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Understanding Urban ‘Bharat’

By Professor Vikas Mehta, Visiting Faculty – WSB

India has 42 cities with a population of a million plus, 46 cities with a population of half a million to 1 million and 88 cities with a population between a quarter and a half a million. At the turn of the century these numbers were less than half of now.

The urban population is going to expand to 38% up from 31% in 2010.

The six states of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Goa and two union territories of Delhi and Chandigarh will have 55% urban population by 2025.

The non metro cities of Amravati, Dehradun, Kota, Jullundher, Thiruvanthapuram, Jamshedpur, all have population between half a million to 1 million and by 2025 all of these will be plus 1 million population towns.

While industrial activity is declining in big cities, smaller cities and towns are picking up the slack.

Historically tier 2 cities have shown robust growth despite receiving little funding support.

Self-employment which till now was a domain of smaller cities is showing a decline in the smaller towns

50% of Amazon.com sales come from non-metro towns

57% OF Honda 4 wheeler sales comes from non-metro towns

Amazon gets orders for food products for birds, turtles and other pets from towns like Guntur, Vizag, Nadiad and orders for flowering tea from Bhatinda, Hoshiarpur and Khelmati

The above clearly illustrate that India is going through rapid urbanisation. While that by itself is not surprising, the fact is that the urbanisation story is now being played out in the non-metros.

Once the economic liberalisation was unleashed in mid-nineties, the last twenty years or so has seen metros gaining the most from it. But the trickledown effect on non-metro cities is now becoming a deluge.

Non metro towns are on the cusp of the second liberalisation boom. It’s the new Urban Bharat which is very distinct from the Urban India.

The point is, are brands and their communication forms ready for this change?
For the last twenty years, it was easy for marketeers to understand and market to metro consumers. A handful of cities, its aspiring population were the low hanging fruit for marketeers. And its trickledown effect on smaller towns was good enough to feed the frenzy.

And when the hype started to diminish the same marketeers started talking about the other end of the spectrum; rural India. In between the great “Non metro India” was left to pick on the crumbs of the metros.

But this cannot continue for long. There is a distinct non metro market which exists today. It is not the same as metro and neither a rural upgrade. It has its own distinct identity. It has its own thinking and it has its own agenda.

And I am not talking about the Meerut’s and the Dombivilis and the Howrahs. These are extensions of metro towns. As I drive the 60 kms from Delhi to Meerut I never get a feeling that I have left Delhi. The whole journey seems to be an extension of Delhi.

What matters are towns like Raipur, Dehradun, Jullundher, Vadodra, Kochi, Nagpur…. the non satellite half a million to one million population towns.
In my mind this is the Bharat where marketeers and brands have to focus. Crack this Bharat and you crack the next growth wave.