At the Subhash Ghosal Memorial Lecture last week, the head of Google India clearly predicted that within the next three years, 45% of domestic Internet users will be women. If proven true, this will have a significant impact on content, commerce and community — the three building blocks of the Digital Evolution. In turn, leading to the calibration of certain key assumptions central to our worldview of this dynamic space.
For starters, the obsession with youth-centricity in the development of the 3Cs needs some serious re-consideration. Undoubtedly, the overwhelming population online will be young people, but the experiences must be generated through deeper psycho-demographic insights. To suitably engage with women, we must first understand the relationship of the audience with this medium, as a progression from existing media associations, say with print and TV. At the same time, being a one-on-one engagement, we need to earnestly evaluate the socio-cultural agendas of both urban and rural ladies, expecting that a significant portion will emerge from the latter. The deepest analysis of the above will deeply influence content, community and commerce, not just the shallow lens of universal youthfulness.
To engage in some speculative thinking purely on this data-point, let me begin with Community. In a country like India, safety and security are thriving concerns for women on the go, be it big cities or small towns, far less significant for men. Which does mean that innovative technology must work overtime to make the mobile device a Personal Safety Assistant, in many cases the licence to pursue an out-of-home career. A RFID tracker which is effective and sensitive, giving parents the comfort of reaching out when necessary and providing a direct access to law-enforcement agencies. Online forums to connect urban and rural women, with a view to building integrated communities, modern yet traditional. The rules of building such bonds must be sharp and inspiring, not just thoughtless replicas of global models designed for the stereotypical youth.
Then comes the matter of content, with an equal representation of women this too will be affected. Which quite simplistically suggests that ‘women’s-interest’ programming will occupy a larger share of Netflix or its peers, that an inevitable consequence. However, it may also tilt the scale towards greater vernacular content, with the larger share of rural audiences, leading to customised regional output online as well. More interestingly, I predict the rapid rise of interactive, chat-based online programming, given the hypothesis that women are more conversation-friendly than men, the digital screen an extension of the domestic living-room. In fact, more-meaningful interactivity can easily become the most-telling impact of the enhanced participation of women, a genuine Indian contribution to the soft digital world. Immensely predictable is the relevant increase in UGC, taking forward the spontaneity insight, where multiple forums encourage talented ladies to share their skills for a larger group, be it dramatics, cooking or teaching.
On Commerce, the presence of an equal number of women promises a set of emerging possibilities, not just the increasing share of relevant lifestyle acquisitions. The Online Utility conduits may easily grow, from Urban Clap to the Grocery channels, as ladies discover the value of saving physical time for better costs. Fashion will be set to boom in non-tier-one markets, as the choice and convenience of e-commerce becomes measurably apparent. As an extension of cross-contextual consumer behaviour, sharing solutions should grow rapidly, driven by the power of referrals and collective usage. Strangely enough, both thrift and indulgence stand to benefit from this percentage shift, when they are laced with sufficient doses of value.
As mentioned previously, the relationship between women and mass media can also throw some light on the potential for Internet. Print, TV, OOH and radio (the stalwarts of the pre-digital age) are all media from a man’s world in terms of design and historical consumption. Customised versions for ladies emerged as an afterthought, special-interest magazines or Sunday supplements. The Internet, however, is a truly democratic and equal medium, built in and for an era when archaic prejudices were on their way out. Blessed with every possible ingredient to be truly inclusive and selectively exclusive for women in India, a source of unification for a diverse demography. It is still an open canvas for the future to be etched, an opportunity that must be intelligently exploited.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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