Brands' safe bet on marketing of essential goods

Amid hygiene concerns, brands across categories are reaching out to customers with essential products such as sanitisers. But what role does marketing have given the existing high demand and awareness around these products? finds out why brands need to focus on long-term play as hygiene concerns are here to stay

Akanksha Nagar
New Update
Brands' safe bet on marketing of essential goods

The Covid-19 crisis has created a shift in priorities for the consumer goods businesses. In a behavioural change, consumers are pulling back on most discretionary spending and redirecting their attention to essential products.

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Keeping in mind this behaviour and change in demand, companies, initially in the healthcare and pharma sector and now across sectors, are launching essential goods such as sanitisers under their popular brand names.

But should marketing and promotion of these essential goods even be a concern for brands given the awareness and high demand?

More than that, once the concerns around the infection are completely over, is there a danger of de-growth in the category? tries to figure out what strategies brands should adopt during and after the crisis to serve the hygiene concerns of consumers in a better way.

Manoj Gadgil

Manoj Gadgil, Vice-President, Marketing, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health India, said brands that are able to instil confidence in consumers and provide the best possible means to cope with the situation will be preferred.

“Amid rising public health concerns, there is a shift in buyer values towards products that are safe, trustworthy and environmentally or socially sensitive. Brands that furnish the right information and make the consumer feel empowered to choose the right product at a time when resources are scarce, will continue to deliver value and remain preferred,” he added.

Marketing efforts, Gadgil said, should be framed through a different lens and brands should consider creating strategies that can adapt to the rapidly changing on-ground realities. They also need to leverage digital experiences to deliver real-time assurance and foster a feeling of connection for long-term brand equity, he said.

A spokesperson from Emami said marketers need to create awareness and educate consumers about the importance of sanitisation and hand hygiene. Consumers are still discerning about brands and quality and would prefer known and trusted brands, the spokesperson said.

Ganapathy Subramaniam

Ganapathy Subramaniam, DGM, Marketing, Dabur, said, “Only a fundamental marketing role exists right now. Brands from other categories entering the category need to find sanitisation as a proposition and values to offer. It is not like marketing doesn’t have a role amid this demand; it is just the role has been defined on the basis of how strongly positioned the brands are.”

For many health care and hygiene brands, launching hand sanitisers is a natural extension. It is an obvious response to the high demand for this category as fear of infection spreads. For many brands such as Lifebuoy and Dettol, this is a good way to reinforce their credentials.

Ritesh Singh

However, Ritesh Singh, Co-founder and MD, Arm Worldwide, believes marketing will play a vital role after life's new normal is established.

“There was shortage of sanitisers in the market due to the sudden rise of Covid, demand for sanitisers has gone through the roof and individuals, institutions, RWAs, etc., are buying it in bulk. To fill the gap, a few are seeing it as a short-term opportunity and a few as long term and so it is an extension in their product portfolio,” he added.

Poulomi Roy

Poulomi Roy, CMO, RSH Global, said having a narrative plays an important role around the marketing of these products. There are multiple players and marketers still have to figure out how to convey the benefits of the same product.

When a company such as Diageo India uses its distilleries to churn out hand sanitisers for hospitals or when Bacardi and Yardley launch sanitisers, it is particularly noteworthy. This goes beyond brand building and will add to the long-term goodwill of the companies.

Deepa Krishnan

“The current situation has not only shifted business trends, but also consumer priorities and, therefore, the marketing landscape. Customers are likely to re-examine the role of materialism in their lives. They will seek rewarding experiences and meaningful connections. These factors will be the key for future marketing strategies. Companies will have to be cognisant about these trends and reflect them in their business and marketing strategies,” said Deepa Krishnan, Head of Marketing, Digital, Loyalty, PR at Tata Starbucks.

Anirban Sen

Anirban Sen, VP and Head of Business (Chewing and Confectionery) of Godfrey Phillips India, said brands need to morph the hygiene values in a serious and relevant way to end value chain.

“Brands will and should actively look for partnerships with pharma and medical fraternity to understand this aspect of integration better. Equally responsive should be the pharma-medico companies in disseminating basic technology free of cost while they focus on advancing vaccines, medical equipment and protocols,” Sen added.

It is seen that consumers at this point are only worried about the composition of the product, which is the concentration of alcohol in case of sanitisers, and not the brand name.

Should marketers be more focused towards the packaging of these products and not marketing?

Lloyd Mathias

“Marketing will always be a key component and communication through packaging will be an integral part of it. Given the high awareness of alcohol-based sanitisers, it is natural for brands to highlight this and make their packaging seem increasingly clinical-like.  This is a valid ploy, just as protein supplements tend to be retailed out of bulky packs appealing to those aspiring to build muscle,” said Lloyd Mathias, an Angel Investor and Business Strategist.

Echoing the same view, Subramaniam said marketers should focus in packaging as well. “To convey the concentration of alcohol via packaging is also a piece of communication. Quality of the product has always been emphasised on. Alcohol percentage is something that is very intrinsic to the communication and there are multiple such elements such as fragrance for a pleasant experience of the product, which consumers remember and prefer. Consumers have their own benchmarks to measure a product but good marketing enables them to evaluate what is the right parameter to measure or compare any product on the basis of packaging or the content,” he said.

Prabhakar Mundkur

Although, Prabhakar Mundkur, Thought Leader and Commentator, believes that in many cases the branding is quite generic, reflecting the temporary nature of the business of producing sanitisers.

For example, the Diageo batch just quoted ‘Hand Sanitiser from United Spirits’, indicating that the product is not being leveraged for any marketing or brand activity but more of a social service.

On the other hand, there is an entire cottage sector with low-quality packaging, Mundkur said.

Given that the threat of infection will remain, hygiene concerns are going to be a way of life. A brand needs to consistently reinforce its value though communication and presence, said Mathias. He said going forward, packaging innovations and convenience will play a role. So portable hand sanitisers will become a standard purchase for many consumers.

“Brands need to study the evolving consumer behaviour concerning health and hygiene and evaluate a portfolio that is best suited to the changing consumer needs, with a continued focus on efficacy, accessibility, affordability and ease of use,” said the Emami spokesperson.

To make it a long-term play, Subramaniam advised brands to evaluate what values they intend to deliver to the consumers. “Deliver consumer delight by upping your ante and consistency in values to have a long-term play, because this is the time when the consumer will be able to identify the brand and stay connected for longer,” he added.

Concerns of de-growth

In the longer term when the situation gets back to normal, will there be any danger of de-growth in the category? More than that, how can brands still make public health concerns paramount and keep the category growing?

Singh said the category hasn't peaked as of now and de-growth is out of the question today.

“The government, health bodies both global and local and all other related businesses such as hospitals, pharma brands or brands like Dettol, Lifebuoy will continue to talk about health and healthy living for many months now. If new entrants won't chime and rhyme, they might be able to do business but won't be able to build a brand,” Singh added.

Health and hygiene concerns will persist long after this lockdown and consumers in general will be more concerned about personal hygiene and risk of infection, the experts said.  

Mathias said while there will be some plateauing of the current sharp curve in growth, the overall concern will ensure the category stays robust. 

Roy said this category won’t see de-growth but there might be a certain little flickering around the high demand later on.

“The consciousness among customers will see a spike and probably we will see this normalising but I don’t see a drastic de-growth in this category. Everybody is investing in this category now but the question is how much they will invest once the situation is better. Hygiene as a category will undoubtedly grow,” she added.

Brands believe that as the consumer is made aware of how important certain health and hygiene practices are, it is unlikely that they would go back to their old ways compromising their health. And, education and brand communication will be key to encouraging consumers to follow the best hygiene practices.

Brands' safe bet marketing of essential goods