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When will we fly again?

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes about the world after May 3

The globetrotter has suddenly become a grasshopper and the consequences are rather alarming. Home is enduring the longest check-in in cognitive memory while the airport lounge finds an unworthy mirror in the kitchen sink, self-service acquiring a diabolical new meaning. On the fourth of May the skies and so much more will hopefully reopen, for that we cannot wait. Till then, do dwell on the ‘diffusion of resumption’, a version of the ‘diffusion of innovation’ (Bell Curve), focusing on re-engagement with once-familiar and now-distant experiences. For pleasing simplicity, we can call it the ‘Welcome Back’ strategy — the journey of customers resuming patronage post-corona.

On aviation though the flightpath is assumable, as per educated estimates of the industry worthies. The prices will soar, the capacity will nosedive, the job cuts will be scathing — everybody will certainly not fly in a hurry. In this air pocket, the early adopter will be both the corporate star and the desperately homesick, eager to unleash extra booty for reconnection. While the majority will be versions of the above in a flaky continuum, the laggard most certainly the reticent holiday maker, scared to re-embrace the demolition of distance. Innovators are certainly the private jet brigade, else the truant real estate dons who fled to the Ghats navigated by well-greased palms.

A simple point I wish to make is that May the 4th in India, hopefully, will be the beginning of normalcy as we knew it. Entire cohorts of categories leashed in mindful captivity, released for business as usual, desperate to reunite with the customer. Yet, what must be anticipated and strategised is the customer’s appetite for re-entry — and how marketing mechanisms stimulate that process. Thus, navigating the cautious her and the impatient him to serve the larger cause of the blessed economy, responsible yet abundant patronage resulting in business for all.

Barbers and beauticians will attract stampeding patronage, the metrosexual us clamouring for page three-ness, the resumption curve skewed towards the early majority. In seriousness, I anticipate the salon networks and Urban Company offering 24/7 service, to clear the ungainly backlog. While the liquor trade will make up rather rapidly, with a spillover to bar bonding within the ambit of voluntary distancing. Restaurants, the pure play eating trade, will take much longer to convalesce as will the fashion industry, the zero-income backlog way too formidable. In certain categories, the picture is plainly predictable while in others, the resumption strategy will need to be carefully crafted. Through the restoration and enhancement of consumption circumstances, pursuing a blend of conventional and disruptive techniques.

The luxury hotel trade will stare at the domestic well-heeled customer for the happy season, the foreigner now non grata. Thus, doing deals with Avis and Hertz for the self-driven and not the airline combo, free stays for children’s nannies, long stay opportunities and even self-kitchens to ward off the Airbnb might. Including perhaps a Corona-free certification by Fortis endorsing the sanitisation of environments, which can be emulated by schools and malls. While hospitals themselves will reposition the fragility of life to fast-forward elective surgeries, the knee replacement or bariatric procedure urgently ordered to prolong their tenure. Newspapers should make a hasty comeback, unlike that of Saurav Ganguly, once the touchy perils can be soundly busted. In sum, the ‘Welcome Back’ strategies will invariably be about undoing four foremost barriers — unaffordable, untouchable, unbelievable and uninspiring.

The simplest to comprehend and toughest to eliminate is surely ‘unaffordability’, for this pricing policies will demand a rebirth, for both mass and class. To combat job uncertainty cars will be sold against property while indulgences consumed in smaller SKUs and necessities in the largest formats. ‘Untouchability’ will indeed affect every category that needs physical proximity in handling and consumption, setting newer normalcies for offline-online equilibrium. Every restaurant will operate on home and away terms while the hypermarket will move grudgingly to e-commerce with touch-and-feel tools.

‘Unbelievability’ is a post-corona syndrome where we will not accept promises or communication at face value, brands needing to overcome a greater trust deficit than ever before. We are entering the age of credible peer-to-peer proof of performance, where brands must always be available and deliver consistent value. ‘Uninspiring’ will mean the systematic abdication of aspirational hierarchies, purpose and meaning gaining greater weightage. Brands are today fellow citizens of a novel land, integrity and influence as important as flair and panache.

These are truly the most stressful times for businesses and marketers —fortunes, reputations and sanity equally at stake. We are all wishfully considering the reopening to be an effortless return to status quo — barring some short-term hazards. While the truth is farthest from this fantasy — customers old and new are ready to evaluate every experience through a fresh new lens. We need to dig hard, think harder and act smarter to foreclose their fears and accelerate their desires — exactly the role of the ‘Welcome Back’ strategy.

A small tip for businesses big and small getting ready for the breakthrough — extract value from every external partner, whether strategy or creativity. At the core of this endeavour is a multi-faceted understanding of human behaviour — the category and brand subservient mortals. I do not know when we will fly again but let’s plan the itinerary today, for everybody’s sake.  

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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