Anchit Chauhan
Guest Article

Hygiene, the next big consumer trend?

The heightened sense of hygiene will create new challenges for brands, not only in the service sector, but also in the manufacturing sector.

The collective hygiene standards of the world have gone up massively, ever since COVID-19 broke out in over 180 countries. Nothing bears testament to this fact better than massive global shortage of hygiene and cleaning products like hand sanitisers, tissue paper rolls, masks and soaps (to wash hands) in supermarkets and drugstores.

Terms like – is it safe to fly, is it safe to travel, is it safe to eat at restaurants, anti-bacterial, hand sanitisers, have become breakout searches on Google. While words like hygiene, social distancing, sanitising, contactless have become buzzwords for brands.

The heightened sense of hygiene has almost created a new animal, it will form many new habits, change behaviour in many ways and create new challenges for brands, not only in the service sector, but also in the manufacturing sector.

Let’s look at how these buzzwords might also become ubiquitous brand words in the imminent future:

1) Hygiene products: A strong habit of cleanliness will be inculcated in everyone, as they fear for their safety from micro-organisms, invisible to the naked eye. Products with anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-germ claims will obviously gain huge traction with the consumer.

Even products that promise hygiene as an additional benefit, will become attractive to the consumer. For example, Asian Paints recently launched an anti-bacterial wall paint, while LG was already seen promoting a refrigerator with an anti-bacterial technology, both might fly off the shelves, when the lockdown ends. ACs that come with germ-kill technologies, air purifiers, air sprays, anti-bacterial light bulbs, etc., will all become highly relevant.

Germ-resistant packaging material might become the next big innovation opportunity, and a must-have for every product.

2) Hygiene 'in' products: The fact that the COVID-19 virus can live on product packets, and even vegetables has forced consumers to thoroughly sanitise every product that comes into their home. Going forward, ensuring strict hygiene in manufacturing processes will become a compulsion and an important point to reassure the consumer about.

While large multinationals might get away easier, it will be difficult for local brands to earn that trust of the consumer. Local food and snack and beverage brands, etc., will have to go the extra mile in reassuring the consumer about the safety and hygiene measures in their manufacturing processes.

3) Hygiene services: Professional services in this area might become the next big business and employment generator. There might be a surge in the frequency and the extent of demand for services like deep cleaning that brands like Urban Clap offer. Many new players will enter the market and getting one’s premises deep cleaned more often than not, might become a habit among consumers.

Hygiene services as a B2B offering will also take off, as governments and employers will have to ensure citizen and employee safety on their premises. Public transport, office complexes, places of public gathering and recreation will all have to meet the new-found, high hygiene standards.

4) Hygiene 'in' services: As the fear of disease contraction from not just human, but object contact also stays in the minds, consumers will be wary of going to public places, like restaurants, malls, cinemas, gyms, etc.

Therefore, hygiene will again become an essential promise for every service provider.

Zomato has already launched an initiative promoting contactless dining, where it promises no contact and minimum interaction with the restaurants staff. Visitors can place and repeat orders, and pay bills straight from the app, without the need of any human interaction.

Self-service already exists in the budget restaurant segment, it might become an industry-wide norm, while super luxury restaurants might even go to the extent of introducing robotic waiters. What it does to thousands of jobs is, of course, sad, but a topic for another discussion.

Cinemas and airlines are considering practicing social distancing in their premises, most likely an economically unviable proposition for them as a business. However, hygiene will inevitably have to be a part of the core offering of these services, no matter how they choose to proceed with their services.

Cab services, which are already infamous for their smelly and dirty cabs in India, will have to almost reinvent their offerings from the perspective of cleanliness. Ensuring a clean ride for the next rider, when there’s literally no time between each ride, will be a massive challenge for the companies. And an even greater challenge will be training driver partners to maximise hygiene, as most of them treat the cars as their living, bed and dining rooms.

5) Hygiene in branding: More and more brand communication and collaterals might be seen giving great weightage to words that connote hygiene and safety. Untouched by hand, no human contact, etc., will become terms that many copywriters will soon get fed up of, as they try to accommodate these words in their already pithy ad copies.

It’s safe to assume that safety and hygiene will become not only usual business practices, but also standard brand promises for every product and service brand. And the brands that pull off stronger association with hygiene, or somehow manage to differentiate themselves in this area, will immediately win consumer trust, and also win over its competitors in the market.

(The author is director – brand strategy at Dentsu WebChutney.)