Arvind Nair
Guest Article

Halt and catch fire

Halt and Catch Fire is an idiom referring to a machine code instruction that causes the computer's CPU to cease meaningful operation, requiring a restart.

Digitisation of the way we connect, meet, attend, consume and engage with brands, people and products has seen a fundamental shift in 2020. As distant interactions become a reality, we witness the transformation in behaviours and consumption setting up a new digital led normal. While social media consumption and video marketing reaches its peak and maturity, it’s time to look at digital as the growth engine of business.

Over the last several months, we’ve worked with brand teams in a variety of sectors, including retail, sports, finance, and health care, to plan for what’s next. The most impactful solutions have come through one critical question — what people’s behaviours will look like after the pandemic? To help shape some thinking on the impact of behaviour change, we’ve identified three categories of shift:

  • Continued: are behaviours that are likely to return to their pre-pandemic state unchanged. e.g. air travel quickly bounced back from a sharp decline immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, as people were reassured by tighter security

  • Redundant : are behaviours that are likely to collapse altogether or be replaced e.g. Consumers stockpiling essential products for daily consumption resulting in temporary stockouts and shortages.

  • Modified: are activities that are likely to return after the pandemic, with fundamental changes. e.g less use of public transport, more remote working

If we look at the behaviour as a habit, and it being disrupted many a times, it will somewhere lead into newer opportunities to intersect with a new behaviour. Being part of a routine increases the likelihood that the behaviour will continue. Importantly, studies of habit formation suggest that time spent doing a behaviour isn’t the critical factor in determining whether it gets embedded; it’s the number of times you do it.

A habit also becomes embedded simply through the act of repetition so becomes routine and engrained in our muscle memory, for example, for example, brushing our teeth or scrolling the news feed or refreshing Twitter or honking on the roads become habitual behaviours. It is expected that most habits will return back to normal. However, it is inevitable that some habits will die because the consumer under the lockdown discovers an alternative that is more convenient, affordable, and accessible.

As the next billion get ready to drive consumption, brands and agency partners need to ensure that the digital ecosystem is built for it. The ability to adapt and to re-think priorities has empowered the “agency-client” model to experiment and better understand the digital ecosystems in the last two years. To listen, analyse and predict aspects of buyer behaviour, or brand affinity has created varied opportunities for everyone.

A billion customers, that’s the promise. Both brands and consumers will benefit from these direct relationships as brands will be able to offer personalised promotions, which will make this a long-term change in e-tail habits.

As branded ecosystems take centre stage, the experience that we build for any user in those systems become the bedrock for growth. Customers expect seamless connectivity, weather its between multi device sync’s, or just continuing the Netflix show on the phone instead of streaming it. Imagine, if you had to restart the episode every time you turned back to the show you were binging. As digital starts mirroring the offline ecosystem, it’s time to re-evaluate the basics across all the touchpoints and identify the opportunities to scale. The ability to nourish, refine, and target consumers across the ecosystem, will in the longer term drive a higher CLV thus moving ahead from a base of pure acquisition.

It’s now time setup and scale digital’s raison d'etre- to be able to directly speak and sell to the consumer at scale; to be relevant and not just address a recency bias; to be able to run pilots; to be able to drive a digital culture within the organisations and to build ecosystems that allows a connected customer journey, bringing value to both customers and brands. The number of devices in our homes is growing fast. Brands need to find ways into the new ecosystems and consumer habits.

Every crisis leads us to innovate and build. As we “Halt, and catch fire”; the ability to re-think the status quo will provide us with the opportunity to build, engage, create unique ecosystems and unlock the true power of digital.

The author is the Regional Director of Mirum India.