Understanding Generation Z in India | Marketing

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Generation Z refers to the population born approximately between 1997 and 2010.

Today, that population is associated with a set of stereotypical characteristics that make them all resemble popular Gen Z icon Billie Eilish. They are seen as hyper-progressive individuals who were born in an era of changing political power.

Homosexuality in most countries has been decriminalized. A person of color became President of the United States, and Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female Chancellor.

So diversity is their norm and, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, this generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse.

Generation Z is the first natively digital generation, born at the height of technical innovation. They are the generation that has always had access to a variety of digital and social media platforms. This allows them to stay connected to all forms of self-expression, which would have contributed to their increasingly liberalized views. This spread of diversity is often reflected in their self-expression as well, distinguishing them from previous generations. This includes a fluid expression between the sexes with clothes and hair, and a moody mood that suits their constant ecological anxiety.

This pen-and-ink portrait, however, is based on data collected in the West, primarily America. Are these characteristics shared by this generation across the world, especially in India where collectivist values ​​are just as dominant as globalized and individualized forces?

It seems that this portrayal is largely true for upper-class and upper-caste Indians who live in metropolitan cities, since they had a mostly STRANGE upbringing (Western, educated, industrialized, wealthy, and democratized).

On the flip side, Gen Z in India’s second and third-tier cities have some differences in self-expression, resulting from the confluence of two opposing sources of influence that makes them particularly unique.

In order to understand how Gen Z in India’s Tier Two and Tier Three cities are different, it’s important to note how they are similar to the overall Gen Z pattern.

All Gen Zs show vertical challenge and horizontal compliance. This means that they all show a desire to reject parental and societal values ​​of appearance, gender expression, racism, and caste discrimination. There is a tendency to define themselves as more open-minded and divergent than the previous generation.

Interestingly, this defiant behavior is displayed across this generation, which makes it inherently normative. Generation Z uses this progressiveness to signal awakening, which has become for them the new social currency.

Gen Z is struggling to be accepted by their peers, for two main reasons. First, they are still in the process of developing their personal identity. Therefore, they use each other as points of reference to understand the acceptability of their behaviors. Second, it is a way for them to develop bonds and to fight against the deep isolation they experience. The pandemic has severely hampered Gen Z’s ability to interact with each other in person or form new connections. As a result, many Gen Z members report experiencing sadness, stress, anxiety, and depression. Gen Z is the most depressed generation, according to a US study, and the same is true of Gen Z in India. To cope, Generation Z uses their online representations to find their clan and a sense of belonging.

Today, Generation Z is surrounded by uncertainty. The internet, capitalism and new technologies have created a crisis of choice for young people. They have so many options to choose from when it comes to deciding which field to choose for their education and career. The same goes for the behavioral permutations they are exposed to when it comes to appearance, gender, and sexual expression. This confusion has obviously been exacerbated by the pandemic. How Gen Z in second- and third-tier cities is dealing with this crisis is what sets them apart from other Gen Z members. Unlike Gen Z in the West whose self-idea is highly liberated and dependent on Self-thought and of their free will, Gen Z in India’s second and third-tier cities have always held on to Indian cultural values ​​and the norms of their context to guide them. in the creation of the person.

These values ​​serve as anchor points that provide well-structured boundaries for their self-expression in a time of heightened confusion. Therefore, their motivations and behaviors do not aim only to please the individual, but also to respect the context that surrounds him: to navigate in the relations with the parents, the society and the expectations imposed on them.

This is extremely evident in the career choices most of them make. Most Gen Zers still choose traditional professional fields such as engineering, medicine, or business through an MBA. These areas are of great value not only due to the fact that they are low risk but also bring great reputation to the person and their family for raising a capable and successful child.

Instead, these Gen Zs exhibit a similar self-determinism to other Gen Zs through their hobbies and interests, which don’t stick to traditional boundaries but are much more focused on self-experimentation.

Sexual and gender expression is becoming another area constrained by cultural norms of Generation Z in India’s second and third tier cities. The tug between matching the Western global idea of ​​liberalization and dealing with the country’s current rigid gender norms has certainly allowed for more progressive gender expression, but certainly not fluid gender expression. Both men and women seem to display expressions that are closer to their conventional gender expressions. Thanks to social media analytics, women are more likely to post photos that emphasize their appearance and beauty. While men are more likely to post photos that reinforce their status and suggest their resourcefulness.

For example, men post more pictures of their trips, their bikes, or the alcohol they drink. In addition, women are still hesitant to talk about politics, as it has always been an area dominated by men. Men, on the other hand, are still right-wing centrists who are reluctant to relinquish their privileges.

Yet the shift in gender expression is visible. Women’s self-expression is no longer guided solely by the male gaze; rather, it aims to build self-confidence and attract a wider audience than just men. This is evident in their experimentation with makeup and outfits which is not limited to simply enhancing their femininity. Women have also started to occupy more space in the conversation for nation building by sharing resources to help rather than just opinions on political issues. Men have also become more liberal in their expression. Although they are slower to change, they are not limited by rigid norms of masculinity. They no longer compete for a rugged exterior and also show an equal desire for smooth, soft skin.

The final area of ​​divergence is in the area of ​​mental health. Today Gen Z in the west and other urban cities of India are more accepting of their own mental health issues and openly seeking help for them.

Gen Z in India’s second and third largest cities face similar issues of isolation and anxiety. Yet the stigma of speaking out about their own mental health issues still prevents them from speaking openly. This does not prevent them from supporting other people with mental health issues or using mental health content to signal their arousal. In summary, there is a general acceptance of mental health problems today, as long as they stay away from home and others do not find out about their personal problems.

This has several implications for brands targeting Gen Z in India.

1. Omnichannel approach: Generation Z is always surrounded by information. A one-dimensional approach to reaching the consumer may not be effective. Brands may need to reach them through multiple channels, reiterate and reinforce their message to build trust. An integrated strategy involving a combination of online and offline channels is needed to capture some space in an increasingly cluttered Gen Z mind.

2. Individual Self-Expression: Generation Z consumption is about individual self-expression. Consumption goes beyond the simple functional utility of the consumable. Brands must help and support this self-expression.

3. Sense of belonging: Beyond the need for self-expression, Generation Z also values ​​belonging to a community of like-minded individuals. Brands have the ability to build this community and instill a sense of belonging in their consumers.

4. Ethical consumption: With an emphasis on morality, Generation Z chooses their brands carefully. They expect brands to be ethical and to take a stand. Brands may need to understand the ethical and moral values ​​that Gen Z stands for and build their brands around these values ​​in order to capture the limelight.

While the above list of implications is important, it is not exhaustive. Generation Z is an evolutionary generation, brands may need to be dynamic in their approach to them.


Feryl Badiani and Harish Krishna are partners at Quantum Consumer Solutions.


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