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Digital Crackers Lay the Foundation For a New India: 3 Trends That India Needs to Imbibe To Grow In 2021 These trends will also be crucial to reduce the trust deficit that Indians face in their attempt to resume to pre-COVID normalcy (something that they were complacent with and a state to which there is no going back as the equation itself has changed)

By Shahan Sud

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With the COVID-19 vaccination drive seeing healthy momentum in India since the beginning of 2021, Indians might feel jubilant. This development brings out the hope citizens have and definitely tries to assuage the fears of the people that led them to ensure social distancing becomes a practice, thereby changing the way they consume. This transformation of the consumer landscape had its roots in the COVID-19 outbreak of the late 2019 and was subsequently reinforced by the nationwide lockdown that was implemented in March 2020. With nine months into the pandemic, the lockdown gave consumers an opportunity to reinvent there habits, rethink their priorities and accordingly rewire their lives for an age driven by "digital crackers'; this refers to the increased reliance on the online medium for not just sustenance but also for consuming necessities and for in-home entertainment services. As we shift from piggybacking on these "digital crackers' to making them part of our lives we must understand a few subtle trends that are crucial for us to imbibe a culture of inclusiveness; a trait that is the need of the hour as the work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) trend has reduced socialization and increased stress and anxiety. These three trends listed below will also be crucial to reduce the trust deficit that Indians face in their attempt to resume to pre-COVID normalcy (something that they were complacent with and a state to which there is no going back as the equation itself has changed).

Consumers become impatient, yet driven by conscious consumption

With our smartphone being a lifeline to many of us, we have become accustomed to viewing glimpses of information rather than reading to understand it. This is apparent from the social media stories or reels. I believe that over time, technology algorithms of social media platforms will be able to better predict your viewing patterns (as this has already being implemented) to show consumers what they want as their attention span would have weakened further from its already alarming lows. This highlights an important trend that has solidified due to the lockdown: consumers have started to place a premium on their time. This premiumization will be a deciding factor for which activities they would like to shift in-home (increased dependence on hyperlocal delivery platforms and video conferencing software), and which would they like to do so in the traditional out-of-home style. The balance between the two is what i refer to as a conscious consumption. I believe that this premiumization trend will be augmented by the trend to be more productive with one's time thereby promoting the growth of tools that will assist in multitasking such as voice commerce. This development will make brands want to ask: How can we engage consumers that are already preoccupied? A roadmap to address this will help traditional brands retain their position even in Generation Alpha's (those born in the 21st century) consumption baskets.

Indians will continue to socialize, with a twist

Humans are social creatures. In general, an average Indian likes to engage in office canteen discussions, interact with the local vegetable vendor/hyperlocal delivery personnel to get a status update on the local neighbourhood daily headlines and celebrate every occasion possible with close family and friends. The social distancing norms, mandated government lockdown and the shift towards working remotely till the vaccine drive starts did not give individuals the opportunity to socialize in person. However, like all other facets of one's life this too shifted online. Individuals turned to virtual hangouts to watch films with their loved ones, single Indians relied to a great extent on dating apps as a way to socialise when India was under strict lockdown and individuals resorted to multi-player virtual games to connect with their friends. Even as out-of-home interactions were limited, the pandemic taught us the value of spending time with one's family and creating moments with them. Other than the immediate family, I believe all other socializing will slowly shift online. Based on the level of comfort, this socialization could range from being video enabled to being app driven to even being driven by a virtual community. As consumers shift to digital landscapes to socialize brands will need to develop new strategies to cater to their tastes while not invading their privacy. Furthermore as out-of-home experiences continue in-home due to heightened hygiene concerns even when the vaccine roll-out has begun, brands will need to curate myriad experiences in terms of dining, entertainment and basic functionality as multifunctional homes will become a norm rather than an exception over the next three to five years.

Mental health will soon be part your employment contract

With COVID-19 making WFH and WFA a basic need to ensure organizations sustain themselves, India started an open conversation about mental health in mid-2020, ripping the stigma that was attached to it. Even though offices have opened in a phased manner, WFH and WFA will continue for certain sections of the working population. While this permanent WFH and WFA model might bring into its fold many people who would not have otherwise made it to a physical office (due to them having special needs), it might also blur the lines between work and home; thereby adding fodder to the anxiety and stress one might already have been facing due to lockdown induced isolation. Given the effects of latter may outweigh the former, I believe that going forward mental health and wellness will be an integral part of new-age employment contracts. In addition to this wellness centric brands will use their brand campaigns as a messaging tool to highlight mindfulness and comfort (the idea of them being a mental space that triumphs anxiety, stress and pressures of balancing different roles) while consumer brands will drive awareness campaigns largely around the themes #ShareYourMind, or #HowAreYouDoing?. Despite this, I feel, there will be a parallel need for individuals to fortify their mental health, a trait which can be reflected in having a higher emotional intelligence. With the ability to have a higher emotional quotient being one of the preferred traits organizations are looking for when they hire, especially at a time when "uncertainty' is being used as a hook word, individuals will have to consistently learn to grow. These three sub-trends will help corporates and early-stage ventures start the discussion about innovation in their work culture, thereby ensuring that the changing model of work does not hamper larger organizational goals and productivity (business targets).

Shahan Sud

Investment banking analyst at Anand Rathi Advisors

Shahan Sud is an investment banking analyst at Anand Rathi Advisors. A Christ University alumnus, Shahan is passionate about the Indian economy, public finance and policy solutions for a growing India. In 2018, he was amongst a select few to represent India at Harvard University, Cambridge and actively engaged in a slew of discussions about South Asia.

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