Right now, more than ever, brands need to pivot from their primary business objectives and take on an evangelistic role of a principal caregiver.
China led the way. Right from mobilising the government machinery rapidly, to getting the army to work together with other departments in quarantining and sanitising aggressively, to building a working medical infrastructure at ground zero in record time. Other nations used this surgically precise template as a working protocol to deal with the crisis themselves. But we are still in the eye of the storm.
Right now, more than ever, brands need to pivot from their primary business objectives and take on an evangelistic role of a principal caregiver, assuring, reassuring the community of better days to come. Not just through communication, but by actions as well.
We are already witnessing examples of such beneficence. Anand Mahindra is offering his hospitality division (Club Mahindra Resorts) for temporary isolation and treatment centres. Reliance is offering Jio users double data usage to encourage people to stay at home. Even Bollywood actor Salman Khan has stepped up by pledging to take care of 25,000 daily wagers from the film fraternity through this crisis.
Everything has a timeline... When we look back at the age of beta tapes, then digi-beta, followed by DVCPRO and now to card capturing on a camera, we can all identify stories of our past with them. Social media, too, has had a similar trajectory. From Hotmail and Yahoo chat rooms to Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and now the new kid on the block from the ByteDance stable - TikTok (with a whole lot of excellent others in between).
They brought about considerable awareness of what the world was about right into our homes. They showed us how amazing people are, and took us away from the great outdoors into a more self-contained space.
Look at pre-COVID-19 trends on consumption and the effects of social media on people. You will notice that while social media and its various brothers-in-arms were gaining significant ground, they were also paving our way of living in the future. Social distancing, the remedial band-aid for the predicament we find ourselves in currently, was inevitable. We have all been steadily marching towards this moment. Our heads buried deep into our phone screens, heedless of our real-world relationships shrinking by the day, content with our virtual friend count and our massive fan followings online.
Every life experience enriches us with a new understanding of the world we inhabit. The world around us is transforming as I type this. Communities have progressed multiple years ahead in a matter of months. The paradox is that it will take a lot of social observing to identify the new language of communication brands will need to realign with to talk to the evolved and 'new' consumer, but in quick time.
Referring back to China (only because it is now mostly in the post-COVID-19 stage), it would be fair to say there are a few insights that we could pick up and adapt to so we hit the road running when (and it will) this pandemic passes.
The most obvious one being health. Our body is a temple, and it deserves the utmost attention and care. This truism would reflect in pro-health markets witnessing a surge in demand. Everyone would want to fortify their immune systems and stay equipped to counter any such outbreak in the future. The banking sector would also be incentivised by this behavioural transformation to provide future-ready health and medical insurance solutions. The ripples of this pandemic would also similarly affect the fitness industry. We are already seeing live workout sessions mushrooming on social media with fitness enthusiasts encouraging people to join in.
No doubt, most students will miss a considerable chunk of their academic year, with international students risking losing an entire year. The much anticipated edutech revolution will finally get the propulsion to take off as homeschooling becomes a necessity. Parents realise that new pedagogies in education are fun, transforming learning into engaging daily group activities for the family. An interactive education with a programmatic understanding of the student makes for an incredible experiential learning platform. While this may not take over the 'good ole school' brick and mortar establishments any time soon, imagine for a moment, students appearing online for all their board exams and express education so that they can focus more on their interests and vocations. Bespoke training and syllabus for all could be a new reality.
Cloud kitchens and e-commerce will munch on a more substantial bite of the consumer pie as door-to-door services grow and flourish amidst this new reality. Fintech solutions will augment progressively as cashless economies become the order of the day, offering quiet reassurance from the dread of disease proliferation, or even another demonetisation.
But let us not be completely isolated in our 'social distancing' stance. Trends from recovering markets show a significant saving over the last couple of months. With the worst of the pandemic behind them, these are now rejoicing and indulging, leading to an incredible boost in retail and beauty care.
In times like these, people look up to leaders for advice, encouragement, and support. They also look up to brands they trust. It is essential, then, for brands to step up to a new responsibility and be supportive, in words as well as action, as we all adapt and evolve together into a post-COVID-19 world.
(The author is MD at MediaMonks, India, a creative production firm from Sir Martin Sorrell’s network S4 Capital.)