Guest Column: Marketers need to learn how to tap into the pulse of India's Velvet Rope Generation: Sudeep Bhalla, Vodafone India

One of the most important priorities for marketers in 2017 will be to learn how to tap into the pulse of the Velvet Rope Generation because this massive group of over 356 million young consumers, with its differently evolved internet and digital protocols, personal priorities and drivers, can empower businesses writes Sudeep Bhalla,Vice President, Corporate Communication & Corporate Responsibility, Vodafone India

e4m by Sudeep Bhalla
Updated: Mar 2, 2017 9:08 AM
Guest Column: Marketers need to learn how to tap into the pulse of India's Velvet Rope Generation: Sudeep Bhalla, Vodafone India

One of the most important priorities for marketers in 2017 will be to learn how to tap into the pulse of the Velvet Rope Generation because this massive group of over 356 million young consumers, with its differently evolved internet and digital protocols, personal priorities and drivers, can empower businesses.

They’re a massive group. Hyper-connected. Informed. Opinionated. Principled. Confident. And committed. To their beliefs, groups, connections, expectations.  And at 356 million, these young under-25 consumers who constitute the world’s largest Gen Z population in any country, are without a doubt the single largest, fast-growing group with the kind of purchasing power that can make or break the fortunes of most manufacturers and marketers of goods and services in India.

We call this the Velvet Rope Generation. One that is falling off social media; they’re hiding their tracks online and changing the protocol of interaction on the Internet – they’re more likely to be defined by what they choose not to share.  In contrast with the information-promiscuity of their predecessors, Gen Z is a generation of discretion and exclusivity; the ‘invitation only’ generation where value is about individuality and intimacy. 

For the ‘Velvet Rope’ generation, linear popularity (likes, shares, favourites) have been replaced by a deeper, more subtle form of endorsement; less gratification more meaning.  Gen Z has been shared by increasing concerns over security and privacy, a greater awareness and sophistication with respect to filters, selections and curation algorithms etc.

On the surface, therefore, this 356-million-strong group -- born into and weaned on a super-connected digital-and-online environment -- represents a huge opportunity to most providers of goods and services. But wait. Before it can become an opportunity for brands and marketers, this hyper-connectedgeneration represents a complex and difficult challenge. Because, sought after as they are, few people can really tap into the pulse of these Velvet Ropers.

How they use the Internet is adapting quicker every day, and these self-evolved protocols of internet interaction of the Velvet Rope Generation are challenging  businesses to find ways to connect with and be relevant them. Because businesses that don’t strive to or are unable to be relevant to the huge Gen Z audience, will be doomed to stagnation and failure. As simple and undeniable as that.

However, as the Mobile Ecosystem & Sizing Report India 2016(from GroupM and the MMA) puts it, there is hope for brands, and the Velvet Rope Generation can indeed be a big opportunity rather than a challenge for marketers.  Brands that use personalized marketing assisted by one of “several data management platforms (DMPs) [that] have made advertisers’ life easy to get the right message out, in front of the right audience and at the right time”, will be on the right track if they can “collect and analyze the data… across broader touch points and in real time… for data management and profiling for their customers on mobile.”

So, it is critical to understand what makes the Velvet Rope Generation tick; its ‘profile’, if you will.

Let’s see.

The Velvet Ropers’ DNA.

Seeking value, driven by values: Born in the era of smartphones and digitally hyper-connected, the Velvet Rope Generation is very entrepreneurial for self and society – they want to change the world and will work actively to bring about change. One in four Gen Z-ers has demonstrated the volunteer spirit. An important personality trait is independence, unlike Millennials who generally seek mentors; they don’t suffer from FOMO but worry about crime, their parents’ job security, politics and the cost of goods and services, though they won’t hesitate to spend on something they perceive both, value and values in.

They are big on customized, bespoke, personalized and invite-only offerings from brands that are also emotionally invested in the country. Education, gender quality, global warming and the environment, economic disparity, irresponsible individual behavior that disrespects social obligations -- like texting while driving and littering for example. Their issues-aware focus on value and values make their purchase decisions veritable emotional investments.

Product delight over customer experience:The Velvet Ropers prefer the more reclusive approach of collecting exclusive experiences. This is a generation that actively looks out for and aligns with brands that provide customer delight. For them, the more personalized the offering, the better. It is more important how the core offering of a brand performs and delivers. They are value-conscious grain sifters who place product delivery higher even than the pre-purchase customer experience. And that much higher for brands that demonstrate a sincere social commitment.  And even if they keep family -– especially elders like parents -- out of their intimate social media friend groups, they were raised with stronger awareness of and respect for family efforts and support, and are very close to family. This makes them seek worthwhile services with good value for their families too.

This brings us to another important aspect about the Velvet Rope Generation.

Low attention spans: Being hyper-connected -- and across multiple screens at that -- their attention spans are low. Much lower than other groups’.  The Velvet Ropers communicate in emojis and emoticons and brief phrasal sentences; no message -- from a brand or even friends -- is likely to receive more than 5 to 8 seconds to grab their attention.

Privacy-driven: And most important – they have evolved their own protocols of internet and social behavior and interactivity. Their biggest currency of social and online behavior is privacy. They don’t over-share, they are driven by secrecy and will guard their privacy.  This is the most selective generation in history; where friends and family are filtered, classified and ruthlessly prioritised. They do not suffer from FOMO or feel the need to over-engage.

Seek bespoke: The Velvet Ropers reject the Gen Y proposition which seems to be ‘I Share, Therefore I Am’. Hyper-aware of over-share-ability, the Gen Z-ers are at virtually the other end of the ‘social sharing spectrum’, and will even unfollow brands pages that add to the clutter of online noise.  And the Velvet Ropers do this because of another key personality trait: they are always looking for curated, filtered and personalized, made-for-me content that feels relevant. And they search for newer and more bespoke and closed-peer-groups-endorsed sources of information to make their purchase decisions.

Seeking more credible pipelines: Market research from KantarTNS suggests that one in four consumers are ‘actively ignoring’ brands on social media[1], while other research suggests that Generation Z (under 25 years old) is deserting mainstream social media altogether[2]. As the death of social media platform Vine illustrates[3], spending huge amounts of money to propagate messages provides no guarantee of a meaningful audience on the other side.

So, the velvet ropers are getting increasingly under the ‘mass’ social and internet radar, as it were. These elusive, reclusive, hyper-connected self-seekers of credible information will respond only to brief, high-impact communications across video, images, graphics and emoticons.

Those, to my mind, were some of the factors that describe the value propositions of the Velvet Rope Generation.

Velvet Ropers will drive the next phase of growth: I believe that one of the most important priorities for marketers in 2017 and beyond will be to learn about the Velvet Rope Generation’s differently evolved internet protocols, personal priorities and drivers, and social watering holes. Because this generation of over 356 million youngsters with high purchasing power, which has also started becoming  an important part of India’s work force starting 2016, will power the next phase of economic growth.

India, a country of 1.3 billion people, already crossed the 1 billion mark in terms of mobile phone subscriptions, and that way back in end 2015. Of the 69 million urban members of Gen-Z, over 30 million own mobile phones in India.   And 21% of urban Indian kids (9-11 years) and tweens (12-15 years) ‘mirror mobile internet services usage as seen among their older counterparts’ (per Ericsson Consumer Lab India); so mobile phone ownership is catching up in India  from an early age. Social media is becoming extremely important for Gen-Z, with 77% venting their frustration on poor service experience over social media which leads them to expect instant resolution of their issues and queries and constant feedback via social media itself.

The Velvet Rope Generation offers massive opportunities to brands. But it is also far more exclusive and selective than its predecessors, Gen Y. Sobrands must reach the Velvet Ropers in bespoke fashion.

(The author is Vice President, Corporate Communication & Corporate Responsibility, Vodafone India)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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