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Asia next volume2_india


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Asia next volume2_india

  1. 1. ASIA / nextVolume TWO:The Material Girl With an MBA
  2. 2. Meet India’s Material Girl with an MBA What was earlier the exception is now becoming closer to the norm. It is a simple matter of art imitating life. Every day, India is increasingly seeing more instances of women in key leadership roles – be it in business, in politics, or in the media. The Presi- dent of India’s ruling coalition is a woman. The President of India is a woman. JP Morgan and HSBC, two of the largest financial institutions in the country, are led by women. The worldwide chief of Pepsico is a woman of Indian origin. This shift holds true even when we consider pop culture. The woman on the cinema screen is no longer reduced to running around trees. Her screen avatar now reflects her real-life avatar. She is no longer a doormat, rather, her name is now on the door. More roles are being written for women than ever before. Women endorse as many if not more brands than their male counterparts. Today’s woman is an influencer, an educated decision-maker and a consumer in her own right. She is the Material Girl with an MBA. India is witnessing an overwhelming surge of young female executives, taking the reins of organizations or starting their own ventures. They have broken the boundaries of traditionalism and are successfully establishing themselves as leaders that fuel change and celebrate success. A recent article in The Economist noted that 85 percent of Indian women consider themselves “very ambitious,” and 86 percent of Indian women executives aspire to hold a top job at some point in their career. These highly qualified women are determined and motivated in all aspects of life, as they balance the demands of a successful career, an active social life and a family. During their leisure time, they enjoy networking, socializing, working out and staying up- to-date on the latest trends. It is important for these women to look good and feel good about themselves. They have an insatiable appetite to enhance their lifestyle. This preoccupation differs from the previous generations because they have been exposed to many years of branding, have become comfortable with ‘consumerism’ and are not shy about enjoying material wellbeing. For these women, there is often a blurring between work and personal time. Now, with more international travel experiences and increased media consumption, these women fully under- stand and appreciate global trends and western pop culture icons, which have become in many cases a reference point for them. At a recent luxury conference hosted by Mint, a leading financial daily, fashion designer Manish Malhotra commented that “brand choic- es, clothes and accessories are important outlets in expressing and defining the women of today.” This idea was built upon further by leading L’Oreal brand ambassador, Bollywood actress and style icon, Sonam Kapoor. She believes that brands are a means for people to communicate something about themselves. For instance, she says, they wear a Cartier watch to showcase a particular style of life. This phenomenon, also termed “conspicuous consumption,” suggests that the purchase behavior of this group is driven by a need to acquire strong social capital through material possessions. It also indicates that these female professionals find a strong sense of “self” through their purchase decisions. The luxury market also reports a growing taste for exclusive products. The ratio denotes that the more unique a product, the higher its brand value. The woman who owns such a product is easily noticed among her social circle and is deemed to be as exquisite as the product itself. The latest marketing strategies from brands include a contemporary approach using technology and social media platforms. For example, Burberry’s revenue jumped more than 20 percent after adopting a social media campaign called, “The Art of Trench.” Geared to the newly arrived community of young professionals, brands such as Burberry engage the consumer, allowing them to take part in the Burberry lifestyle. Having a better understanding of brands, they gravitate toward nothing less than the best. These women no longer make purchases to accessorize them- selves. Now, these indulgences define their past aspirations, present accomplishments and future success.
  3. 3. We spoke to young women executives in their early to mid-thirties. They had interesting professional backgrounds in banking and finance, marketing, public relations, law and entertainment. Some had studied abroad and all were post graduates with a master’s degree. Their work day ranged from eight to 12 hours. However, their work and personal life overlapped and they spent plenty of time at lunches, dinner and cocktails for both business and networking purposes. Their interests included reading, writing, current trends and events, socializing, shopping, entertainment, nutrition and fitness. The overall life mantra for this group was to “look good and feel good” in all aspects of life. Here is what we learned from them. On brands and “branding” When asked about their thoughts on brands, they all immediately took this to mean “luxury brands.” According to Radha, a 32-year-old lawyer, brands are aspirational because they are iconic and authentic in character. Owning a luxury brand is more than a material purchase for her; it expresses her lifestyle. The other women are in agreement. For them, these lifestyle choices serve as ways of giving material form to the narratives that they create for their identity. Moreover, for them luxury brands have high credibility, which makes them a worthy investment. They believe that “owning an aspirational brand is like an induction into an exclusive community” of smart and successful women. Consider Hermes belts, Juicy Couture track suits and Gucci sunglass- es, as some of these must-haves. This view represents their relationship with brands. They consider themselves to be brand-conscious consumers. They are aware of all the sought-after names in luxury even if they don’t own all of them. They see a strong difference between consuming only one brand and being brand conscious. They also agree that luxury brands are easily recognizable and owning one is not a necessity, but a privilege. On their relationship with brands as young, successful women executives Maya, 35, is a business school graduate who later started her own high-street fashion brand. She believes that women professionals like her have a stronger relationship with luxury brands because they have worked hard in order to own them. They have attained a certain status in their career on their own merit and now believe they can afford to make an indulgent purchase. They refer to their purchases as “pampering” and as a reward for their professional achievements. There was agreement that brands exist outside of the luxury sphere as well. The group felt that their re- lationship with brands is situational. Women in other walks of life, with a different set of priorities may have a relationship with a non-luxury brand as well. However, for them, luxury purchases were a visible representation of a lifestyle they were coming into and wanted to maintain. On pricing Cost matters. But quality trumps quantity. This was the undisputed opinion. These women were willing to save up for a luxury brand that they truly wanted. Their desired purchases were not born overnight. These had been carefully identified early in their life as the ones that would best express their self-view. Luxury items would be acquired as rewards for hard work, as part of the delayed gratification, which these professionals understood well. These would not be impulse purchases because the group did not believe that luxury was part of impulse consumption. In- stead, they would wait for the day they could own a Birkin bag or a pair of Tom Ford s unglasses. However, on the road to high-end luxury, they would continue to own the best of
  4. 4. afford, continuously projecting an image of sophistication, elegance and trendiness. With an unwavering focus on the ultimate indulgence, they would always strive towards upgrading their material possessions. On making the ultimate splurge Unanimously, a handbag was the first choice for these women. The group noted that this item was the most personal material possession for its utility and style value. Additionally, the handbag was the most visual form of individual flair and expression and served as an “extension of the self.” Shoes, dresses and sunglasses were among the other aspirational categories. Each of these underscores the idea of ‘conspicuous consumption,’ suggesting that these purchases were influenced by an internal drive to create a favorable self and social image through material possessions. The hedonist Zygmunt Bauman wrote, “The individual’s needs of personal autonomy, self-definition, authentic life or personal perfection are all translated into the need to possess, and consume, market-offered goods.” This quote summarizes the lifestyle choices of young successful female professionals in India, as they define themselves through the goods that they possess and display. For them, consumption goes beyond the pursuit of utility; it is synonymous with a sense of self and personality. This is further validated as the group agreed that carrying an iconic brand boosts their confidence, satisfies their insecurities and repeatedly reminds them of their success. Luxury brands allow these women to express their “ideal self.” For these women, limited edition products sometimes lead to in- creased preference for the brand as it satisfies their desire to stand out. This sense of uniqueness translates into feelings of pride and positive self-image as the product comes to be an extension of the self. Synonymous with fun, fantasy and excite- ment, these luxury products empower women to feel desired, beautiful and proud. The preoccupation with pleasure extends to luxury retail as well. Now, shopping has been socialized into a leisure activity. Mo- tivated by sensory needs rather than pure functionality, every aspect of this purchase has a hedonic attribute. We found that women prefer the notion of self-gifting as it provides a heightened sense of pride. These purchases are also viewed as exten- sions of the self, glamourizing ones personality. In summary, the successful women entrepreneurs in India are the new-age hedonist. Chasing pleasure, they look to spoil them- selves with strong symbols of social and self-gratification. These women have risen above a male-dominated sphere, to be truly proud of their accomplishments, reflected in their current luxury assets and future purchasing decisions. The material woman in India now has an MBA. Her pursuit for pleasure has only just begun. It is a growing trend, it is a welcomed trend and it is here to stay.
  5. 5. ASIA / nextVolume TWO:The Material Girl With an MBA