What drives brand loyalty and consumer decision making in India?

Research Project Name

Emotional Consumerism in India

What We Did

We designed and conducted an online, panel-based survey of 1,000 adult consumers from India to understand the impact of emotional connection on their relationships with brands. This survey builds on prior research we conducted with U.S. consumers, which identified the importance that shared values play in fostering brand loyalty. Respondents first named their favorite brands, then chose the one that is most important to them. They were then asked a number of additional questions about their relationship with that brand in detail, as well as about their own values, priorities, and purchasing behaviors. We used this data to understand the level of emotional connection respondents have to a brand, and analyzed this in relationship to their broader responses and demographic profile.

The Context

The Indian retail industry continues to evolve rapidly, particularly with a steady influx of international brands into the market. For those that make the right value proposition and connection to Indian consumers, the potential benefits are huge—but understanding how is a challenge. As India’s retail sector becomes more organized—currently, organized retail is less than one-tenth of the market share of overall retail in the country—the concept and behaviors of shopping will undergo a dramatic transition.

To stay ahead of the curve, brands must understand how, and why, consumers forge emotional connections with their favorite brands. For local brands, the opportunity will be to remain relevant among growing competition; for brands new to the market, the opportunity is to establish lifelong relationships for the first time.

The Results

Emotions are what differentiate brands from commodities. In India this is especially important—four out of five consumers consider themselves brand savvy, with strong opinions about brands and the values they stand for. Our survey shows that brands in the technology sector are the most effective at making these emotional connections—33 percent of respondents noted their favorite brand was in this sector. Automotive, financial, and clothing brands also fare well, while food, retail, and sports brands rank the lowest. Compared with our United States data, the prevalence of “favorite” financial brands, and the comparative lack of connection with food and beverage brands, is notable; financial brands ranked lowest in the United States, and food and beverage ranked near the top.

Quality is key to brand loyalty—and that’s universal. In both India and the United States, our survey results underscore that quality is the most important component of loyalty. Today’s Indian consumers are more materialistic than previous generations, and many are stretching their budgets to acquire their favorite brands as they enter the growing middle class. This stretch makes delivering on quality even more paramount, as consumers are willing to spend but can’t frequently replace products that come at a premium. If the quality isn’t there, loyalty will be lost quickly.

Innovation outranks familiarity for Indian consumers. After their expectations for quality are met, alongside other pragmatic factors like trust and effectiveness, consumers rank innovation as a key brand attribute contributing to loyalty—a notable difference from their U.S. peers, who prioritize familiarity. This may be a result of the steady influx of new brands to the Indian market, resulting in a consumer focus on what’s new instead of what’s known.

What This Means

Connect with consumers’ daily lives. For consumers to feel a connection to a brand’s set of values—defined in our survey as what the brand stands for, or the stated beliefs that are core to its purpose or position—it’s important for brands to proactively communicate and demonstrate consistently the values they stand for. In India this is especially important, as values alignment is often a more significant contributor to brand engagement than it is in the U.S.

Make your value proposition personal. People don’t always buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons, and this emotional spark occurs most often when a consumer is able to connect with a brand at a personal level. The strong alignment between personal and brand values from our respondents illustrates the point—capability, responsibility, honesty, and ambition rank as consumers’ top personal values, as well as the top values they perceive in their favorite brands.

Leverage in-person interaction. With the growing presence of online retail in India, just as in other global markets, the opportunity to touch, feel, and experience a brand in person is often minimal—but when it happens, the payoff can be significant. In-store connections with consumers can go a long way to strengthening brand relationships—75 percent of consumers in India interact with their favorite brand by making purchases in-store, and 48 percent report visiting the store to see what’s new. While product availability is often the reason our respondents report store visits, their experience is ultimately driven by staff friendliness and helpfulness.

What’s Next?

We plan to build on the findings of this project, and parallel surveys undertaken in the U.S. and China, by conducting a global comparative analysis to understand similarities and differences among consumers in each country. The findings of this analysis will deliver additional insights to inform our design work for local and multinational brands.

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Smita Gupta, Deanna Siller, Amy Bixler, Virginia Sertich, Andreas Andreou, Shravan Bendapudi, Jennifer Leidenberger, Yamini Mahajan, Sahana Rajagopal

Year Completed