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State of the Nation: The New India is thriving and shows no signs of slowing

By Dheeraj Sinha | Chief Executive Officer

January 29, 2023 | 7 min read

Confident, limitless and unstoppable, in today's India, nothing is impossible, writes Dheeraj Sinha, CEO of Leo Burnett South Asia and Chairman of BBH India. The new India is thriving as technology, entrepreneurism and enduring consumer-demand help keep the nation strong against global headwinds.

India Night image

India Night Image / Image by Souvick Ghosh from Pixabay

The Unstoppables

India's median age is 28.4 years – a country of the young who are turning its competitive advantage in building services and a manufacturing-based economy. A young population unleashing the consumption economy has led India's domestic consumption to grow at 11.5% in nominal terms over the last decade, as per the latest EY study titled - India at 100.

More importantly, this is the generation of youth in India that are unstoppable in their spirit. Two decades ago, India came into its own with a newfound confidence on the back of economic and cultural change ushered by economic liberalization. The liberalization generation of India brought a positive, can-do attitude to the country. The current generation, however, has been brought into a world beyond confidence. Today's India is about outcomes being guaranteed. Success is a given outcome in today's India, as reflected in India's attitude in cricket, building startups or our international policy. When today's Indian icons such as Virat Kohli take to batting, they do it with an outcome guarantee to get India to victory. This is a marked shift from the traditional spirit of India, which was more about trying, not necessarily winning. In today's India, nothing is impossible.

Mainstreaming of Startups

The show 'Shark Tank', streaming on national television, has turned entrepreneurship into a dinner table conversation in a country where government jobs have been the most elite form of employment. At prestigious Indian MBA schools, apart from the classical MNCs, Indian startups and large new-age companies born out of India are the hot recruiters. There is a clear mainstreaming of the entrepreneurial mindset in India, fueled by the dreams of creating life-changing value for yourself and others. Stories of brands turning unicorns in a couple of years have told everyone that they could have a passport to the big league. Startups are the new rockets out of the middle-class life that Indians grew up in. This underlines the spirit of the Indian youth today – that they are limitless.

The D2C (direct-to-consumer) revolution has perhaps been the most significant disruption with respect to business in India. Several categories, such as finance, personal care, entertainment and so on, led by longstanding traditional players, have been disrupted by new, funded D2C brands, forcing rules of business and marketing to change overnight. Brands such as PhonePe in the payments category, Mamaearth in personal care, and BoAT in wearables are India-origin brands built by first-generation entrepreneurs who were typical managers in multinational firms at some point in time. These brands have captured massive market and mind share in the last couple of years.

Technology Everywhere

Technology is the biggest disrupter in today's India. Digital public goods such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface), COWIN (the digital platform for vaccine administration, and DigiLocker (cloud for all identity documents) have, apart from making lives easy, made technology a part of every home and street in India. You could today use a QR code to pay for candy at a tier 2 shop or make an offering at a temple.

Technology can also disrupt the consumer journey or unlock new value in any category. Whether it's over 500 million people on YouTube, over 260 million on UPI or half of that on e-commerce - technology is driving the consumer revolution and the entrepreneurship boom and is the base of all the public digital goods being rolled out by the government. Digital is a means to customer acquisition, brand building, and fulfilment.

Net Exporter of Talent and Brands

Indians going abroad for skilled and unskilled jobs is an old story. The new story is Indian talent such as Priyanka Chopra making a mark on the world stage, and Indian brands such as Mahindra, BoAT or going international. For today's India, the world is a stage. The ambitions of new India are not limited to India; today's youth want to win the world, and mostly sitting out of India, using India as a launchpad.

There was a point in time when India was excited about everything foreign (brands, music, heroes). From there to now, where there is a newfound confidence in everything Indian, whether it's the technology that enables our 5G infrastructure or SUVs that make us comfortable and cool, we've come a long way. Backed by the government's policies and narrative, today's India sees itself as a global player.

Consumer-market led Buoyancy

In the short term, like most of the world, India faces pain in technology-led categories. The sudden rush for getting unit-positive is leading to consolidation, and only the fittest will survive this. The consumer demand, on the other hand, is holding up well despite the funding winter and the consumer goods companies, especially at the mass-premium end, are doing well.

In some ways, there's divine justice on the side of the traditional consumer demand-led brands who had been almost elbowed out by the heat that the VC-funded companies generated when it came to hiring talent, buying premium media properties such as IPL, or getting the attention of consumers. Between the two, however, the India story still holds up despite global headwinds.

Overall, the India story remains that of buoyancy and globality led by its large young population and backed by technology as a platform.

Dheeraj Sinha is the CEO of Leo Burnett South Asia and Chairman of BBH India.

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