Monday, September 20, 2010

[ZESTCaste] What Makes You a ‘Brahmin’ Buyer?

What Makes You a 'Brahmin' Buyer?

ArchnaShukla Posted online: Sun Sep 19 2010, 13:56 hrs
New Delhi : The ways in which marketers profile Indian consumers are
oddly archaic.
Do you wear a pair of Nike shoes on your morning jog or a pair bought
from a local manufacturer? Do you use a toothpaste endorsed by a top
Bollywood actor or you don't care much for which brand? Do you use a
premium brand of shampoo or settle for soap instead?

Your response to the questions will determine which social class, more
specifically, "the caste" of consumers you belong to. Five years ago,
a Bangalore-based brand strategy and marketing consultancy devised a
system which uses the metaphor of the caste system to classify
consumers and their buying habits. The "Brand Caste System" includes
the four varnas, with Brahmins and Kshatriyas at the top. The varna is
not determined by the birth of a consumer, but by the brand
preferences he displays.

It uses responses to questions such as the above, the kind of brand a
consumer uses, the reasons he uses it, the number of times he uses it
and the readiness with which he dishes out big bucks to buy a
favourite brand to determine his position on the consumption ladder.

"Affordability, width of consumption, depth of use, the flaunt value
and other such parameters determine whether a consumer is a Brahmin or
a Kshatriya," says Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, the
firm that devised the system. He says it is used by several leading
Indian and international marketers, though he did not cite names,
citing confidentiality.

The pecking order

Market research tools are used to understand consumers' background,
their consumption habits and the triggers to purchase decisions. But
profiling the mind of the Indian consumer seems to involve the
marketing world in other prejudices of Indian society. The SEC system,
the socio-economic classification system which forms the backbone of
all market research in India, for instance, focusses only on the chief
wage earner of a family—and that is usually the man.

It disregards the income or the preferences of women, who make a
significant contribution to household income in rural and urban
markets, and who are decision makers in household purchases. It slots
a household as SEC A/B/ C/D or E (A is at the top) by taking into
account the education and the profession of the man in the family.

Even if a woman is the chief wage earner in her family, the husband's
background is used to understand the household's consumption
preferences—the assumption being that her social and educational
background will be similar to her husband's. "We are not an
egalitarian society yet. Men and women still marry into the class and
social background similar to their own," says Ashutosh Sinha,
vice-president, marketing science group, IMRB, one of the leading
market research firms in India.

Sinha was part of the team that put together the system in the
Eighties. But as he points out, the UK system from which the SEC model
was inspired has since been upgraded to keep up with changing consumer
profiles. In the US, too, marketers factor in incomes of all family
members to assess their aspirations and requirements.

Industry observers are not terribly shocked by the trends. Says
Professor Arvind Sahay, who teaches marketing strategy at IIM,
Ahmedabad: "It's only 40-50 million families in the top six cities of
the country where women make a significant economic contribution to
the household income. For the rest, the SEC system makes perfect
sense." Both Sahay and Sinha, however, agree that the SEC needs an
overhaul to reflect the demographic transition that India is going

Some marketers are hopeful that the caste-based census initiated by
the government will throw up information that may be used to reach
consumers in novel ways. Most of them, however, don't want to be seen
endorsing it. Even though they acknowledge caste as an important
social factor, they don't want to be seen taking a politically
incorrect stand.


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