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In-depth: How brands are silently preparing for a post-Covid world

Industry experts told, that brands are building delicate marketing plans for business sustenance once the lockdown lifts and the crisis is over. Consumer-centric strategies and spends on digital to drive conversations are the new normal in their approach

The countrywide lockdown will continue till May 3 and most businesses, barring essentials, remain halted till that date unless the government decides on any further extension.

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Marketers are, however, not sitting quietly. They are cautious and vigilant about the developments and preparing marketing, sales, and demand and supply strategies once the lockdown opens and for a post-Covid world.

Brands across sectors are observing changing consumer patterns each passing day and evaluating their marketing approach accordingly. Products that seamlessly integrate into the new lifestyle of consumers will be developed, as purchase decisions will be rationalised in discretionary categories.

Industry experts told that brands are building plans for post-Covid sustenance. Consumer-centric strategies and spends on digital to drive conversations are the new normal in their marketing approach.

Ajay Dhyani

Brands have delicate plans and proper things in place for different scenarios, like in case if the lockdown gets extended or ends on that date, says Ajay Dhyani, Head Marketing of Timex Group.

“We at Timex are closely looking at all the developments and three plans are being developed right now, which would be consumer-centric and driven by supply chain challenges. As a brand and manufacturer, we see that there might be short-term challenges for the supply chain. Two months is a considerable time to completely bring things to a standstill,” Dhyani said.

Things may not start again at a regular pace but it will start slowly and come back to normalcy. Initially, the supply chain would be an issue because of demand forecast. Brands are not completely aware of how consumer sentiments, markets and different channels will start behaving towards serving consumer needs.

“We are monitoring the market situation carefully and will strategise our marketing plans accordingly. Oppo India has remained committed to the Indian smartphone market and will continue to introduce new products for our customers once the situation is better,” said a concerned spokesperson from Oppo India.

When the markets reopen, potential demand will incentivise via both offline and online channels. A report by IMF says India is expected to grow at 1.9% in 2020 before jumping to a 7.4% growth next year.

Experts said there have been some early signs that show quick recovery for premium and luxury brands. Hence, brands are optimistic.

Saahil Kumar

“During such unprecedented times, communication with consumers on quality, reliability and durability will be critical. Post-Covid, consumers will shift their preference to online purchases. However, we should not completely neglect the offline comeback. Hence, brands need to invest in an omni-channel approach. Brands also need to look at the market from a humanised perspective, since consumers will prefer ethical and purposeful brands and their purchasing decisions will not be based purely on aspirational value anymore. Focussing on accessible price points will increase as the consumer’s wallet will be under stress,” said Saahil Kumar, Head of Marketing, Sennheiser India.

Kumar said brands are additionally being careful but not pessimistic while forecasting for stocks and preparing the supply chain for the festive season.

Brand marketers predict that consumer behaviour towards brands will be determined excessively by how the lockdown situation unravels itself and on their course of action and communication during and after the lockdown. Consumers will weigh in their options before making a purchase and most of their purchases will be digitally driven.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 79% brands must show how they can be helpful in the new everyday life. Moreover, 90% respondents want brands to partner with government and relief agencies to address the crisis, with 59% Indians saying that brands must do this to earn or keep their trust. 

Sapna Arora

 “Brands plan to leverage the digital platforms to create contextual content that will enable them to stay on top of mind for consumers. A brand’s marketing strategy will increasingly shift to digital platforms to assist consumers in making an informed decision. Brands will experiment with new forms of content such as short-form videos, augmented reality, virtual reality and more. They will also increasingly create digital touchpoints to move closer to their consumers and this will enable real-time conversations between both,” said Sapna Arora CMO, OLX India.

40% of Timex’s total marketing spends will be on digital post lockdown.

Even after defeating coronavirus, India will witness a huge surge in the online presence.

“Most brands will start investing in the D2C model as some distribution partners might take longer to recover. Communication on trust, reliability, and assurance to customers has become all the more crucial now,” said Kumar.

Many brands have already spearheaded campaigns of trust and compassion to reach out to their customers and build bonds of friendship during this phase. Traditional brands will need to explore digital properties and build digital assets going forward.

Ajay Agarwal

“Soon out of this lockdown bubble, consumers will want assurance from brands through superior function and innovation along with social responsibility claims and safety standards. We are focusing on all of the above,” said Ajay Agarwal, Executive Director, Donear Industries Ltd.

“Apart from this, on-ground presence is extremely crucial for us — retail store branding and point-of-purchase merchandise are game-changers,” he added.

Even brands have started working on plans for festive season marketing and advertising. The festive period remains very crucial for brands and having lost a couple of months in the lockdown, they will like to capitalise on that month and make strategies accordingly.

“We have started to strategise plans for the festive season. It will be driven by the initial indication of how business is moving once all channels open up and see how consumers are responding to the normal situation and what kind of buying behaviour we see among our consumers and accordingly we will take preparative actions,” said Dhyani.

According to Kumar, during the festive season sale, brands will promote special festive promotions to recover from business losses in early 2020 and to stimulate buying.

Brands are working jointly with their agency partners to discover the best recovery solutions. Agencies are custodians of their brand identities and amid the crisis, agencies are counselling their brands to approach marketing communication more strategically.

“Some businesses are creatively communicating with their consumers at this time, keeping a balance between sensitivity and meaningful engagement. That is need of the hour and agencies and brands are working together to create those synergies,” Arora said.

Amandeep Singh Kochar

There have been multiple requests and questions by CMOs and brand teams for points of view and planning from the present time to the future, said Amandeep Singh Kochar, Business Director, VMLY&R Delhi.

Overall, these are some of the top concerns from brands.

1. The role of digital is increasing and will have a strong impact in the new normal world. How as a brand can we be ready to pivot this path?

2. Every brand needs to know ROI on every dollar spent, right to sales. Commerce becomes integrated with communication. How does this impact the overall marketing strategy and money spent?

3. There will be behavioural changes which will stay and the context of communication will change. Hence brands need to keep that in mind. Can we build a framework and playbook for the brand?

4. Everyone understands the urgent need to be serious about their digital transformation. Is my organisation ready? Can we restart the projects put on the back burner?

Kochar said consulting expertise of new-age agencies helps to build an understanding of scenarios using industry data, trends and learnings. On the other hand, they provide depth to their PoV in the workshops right down to what the brands should be/could be doing right from today to the recovery phase and the new normal as it is being called.

VMLY&R has been ingrained in the organisational DNA, which is the “connected consumer experience”.

“I would suggest brands to design its detailed consumer journeys with shifting touch points and behaviours. This will give them most of their answers. After that they should start joining the dots and get the experts if needed,” suggested Kochar.

“We have always worked hand in glove with our agencies and have frequent brainstorming sessions to ascertain how to break through the clutter together. We are exploring new media, new methods of communication and smarter call to actions,” Agarwal said.

How challenging has it become to strategise marketing plans for the future, when the current scenario is so unstable?

Experts said the future strategy demands brands to think out of the box and still have their product and brand promise intact and alive.

Agarwal says that disruption, innovation and marketing all are key drivers for a post-Covid world.

“Owing to the rapidly consumed digital space in the past couple of months, and also triggered by the lockdown, we have carefully crafted a series of distinct communication for each brand, which is being well-received by all. We have invested in educational communication on social media, hope-filled personal encouragement through messenger services and are gearing up for more innovative ways of reaching out to the end consumer through digital media,” he said.

According to Kumar, brands are investing more in understanding consumer behaviour after the crisis to evolve their long-term strategies that might be redundant with the shift in consumer mindset, behaviour and consumption patterns.

“Pro-actively reaching out and identifying consumer needs while understanding emerging patterns like digital will be crucial,” he said.

However, in uncertain times such as these, brands can strategise to bank on their strengths and plan accordingly.

“Brands need to go back to their drawing boards and evaluate campaigns that have worked for them in the past. Brands need to strategise on innovative campaigns that will enable them to stand out amid the uncertainty. Case in point: Innovative content marketing strategies have enabled brands of all sizes to remain at the forefront of this crisis. Brands need to evaluate the role of the same amid the uncertainty and make it a tent pole in their future strategies,” said Arora.

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