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Vocal for Local: decoding the rise of homegrown brands

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Of late, the idea that ‘homegrown’ credentials deliver a competitive advantage to brands has been gaining currency. Many Indian startup founders have been vocal about how their brand is ‘proudly made in India’.

A 2021 KPMG report on Indian consumer behaviour states: “Amongst the younger demographics, the idea of promoting homegrown brands has started gaining acceptance…”

What’s behind the surge of interest and affinity towards homegrown brands? Is it related to nationalism and patriotism? Or has it got to do something with our perceptions of progress as a nation? These are valid questions for any marketer who seeks to leverage this sentiment as a viable brand proposition.
To understand this, let’s step back and understand the factors that have come together to build preference for homegrown brands.

First things first: Preference for ‘Homegrown’ isn’t correlated to patriotism

This is an important observation. Patriotism is devotion, loyalty and respect for the country and its symbols. But patriotism doesn’t imply default bias for homegrown brands. That’s because most consumers are both patriotic and rational. While they won’t patronize any brand that’s outright inimical to national interests, they wouldn’t necessarily root for homegrown brands unless they are confident that their quality is competitive.

So, what has built the preference for Homegrown Brands in India?

In the case of India, 4 factors have come together to facilitate this confidence:

#1 Maturing of the Indian startup ecosystem

From the times when Indians feted ‘foreign brands’ and local entrepreneurs were decried for their ‘jugaad’ mindset, the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem has come a long way, making consumers feel much more confident about the product quality of Indian brands.

Today, Indian Startups span a wide gamut of sectors- from food delivery and grocery delivery to health tech, edu-tech, agri-tech, electric-mobility and space tech- solving real consumer problems, adding real value to the economy and repeatedly proving that Indian innovation capabilities are fast coming of age.

Stories of Indian entrepreneurs- youngsters who chose to remain in India, built for India and finally made their fortunes in India- are being celebrated. These self-made entrepreneurs have become the toast of the nation. Runaway success of Shark Tank India indicates the curiosity and charm of startups in India.

#2 The D2C revolution

India’s direct-to-consumer (D2C) market generated $12bn revenue in FY’22. The category took off during the pandemic when online ordering became a norm, and the growth momentum has largely sustained since then. The D2C revolution has given Indian consumers a good combination of quality and affordability. This movement has escalated expectations from Indian products and has raised quality benchmarks. Brands like Mamaearth in personal care, boAt in audio gadgets, and Sugar in cosmetics- are a visible manifestation of this phenomenon.

A big upside of the D2C revolution has been the democratization of quality standards. Priced at a pragmatic level for deep penetration, most D2C brands have found traction among a wide section of consumers, cutting across town classes. Paraben, Sulfate-free, Cruelty-free cosmetics, clean-label foods, and feature-rich personal gadgets are no longer elitist concepts for Indian consumers, thanks to the emergence of D2C Brands.

Image Courtesy: Yourstory.com

#3 Achievements of India and Indians

With initiatives like UPI to the successful lunar landing of Chandrayan-3, India has time and again demonstrated the ability to indigenously engineer best-in-class frugal innovations.

Besides science and technology, there has been a constant stream of news where Indian icons are being celebrated on a global stage. From the Olympics to the Oscars and from Neeraj Chopra to Nikhat Zareen, India’s representation at the global level has only been growing. Even the news of global top-tech companies helmed by Indian CEOs is perceived as a testimony of how Indians can meet global standards and deliver when it matters the most.

#4 The government narrative

Of course, the above factors find a stronger resonance today as they are additionally boosted by government policies and proclamations that openly promote being ‘vocal for local’. Government initiatives like Atmanirbhar Bharat, Startup India, and Make in India- and the heavy media buzz behind them have also made general consumers see homegrown brands in a more positive light.

Besides, the official amplification and celebration of Indian culture, achievements and events is done at an unprecedented scale today. Be it the organization of the G-20 meet in India or the celebration of International Yoga Day- these have been projected as potent symbols of India’s rising clout and soft power at a global level- further reinforcing the narrative of pride in the nativity.

Image courtesy: The Hindu Business Line

Finally, a consistent narrative that positions India as the fastest growing emerging economy that’s a ‘shining star’ amidst the fear of global recession or the talks of India soon becoming the 3rd largest economy further fuel optimism about the country.

Image courtesy: The Economic Times

3 critical riders for Homegrown brands

Any ardent but unbiased votary of India knows that the Indian growth story isn’t without its share of watchouts. Given the size and scale of the country, we need many more grassroots innovations that can impact the bottom of the pyramid population and ensure that the fruits of development are equitably distributed. Investment in education, employment creation and urban infrastructure is still inadequate and needs to be fortified for the country to realize its true potential.

Just as consumers know that this is no “India Shining” moment and that there is a lot of work to be done, preference for homegrown brands also doesn’t equate to blind trust in Indian products. Hence, even as homegrown brands try to score a home run, they should be aware of 3 critical riders.

#1 Homegrown advantage comes with a solemn responsibility

While many factors have come together to build confidence and preference for ‘Homegrown’ brands, this opportunity also saddles them with an equally meaningful responsibility- of maintaining and reinforcing the trust that has been built through decades of hard work by Indian entrepreneurs and policymakers. Misleading or false claims, fake reviews, sub-par quality or even pushy sales tactics can undo the reputation capital built so far for homegrown brands.

#2 Homegrown credentials cannot paper over poor quality

With platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp almost finding universal usage, both aspirations and benchmarks of Indian consumers are on the rise. In addition, global brands have also been doing a great job at Indianizing their offerings and communication to meet consumers where they are.

Thus, being homegrown is a significant but not the most important purchase criterion. Rational metrics like quality and price remain key choice drivers, and homegrown brands need to meet these for their home advantage to kick in.

#3 Do not make it a Us vs. Them battle

Preference for homegrown is more rational than an emotional choice. Hence, making it an us vs. them battle- and hoping that drumming up emotions will help a brand sail through is a misplaced notion. Home brands score a home run only when they convince consumers that the product meets the competitive benchmarks. There are many examples where homegrown credentials gave positive momentum and goodwill to a brand. But, it quickly lost its initial traction because the product didn’t deliver on the desired expectations.

In Conclusion

Preference for homegrown brands is on the rise today, thanks to the confluence of many positive factors. However, the brands must leverage this responsibly and ensure they don’t reduce it to a mere marketing gimmick.

We hope to see a lot of homegrown brands making us proud!

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