Studies say that close to five crore people will be losing their jobs due to the current economic slowdown. However, India shows an economic growth of around 6 per cent. So, what do we need to do to continue staying afloat? Businessworld recently launched the 5th edition of the Marketing Whitebook. The launch was marked by a panel discussion on how to build brands during an economic slowdown.
The panellists spoke about how brands need to just hang in there and wait for better times. Moderating the discussion was the managing director of Counselage India, Suhel Seth. The panellists were Maitri Kumar, head, marketing, HSBC India; Sanjay Purohit, executive director, marketing, Cadbury India; Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World; Shailesh Rao, managing director, Google India; Saugata Gupta, chief executive officer, consumer products, Marico; and Ranjivjit Singh, chief marketing officer, Microsoft India.
opened the discussion by saying, "The essential bit is not necessarily to build a brand in such times, but to retain it."
Maitri Kumar agreed with Seth and added that defending the brand's true style was more important. "And that's a challenge we are all facing," she said. Kumar raised the important point that unlike other economies, India isn't in a de-growth state and that must not be forgotten.
Shailesh Rao worded it differently when he said, "Indian statistics offer a silver lining. The 7 per cent growth here may be seven times the growth in many other Western nations." He said that it was the good business sense that prevails in India that keeps him optimistic about the times to come. Indians, he said, have many good business habits, such as making intelligent and prudent investments, and these habits serve them well in tough times.
Ranjivjit Singh also sounded a positive note and advised the audience to step into the consumers' shoes - this would help them to position their brands better.
Sanjay Purohit reminded the listeners that in tough times, consumers experiment less and go back to brands that they trust. "FMCG as a category lags seeing a downturn as fast as any other sector would and similarly would miss seeing the upturn as well," he said.
Seth then posed another question to the panellists: What signals should agencies look for with their clients? Saugata Gupta answered this one: "Go back to basics." He said that during a boom, there was no dearth of resources, so one spent, sometimes even extravagantly, but not during a downturn.
Sam Balsara made a different point. He said that all that's happening at the moment is not necessarily bad. "We had lost track of why advertisers advertise," he said, and added that the slowdown would help them get back to the drawing board and understand once again why advertisers advertise.
"While increasing rate cards became a routine, we forgot that to make advertising grow, we needed to make sure that advertising brought in positive returns," he said.
All the panellists were positive that the recession was not a new phenomenon, neither was it something that couldn't be tided over.