing in the household, more time was available to the individual person in the household, but not all the households converted this extra time to productivity. Before they did, the TVs rushed in and held its audience hooked to the Programmes – mainly the women! Men escaped this for most part of the day, as they were working. Women population, the housewives were neither highly skilled as their mothers in nor let to work, as the man’s salary was enough to address their needs too. From the eyes of my grandma’s generation in “Market A”, it was seen that only a poor household would send their women out to work. Such mindsets did not let the women to grow in “Market B”. Amidst these superstitions and social fear, an Indian housewife of the 90’s or 2000s was nowhere close to the skills her grandmother had. That housewife still was as busy as the grandmother, as joint family concept was broken by the new market. The household which had its activities divided among more women, now had to be run by one woman. It also brought an advantage in a way that children got more attention than the previous generation. In grandma’s generation, the saying is that the children brought up by themselves. The joint family brought up all the children of the house together and not necessarily just the mom and dad. Childcare got high in that sense that the parents had more private time for the kids. Also TV domination which began in the 80s still had its strong hold. This scenario is “Market C”, which managed to change the definition of a customer from joint family to nuclear family. “Market B” sold one big tooth powder box to a whole joint family with five sub nuclear families with three people in each family. Meanwhile “Market C” sold 5 toothpaste tubes to the 5 sub nuclear families and 15 tooth brushes!

People were happy of this development as it gave them silence and got them peace from friction in a joint family setup. Although financially a joint family setup made more sense, the preference moved to individual liberation! “Market C” also infused a new habit: it decreased the inertia to buy a new product. People got trained that any new product got them liberated in some way.  This in a way drove innovation too. New products aimed not only at easing some of their existing activity, it also introduced new activities: the best example to this phenomenon was “Treadmill”. “Market C” enhanced peer pressure too. New products got bought not just for the sake of liberation, but also to catch up with a neighbour who seemed to have got a different liberation due to some newly brought product which she is proud of. “Treadmill” gained a wide acceptance in the society mainly by peer pressure. In reality it hardly got used and just either held a space or was used to dry clothes. Some or the other product of peer pressure may have been useless, but it led to an even bigger concept called “Branding!”

Market D

The advertisements still targeted women. Only transportation related advertisements and exclusive products for men like shaving cream targeted men, rest of the household products were making their focus only on women. Appealing to women, by this time, all the households got filled with products the market could sell. It felt as if the market was heading to saturation, but then, product variants started arriving just in time. My house had a TV from Solidaire Company for more than 10 years. Then word started spreading around that a new company from Japan entered the market and that they were better. Guests coming home would mock us saying on how outdated we were. Soon enough, the brand “Aiwa” made its way to our home. Please note here my conscious usage of the move from “company” to “brand”. A company makes a product. A brand shows promise. Ironically, no one knows how a “promise” is defined. Does it bring me longevity in usage? Does it make my use maintenance free? Does it hurt my wallet less? Or May the promise encompasses all these criteria together. But in reality, by the time we test the first promise, we tend to switch to a new promise from a different product. Onida might say that their TV would last for 10 years, but then the promise of “Aiwa” offered a much stronger promise, which due to peer pressure was difficult to ignore. This is “Market D” – the explosion of product variants. People received the trick called Branding! Correlating to the same example describing the other types of markets, “Market D” managed to replace the brand from “Colgate” to “Oral B” and some of the 15 brushes got even replaced with electric toothbrushes!

Colgate came back into game by introducing sub-brands. Concept of sub-brands let the company not falter when one their products should fail. Colgate had Colgate white, Colgate total, Colgate extra clean etc. If one of their products wouldn’t work, the whole company wouldn’t be blamed rather just that product series. Soon enough, this gave the company to completely disavow that series and make a new one. “Market D” also led to this concept of sub-brands which helped the company sustain its market by constantly introducing and renouncing product lines. This facilitated innovation too. Houses started to get filled with more and more products. Brands, sub-brands and product variants became enormous that no-one could keep track a new introduction to the market. Advertisements increased in their standards, as awareness more than the function of a product, brought revenues.

Monthly budget at the time of “Market D”: One big thing what worked in favour of India was the success of software industry. Money flow increased in the society and general affordability went higher. The biggest part still went to groceries and almost in the same proportions. Fresh vegetables got replaced with branded packs e.g. Reliance! The second biggest part of the salary went to the depreciation of assets or the monthly EMIs (Equated monthly installments) for diverse gadgets. Third share went to the now outsourced outdoor activities – gym memberships, swimming, karate, dance classes, singing classes etc.., Savings, if it all it existed, had the final place! Individual liberation does come at a cost!

Market E

Then came a “Market E” – its people were the new liberated generation! They were never in a joint family setup to begin with. They were less dependent on family members from birth! The gadgets which were available from the first time they opened their eyes did not give them the need to be dependent on other people! The shocking speed of all these developments was that the evolution from Market C to Market E happened within one generation. I belonged to this generation. Although Market E had many similar traits with Market D, there is one significant change. The new market spoke to my small cousins and the new budding members of the family! What made this possible and what also gives the need to differentiate Market D and E was the wider acceptance of internet and introduction of social network! Internet brought awareness on the A, B, C, D, Es of other world markets, thereby more new types of products were suddenly made available. Correlating to our tooth powder example, now “Market E” introduced Dental floss, Mouthwash, tongue scrappers, teeth whiteners etc. And social network offered the play ground to enhance peer pressure. More and more services got offered that people started choosing services not just to win the peer pressure, but also simply out of curiosity. Exponential product innovation gave them the tools to stand tall among peers. Restaurants started adopting western cuisines. An Italian meal of Rs.500 was bought without much thought, but a daily necessity of Rs.10 for rice was bargained.  My small cousin was sent for horse-riding classes in a 35°C burning hot city like Coimbatore. Coimbatore city had hardly any known arena to practice and the city itself was immensely crowded to take out the horses out on the streets. Innovation in product and services and speed of innovation blinded people from seeing their requirements. Before they understood the service, the money was already out. The monthly budget wasn’t enough anymore to afford the products. At the time, because of this lack of budget, when a second saturation in the market was about to happen, the banking industry came up with an innovative solution to make this situation profitable to themselves and get the market running too. When the customers did not have money anymore, they simply let them trade their future time to buy their product today. Higher the credit means, higher the time the person is liable or leashed to the bank. This Market E could also be said the introduction of Credit card in the market. Banking systems facilitated this consumerism and offered this electronic leash. Consumers on one side were bamboozled by what the market has to offer. The advertisements and the products themselves were so innovative on the TV and social networks that they couldn’t take the eyes of it anymore. At the same time, the banking leash to the wallet ensured that they could react to the desires and promised money flow to the sellers. The consumer’s liability to the bank increased. This was till 2010.


Figure 1: Market E represented in true Indian style 🙂

Continued … 3. Kids of today: Markets F & G

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Consumer of the future 1: Life couple of generations ago

Recently a colleague had invited my wife and I for a brunch. He has two kids. One is eight and the other is two. I asked him on what I could buy for his kid. He refused, but I insisted. Then he said that there is a brand called “Top Model” which his eight year old kid and her friends in the class are crazy about. He said, any item will work as long as it’s “Top Model”. My wife went to Galeria Kaufhof in Heidelberg in the kid’s section. She was shocked at the assortment of goodies this brand had for the kids. All were glitzy and overpriced! She bought a slam book which had picture of three girls in early teens on it. Until I was 15 years old, I had no clue what a slam book was and now the current generation seems to be knowing “urban dictionary” terminologies already from birth. On one side you have the parent’s wallet getting a dent and the other side I had a shock on what these three girls, the picture was conveying: body fit clothes, puffed up lips, rosy cheeks, elaborately made up hair, slim figure, big bust etc… I was discussing this with a friend. He had a totally valid third shock over the brand “Top Model” itself. He exclaimed “How the hell does a eight year old has a grasp of branding?” The 90’s kids group I was, I can’t point to a single point of time, when I understood or started demanding a product based on a brand, but certainly not this young! Brand insistence came much later in the market. This discussion was the baseline which got me into this topic: an analysis on the consumer of future.

I would like to capture the life times of my Grandmother and my mother in the first part, for the readers, especially if there is a new-gen accidentally reading my blog. This is to give them a reference point on how the market they are living in today in 2018 evolved.

The setup is an Indian neighbourhood from 1950’s to about 1990’s, after which the digital life slowly but exponentially changed the dynamics to what we have today in 2018. I belong to this generation, which I would like to call as the “Transition” generation. My wife, my friends and I have lived in an Analog time, where getting what we want, even a simple thing like watching a TV, was a process. The antenna might not work or the wind might have turned the Antenna to a different direction. One person, usually I, had to climb the roof and shout to mom below saying “Okva?” (“Is it ok?” as in “do you receive the signal?”). This “Okva” question and she replying back “Illa! (No!) can go on for 15 minutes, until finally the right position of the Antenna makes the channel work. Mom will then shout back “Sari, keela va” (Good, come down now!). Once down, the process is not over yet as few more adjustments have to made to make the picture clearer. I have to plug out the cable from the TV socket. Unscrew and unwind the copper wire. I might even have to cut the cable further and take in fresh copper wire for the connection. Screw it to the pin and plug it in. The same life in today’s digital time is where I can talk to an empty room and the TV switches on automatically: I meant “Alexa! Can you switch on the TV?”

Applying this enjoyable struggle to the generation of my mom or grandma, their life would be as described in the following paragraphs. This is not an exact depiction, but it will give you a basic idea. Until 1990’s the living was usually in a joint family setup. The concept of a person was always addressed in a collective sense i.e. in the context of a family. There was a strict division of roles between men and women. The ladies of the house have to wake up first. Each lady will have their own duty. The first one goes to the house entrance and cleans the part of the road in front of the house. It’s swept with a broom and wet washed with water and cow dung. She makes an art called “Kolam” with colourful powders. The point of this activity is to indicate a guest coming to the home that the inmates are ready to receive them. The second lady goes to the cowshed and milks a litre in an aluminium can. She then has to pat the cows and feed them with hay. She addresses the cows with their names, as they are also considered as part of the family too. In houses where Egg-vegetarian food is eaten, eggs would be collected from the chicken too. My household had 5 ladies and my grandma’s household had more than ten. The rest of the ladies would begin setting the kitchen. Two people would collect the fuel for the stove from the backyard where the men of the house would have stacked up the dried coconut tree rests. Once collected, they pile them up to a foot high, pour a bit of fuel on it and light it up. By this time, the rest of the team would have gotten their ingredients ready. At 6AM the vegetable seller would visit every home with a push cart and bring fresh stuff from the farmers. The ladies wait in front of the homes for him to arrive. They argue with the seller to make the best picks and buy the stuff for the day’s cooking. Over time, the seller understanding the needs would have already pre-sorted them on a bamboo basket. It will just be simple exchange of money and basket. Sometimes, if the ladies wouldn’t make it on time, he would even take the effort to knock on the door, deliver and offers to take money later too. Same applies to the milkman who delivers milk to houses who don’t have their own cows.

All the ingredients, the freshest they could get, would be piled up on a mat for the morning meal. Each of them would be cut or ground or sliced or chopped as per the need. The head cook is usually the eldest or one of the ladies who has gained reputation in the family for her taste. In my grandma’s case, it was her youngest sister. The stove made from burning the coconut rest in a clay frame gets very hot and very fast. There is just one big flame and once the bowl is placed on the clay frame, it gets cooked in seconds or few minutes. Therefore, everything is pre-mixed in the bowl already, such that the heat simply finishes the cooking. There was hardly any step by step processing. By 7.30 AM, the meal is ready and served on banana leaves. The men of the house and the children would line up and sit on a bamboo mat unrolled on the floor in the common room. The men would have gotten up my 06:00 AM, done a bit of exercise by lifting heavy wooden logs, read the newspaper which also gets thrown into the house by a paper boy, then have finished taking bath by the side of the well by pulleying up the water, dress up the clothes ironed by the ladies the previous day and finally they are ready to eat and leave out for the day.

The kitchen ladies are dedicated to their job. They would have to repeat their job in cycles for the other two meals and one snack time too. They would take bath after the men are gone to work. Ladies from other houses visit each other after 10AM and they exchange gossips over board games. The working class, majority being men, usually work in government, school or agriculture. There were hardly private establishments. There were landowners, workers, clerks, teachers, journalists and shop owners employing a handful. Educated jobs like doctors, engineers, lawyers and professors were few and were highly respected. Their work will span till 19:00 PM, but with ample breaks for them to visit home for meal time and even may be take a short afternoon nap. In the evening, the men would visit each other in bakeries and discuss daily politics of the state on tea benches. Depending on the profession, some men meet at bakeries in the morning to read the newspapers together with other men too.

Children had to wear uniform for the school. Like then, it’s still a rule in most Indian schools to have identical looks for the children to avoid discrimination by looks. They pack their books and notebooks in the school bag the previous day before they go to sleep. When they wake the next morning, they would be herded up by the women, given bath and prepared for the school and be given with their school bag and a lunch bag. Depending on the school’s facilities, they might have benches to sit or the students would simply sit on the floor. The teacher reads out aloud and writes notes on a blackboard for children to copy to their notebooks. In 8 hours of school, they would be let to play on the ground for an hour with the other children. Cricket, hide and seek, football, badminton, throw ball and other games needing bodily effort for outdoor sports or chess and carom for indoors. For outdoor sports, for a longer period of time, the children would play barefoot on sand.

What did this life mean to them financially?

As many people lived under one big roof, either the house would usually be an asset which was passed down the generations or the many men of the family would split their costs in renting a big house. All the men handed over their monthly earnings to the eldest person in the family, which was usually a woman. She would then use the money for all common expenses which includes food and clothing too. For clothes, the women went to the textile market and bought one long piece of fabric in few colours. One or two of the women would also be skilled in tailoring. They would stitch clothes for all the persons in the family once a year. For furnitures, the flooring of the house was prepared in a way for easy use i.e. the floor would remain cold during hot weather. With just simple bamboo weaved mats put in use, the necessity of furniture was bare-minimal. They would be built mostly for elderly people as they wouldn’t be able to sit on the floor. Many a time it’s also built for the head of the family, in a way of symbolizing respect to their authority. Rich families usually bought wood in bulk and brought carpenters to home. The workers would stay in the home for many days and built as per requirement. The furnitures would turn out to be of such a good quality that they would last for a lifetime. Televisions came into homes only by 1970s. Till then one person in a street would have a TV and programs would be telecasted once a week – Doordarshan. The whole street would assemble at this house. By 1980’s and 1990’s there would be a TV for one joint family. Before that entertainment was usually group games, board games, newspapers or outdoor playing. With many men earning for one household, the only biggest part of the budget was just ingredients for the meals. Schools and transportation were government subsidized and were cheap. The concept of food as preventive medicine ensured healthy diets and thereby less need for medicines. Services like ironing, tailoring, cooking, preparing ingredients and even simple medicines were all made inhouse. Also such activities needed just a onetime investment in the gadgets and hardly any replacement. They were all of the mechanical type. Electrical gadgets came in much later. The knowledge of one household, especially the woman was humongous. The man was street smart and the woman was house smart! Any service which needed an external person would soon enough be learnt internally to cut down those additional costs. My grandma learnt to read Astrology to save costs for an astrologer! With major expenses going for food, this setup made it possible to allocate the second significant part of the budget to savings! Rest of the expenses were cut down to minimum by learning and having the costs inhouse. Only costs for the material remained. Machines were mechanical and labour was all inhouse. All those savings either moved as inheritance or ironically would be used as dowry for the woman in the house when getting her married off. This also meant that the son in the household had higher value as he brought dowry into the home. Considering what the women in household are capable of, the expectation on the skills of new daughter-in-law entering the household was significantly high!

To be Continued … 2. The Classic Markets A to E: my generation

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