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The power of aspiration

A new JWT study explains how marketers can unlock aspiration for a new generation of Indian consumers

Shaziya Khan 

Great brands fire people’s hopes and ambitions. Aspirations — people’s hopes and ambitions — fuel choices. For marketers and brand builders, being tuned into people’s aspirations matters. Because brands that are aspirational win loyalty, premium and appeal. Brand owners and shapers strive to make their brands more aspirational. However, few brands are so in the minds of the consumers. This quality of ‘being looked up to’, aspired for, has become all the more vital, given the near parity of products and services and the domination of many categories by two-three big brands.

What do consumers aspire for and what makes a brand aspirational? There has been a big shift towards aspiration in society. The media coined the phrase “the politics of aspiration” to describe this shift. There has been frequent references to the confluence of three key factors — surge in disposable income, easy access to credit and exposure to media — that have affected people’s choices and mindset. Indians are now more aspirational and less fatalistic.

To understand what consumers aspire to, we adopted a unique approach of listening in. Our sample size was over 5,000 men and women in the age group of 25-35 years. Rather than using the usual research method of asking special questions of them, we were just listening in on their normal conversations. The discussions and questions were not moderated. The participants interacted in a natural environment.

JWT’s vision of listening in to consumers was enabled by MavenMagnet, which does market research using online conversations. The large volume of conversations available in social media allowed the qualitative research output to be quantified. One sample includes all the comments made by an individual in a conversation.

There are broadly two types of aspirations: intrinsic or inner driven and extrinsic — more external, related to the environment outside (source: Kasser & Ryan, Aspiration Index) A majority (78 per cent) of Indian consumers have intrinsic aspirations. They are deeply driven and it goes much deeper than merely external/acquisitive factors. The intrinsic aspirations are mainly to do with personal growth and relationships.

Let’s understand each more:

  1. Personal growth is about career and travel. For instance, we heard “…create a big company like Microsoft or Google and I am working on it”; “…to travel to Africa and study animals is my dream”. 
  2. Around 70 per cent of relationships aspired to are to do with parents, the rest (27 per cent) are linked to marriage and love interest. Friends form 3 per cent. We heard many conversations on the lines of “my biggest dream is to fulfil my parents dream”. 
  3. Extrinsic aspirations were relatively smaller and mainly to do with wealth in terms of cash/bank balance. In summary, the 25-35 year olds are deeply self-motivated and aspire to career and travel, as well as close bonds with parents.

Having understood what they look up to in life, we went further to understand what brands they look up to. What makes a brand aspirational? Three qualities, above all others, make a brand aspirational in the eyes of a 25-35 year old:

  1. Image: the ability of a brand to help project a desired personality of the consumer. 
  2. Trustworthiness: the ability of a brand to deliver the brand promise with consistency and dependability; 
  3. Go global: ability of a brand to have international standards and international acceptance. Even a local brand of ‘international standards’, in their eyes, is a brand that ‘goes global’. For instance, Fabindia.

Psychology has a phrase “quality world”, which refers to the consumers’ notion of quality. A notion of everything in their life they associate with quality – values, people, places, experiences that for them represent the peak of quality. Consumer behaviour emanates from comparing real word with quality world. In other words, “what we’ve got” versus “what we want”. In making aspirational brand choices, consumers are comparing the two. They pick those that are close to their quality world. This reflects in their behaviour. For instance, wait in queue for a restaurant for a treat, or not even visit a certain showroom for the new family car test drive. They are constantly comparing, based on the presence/absence of the three aforementioned key qualities of aspirational brands.

If brands are to be seen as aspirational they need to create some real estate! They need to create a quality world that is in sync with that of the consumer’s. This world includes product, packaging, innovation, service, engagement and all aspects that shape the consumer-brand relationship. Based on the fundamental motivations (Maslow), we have described, for instance, three distinct quality worlds that brands can create — belonging world, pedigree world and leap world.

To envision and create a brand’s aspirational world requires a fresh (and fun) approach. This includes a significant shift of focus. Firstly, shifting from understanding the real world to understanding the quality world of the consumer. However, there is a need for a comprehensive enquiry and a ‘connect the dots’ analysis to paint the full picture of the consumer’s quality world. We do a lot of “how many people in your home”, “what products on your bathroom shelf”. Whereas we need to shift to doing a lot of “what is the value dearest to you”, “what represents the ultimate quality to you”.

Secondly, shifting from understanding the immediate benefits to understanding the attitudes and behaviour enabled by products/services. Going beyond the immediate pay-offs to deeply understanding what behaviour or attitude a product/service truly enables in the life of a consumer. Thirdly, shifting from understanding the brand proposition to understanding the brand’s aspiration. Once a brand knows and builds its quality world it unlocks its aspirational value.

Following are the three points to focus on to make a brand aspirational:

  1. The business value of aspiration. A focus on aspiration helps in building a real and long-term clincher for a brand. 
  2. The guide (as described above) to making brands aspirational enables brand teams to “get on with it” in a comprehensive manner, which is practical and brings a fresh thinking on the table. 
  3. Visioning an ‘aspiration world’ for a brand is a distinctive pathway for all consumer brand engagement as it is built around a quality world that the consumer looks up to. This will unlock all touch points to contribute constantly and together elevate the brand’s clincher over time. 



Shaziya Khan


Executive planning director, JWT India

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First Published: Mon, December 10 2012. 00:56 IST