Sandeep Dutta, vice president - Insights at Kantar holds a mirror to the evolving Indian millennial and calls out for a more inclusive depiction of this consumer cohort that has been mostly shown stereotyped as the ‘selfie-obsessed job-hopping fitness addict’.
The urban Indian millennials had just about everything going for them till the pandemic struck and disrupted their cushy lives. Often called the products of globalization and digitalization, they inherited an India which offered them privileges and freedom unknown to the earlier generations. The coronavirus smacked many of them at a pivotal time in their lives. Some got laid off from their jobs. Some have been partially furloughed. Some have shelved their future plans. They have experienced the pandemic pain, in one way or the other.
As a consumer researcher, I got the opportunity to speak to a bunch of millennials at the beginning of 2021 to understand how they envisage living in a post-pandemic world. How much of their lives have changed? Have their needs and desires changed? Of course, there were no straight answers to these complex questions, but they admitted (some spontaneously, some hesitatingly) that the pandemic has taught them to be mindful and inward-looking. Many have put aside their big plans and are on pause for a while as they come to terms with the realities of the times and try to heal themselves. Anuradha Menon, an IT professional from Pune said: “Our generation has seen double-digit growth since they gained consciousness and been continuously on the fast track; now we are realizing there is more to life than growth; we are experiencing the truth behind the old saying…less is more”. The millennials confessed that while they were hoping for the best, they are seriously reassessing and recalibrating some of the fundamental needs of life such as to be in control, to connect and be comfortable.
There was a time when the word comfort meant to them, a bigger house, a swankier car and a vacation overseas every year. The comfort that they are seeking now tends to be more emotional and less material. Sundar, an event manager, from Delhi said “Small things like taking the dog out, being with my son when he is attending his online classes and cooking something nice for the family gives me happiness and comfort… earlier we were measuring comfort through the covered area of our flat, number of ACs in the house…now we measure it through joyful moments spent with family and self.” This was echoed by many others who said that they never knew that there is so much comfort in cherishing and valuing what they have with them.
Mental well-being as a concept has been gaining currency for a while, but for many millennials, it became a matter of serious contemplation once they were hit by the pandemic. Ritwik Mehta, an investment banker from Mumbai said “Earlier I was very confident that my life was under control Now I feel derailed. I realize we have so little control over our lives, our career, and our health. I find myself snapping at people unnecessarily and being perennially anxious. I have to learn to control my feelings before I control anything else.” The epicenter of control has shifted from the outer world to its innermost world.
Growing up in a digital era, the millennials believed that to be connected meant fleeting encounters with a wide network of friends 24/7. The pandemic made them vulnerable and stoked their need for deep and intimate relationships with few loved ones. There is a growing realization that connection is more than just sharing pictures and jokes. “During the lockdown, I got to know my children even better. Earlier it was not only my long hours at work but also my social circle that kept me away from home. During the months that I stayed at home, I enjoyed playing with my kids. I want to continue the relationship that I have built with them in these last 6 months”, said Nihal Patel, a lawyer from Mumbai.
From mindless interactions to mindful intimacy, the millennials seem to have come a long way. Millennials are stereotypically portrayed in the media as selfie-obsessed fitness addicts, who hop jobs at the drop of a hat and shop till they drop. Surely, there has always been another side to them which so far has been underplayed in the media. But now we are living in a different world, a world fraught with uncertainties and anxieties. Brands need to be cognizant of the emergence of the somber and self-reflective millennials and empathize with them. Perhaps they could offer them some emotional comfort, control, and connection that they are seeking to heal themselves in these unprecedented times.
Sandeep Dutta is the vice president (insights) at Kantar.