August 2016 | Harish Bhat

Craving for personal space

Modern consumers are seeking products and services that help them create spaces of their own — a trend which holds immense possibilities for marketers

A good friend of mine spends an hour by himself, every single evening, in his neighbourhood Starbucks store in Bengaluru. I ask him why and he says this helps him reclaim his own space after a noisy day, and reflect on ideas, events and people. In fact, this personal space is even more important to him than the delicious Starbucks cappuccino, which of course he enjoys too.

My wife Veena, a computer scientist and analytics professional currently working in Mumbai, looks forward to her own space over a cup of Tetley herbal or chamomile tea, before she goes to bed on most nights. During this period, after we have had dinner together, she is all by herself and if I happen to speak, she promptly reminds me not to interrupt her. She says the cup of Tetley tea, with its light orange and rooibos flavours, helps her float into this space and unwind from a busy day in the office.

Every day, the 45 minutes that I spend in my gymnasium, cycling or running or just cooling off, is personal space that I look forward to with great anticipation. When I take off my formal black office shoes and put on my orange New Balance sneakers, the world goes away and my own space begins. I think I value this space as much as I value the physical exercises that I undertake in the gym.

These small, personal stories illustrate a powerful consumer trend that is becoming increasingly visible the world over — a large segment of consumers are buying and using brands, products or services which help them create and indulge in their own space. The key factors that are driving this trend are pretty simple and straightforward.

The pace of life, particularly in large cities, is getting increasingly hectic. For professionals, the pace of work in offices is also getting hectic, with an increasing number of demands on their time and energy. In addition, for many of us, there are also social pressures on one’s time, including family events, get-togethers with colleagues and parties with friends.

While these are mostly desirable professional and social pursuits, people who are continually engaged in these activities eventually find themselves seeking a balance between these pursuits and their own personal lives. They find that personal space is essential to help them unwind, reflect and recharge. They also find that the lack of such space can create an imbalance that leaves them deeply dissatisfied, unfulfilled and exhausted. Therefore, many of us crave for personal space, and we seek brands that can take us into this beautiful, often unattainable zone.

This consumer need immediately opens up a unique opportunity for a wide variety of products and services. What is particularly interesting is that personal space need not exist only in the comfort of your home. It can come to exist anywhere, anytime. Here are some examples of brands and products, many of them from the Tata group, which cater to this consumer need.

The Taj Group of Hotels offers a wide variety of getaways in their palaces, leisure resorts and hotels. For many solo travellers or couples, the beach of the Taj Exotica in Goa, or the Taj Fisherman’s Cove in Chennai, may offer exactly the space they are seeking. For others, it may be the Taj Palace Hotels in Rajasthan, or the Taj safari lodges in Ranthambore or Kanha National Park. This may appear unusual, but you can also experience a unique sort of personal space when you are face to face with a tiger, photographing the magnificent beast from the safety of your safari vehicle.

People can also create and indulge in their own personal space when they are flying on aircraft. Long flights particularly lend themselves to making this possible. The flight serves as a sort of cocoon, far away from your mobile phone, email and other digital interruptions. You can read, or think, or write, or enjoy your own curated music. No wonder Vistara, the full-service airline that is a joint venture between the Tata group and Singapore Airlines, urges consumers ‘to fly the new feeling’. Some part of this new feeling is the space that you get for yourself.

As I have already mentioned earlier in this article, Tetley Tea or Tata Tea provides you a perfect window into your own personal space. This is why so many of us love caressing our warm cup of tea, sipping it slowly and gazing (often aimlessly) out of the window. This is also why Starbucks coffee stores are often called the ‘third place’ — a wonderful place away from both home and office, where you can be by yourself if you wish.

In today’s technology driven age, virtual reality (VR) sets provide similar possibilities of personal space as tea and coffee do. A senior colleague of mine recently narrated to me how his choice of a new Samsung mobile smartphone was determined largely by the fact that it supported virtual reality and came with a well-equipped VR set. “I look forward to that time with myself and my VR, every evening,” he says.

There are a host of other products and services in so many diverse categories that can deliver personal space to people like you and me — long drives in cars, cone ice-creams, motorbikes, movie halls, spas, train rides, books, fountain pens, yoga mats and apparel, personalised vacations including treks into the mountains, gaming on computers or mobile phones, wine, golf and more. The list is endless, and so are the opportunities for marketers.

Let me end this column with a question: How do you try to create personal space for yourself every day or every weekend? Do write in to bhatharish@hotmail.com and let me know. For now, I am off to my gym, all by myself.