India is, no doubt, a transitioning culture; albeit at different paces across the vast nation. It has been 26 years since the government’s liberalizing policies ushered a wave of social and cultural changes. The urban, English speaking populace was the first to grasp the opportunities that globalization brought with it. But the vast many in their late 20s and early 30s, raised in smaller towns before migrating to their cities later, have seen one version of India and now live in another.

Their story represents the tensions that underlie a large majority of Indian consumers. They are an ‘in-between generation’ –  caught between the traditional values and ideals of their upbringing and a conflicting set of new ideas and aspirations from their present.

They grew up in the India of the 90’s and early 2000’s – when the entry of international brands and television channels were only beginning to make ripples in urban India. For those living away from the urban metropolises, these changes were still quite distant. Their influences were local or regional – for example, Doordarshan (public service broadcasting), Bollywood movies, and other regional programming.

Their parents were from the Post-Independence generation - a nationalist lot who lived in hope for what India could be, but faced a reality crippled with red - tapism, corruption and scarcity. This inculcated a sense of pride in all things Indian, but a knowledge that progress was a slow process. They were raised to be ambitious, and with the expectation that they needed to succeed in ways that their parents couldn’t. They aspire to upgrade their lifestyle and for financial security, all with the intention of being able to give back to their family. This is a familiar set of middle-class ambitions from the late 90s and early 2000s, but is still relevant to this lot. However, it seems to have  slipped between the cracks of the old and the new India.

They have entered the workforce in a gleaming new urban India, where symbols of prosperity still exist in plenty, but at a time when the first wave of opportunities have already been taken. Success is no longer a guaranteed privilege of a generation in the ‘right place at the right time’. Rather, they are surrounded by peers who have had equal or greater privileges – so competition is much tougher, in an economy where opportunities are fewer.

This conflict sets the stage for all new forms of cultural drama.

Dealing with modernity is a difficult process, one that is fraught with insecurity as there are no set rules to follow in this new world. Participating and succeeding here involves a reassessment of the values, ambitions and beliefs of their upbringing. It is a process that requires a conscious reconstruction of their own identity. After all, identity and all it’s material accoutrements are an indicator of self-worth and important in order to find one’s due place in this new society.

Brands that offer this generation an opportunity to engage with modernity but acknowledge their conflict stand to tap on a pulsing raw nerve waiting to be soothed. There are different ways in which brands can do this -  brands could acknowledge their struggle and give confidence to their baby steps, or give them confident markers of success that they can latch onto, or show them the comfort of simpler times, for example.

Brands need to recognize that as this generation becomes the mainstream Indian consumer, resolving this tension is a powerful and resonant tale around which narratives can be woven.