Missing brands must restart marketing to catch rising demand across categories

Go “deeply human” in an authentic, empathetic manner

NEW DELHI: After a lull of more than two months, businesses in India are slowly getting back on track as lockdown restrictions ease. There is a positive sentiment among most brands and agencies that things will only get better from here on and there seems to be a plethora of opportunities waiting.

According to FCB India group chairman and CEO Rohit Ohri and Havas Group India CEO Rana Barua, a lot of their clients have started getting positive responses from consumers in areas that fall under the green zone.

Barua had told us in an earlier interview that one of its major clients, Hyundai, recorded 500 bookings in just two days of opening up of a limited number of showrooms. Ohri said that brands functioning in the essentials category, like food and hygiene, are getting a splendid rise in demand.

Recently, Siyaram’s, one of the most prominent players in the Indian textile industry, said that the retailers in the green zones have started recording two-thirds of normal daily sales number already, indicating a positive sentiment amongst consumers. McDonald’s, too, had talked to about an impending pent-up demand across industries.

With a further change in lockdown rules, the industry is taking cognisance of several other possible trends. Barua now added, “I think (do not have data to back this) a lot of urgent categories would have opened up as many consumers would require change/service/repair of electronics, white goods, mobile accessories, home/kitchen accessories and appliances, etc. I say this because, with a, close to, 60-day lockdown and everyone at home using all the mentioned above more than ever, I am quite sure that this will be the need of the hour.”

Madison Media chief analytics officer Nagaraj Krishnamurthy shared Bain & Company’s survey results that show demand for staples, household hygiene, food ordering-in, toys and even beauty products are improving in green zones.

He said, “I do not foresee any issues concerning the demand for essentials. There is a lot of talk about revenge shopping of consumer discretionary items. My personal feeling is revenge shopping at best will provide a blip in the first week after easing is announced. On a medium-term basis, there will be demand contraction for luxury and discretionary products.”

Dentsu One president Harjot Singh Narang elaborated that while essentials will surely be growing in sales; the fate of products and services like the purchase of automobiles and personal transport, new food experiences, travel and tourism will depend largely on consumer sentiment depending on how fast a vaccine is found and distributed, amongst other factors.

He said, “There can be two broad scenarios on this. As we come out of it the sentiment could be of “fear and worry” which would lead to safety behaviour, putting off any non-essential expenditure, more investments in insurance products etc., or the sentiment could be that of “we dodged a bullet” leading to more of the YOLO (you only live once) behaviour of spending and enjoyment of experiences to celebrate the survival and resilience that led us out.”

Whatever the case may be from the demand-side, advertisers suggest that it is high time that brands, which were missing from the public glare for the past two months or so, restart their advertising activities.

Wunderman Thompson South Asia chairman and group CEO Tarun Rai shared, “The crisis took everyone by surprise. It is unprecedented and without any playbook. Some brands, sensibly, have been present through this crisis – whether in terms of communication or by actually doing positive things to help mitigate the crisis. The brands that have missed out should start getting visible now.”

Krishnamurthy added, “Marketing and more specifically advertising is an investment. The golden rule to maximise return is to invest when costs are low. Marketers who did not invest in previous phases of lockdown missed a great opportunity to build brand love on a very cost-effective basis. I would urge all brands, especially those in FMCG business, where the top-of-the-funnel activation is critical to invest more. You rarely see an increase in media consumption that is accompanied by lower media cost.”

About what should be the approach of brands to restart marketing, Rai said, “They still have to be empathetic and recognise that the crisis is not over. But after two months they can open up their marketing budgets as there are definite signs of consumers getting back to spending in many parts of the country. This could be a very important phase as there has to be a lot of pent-up demand. Marketers don’t want to miss out on it.”

Barua highlighted that authenticity should be a key factor in brand communication today. “Brands and businesses have a huge and potentially vital role to play. But they must do so with authenticity because it is the right thing to do, not for themselves, not even just for their customers, but for society as a whole. In line with this, getting back to relevance and creating a compelling, engaging story to fit back into the consumer’s life is integral. Be meaningful for the consumer so that they clearly understand the void and reach out to buy the brand.”

Narang further elaborated on a suitable strategy for brands to make a comeback in the marketing world through a two-pronged approach: first from the marketing impact on business perspective and second from the brand’s relationship with its consumers’ perspective.

From an impact on the business perspective, he shared, “Teams would need to track sentiments very closely and pivot quickly to the changed needs of their consumers given these abnormal times. Responses could be different for different individual businesses and categories - from a changed product design perspective, a pricing/ SKU need matching perspective or even a new approach to distribution channel dynamics etc,., or a combination of such elements.”

He insisted that brands go “deeply human” to address the situation from the relationship with consumers perspective. “Adapt as a brand to the new paradigm exactly like human relationships adapt and grow in uncertain times. This is the time that separates the wheat from the chaff for people at large and consumer segments in particular and relationships and brands that do not have a deep enough link will be left behind or even forgotten. Just see the personal relationships that will survive and even grow for your consumer segment and evolve your brand to be in sync with those patterns. At the very base level - out of sight and out of mind would be a big factor for people in what relationships survive and which ones fall behind as unimportant – the same will play out with brands.”

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