Karan Kumar
Guest Article

Marketing in the brave new world

The ongoing pandemic will force fundamental changes in human behaviour. How will these changes affect businesses and marketers?

The world we're heading towards now is not the one we came from. Make no mistake. Unlike past financial crises, this one will force fundamental changes in human behaviour and how we, as a species, engage with our ecosystem as we march ahead. And I say that the new way would, in fact, be the better way.

Consider this.

1. We will cringe more the next time anyone tries to make contact with us in a queue, irrespective of whether it is at a milk booth, multiplex, or the airport.

2. We will be concerned about how close we are sitting next to each other, irrespective of whether it is at the movies, the food court outside it, or in train berths.

3. We will have to pack lesser number of people in our offices, provide wider alleys at our stores for people to navigate with distance, and design homes with a 'study' to work from, and with balconies that are true extensions of our living spaces, not just a drawing in the brochure.

4. We will be wary about the passenger who sat on the same seat before us in the cab, and our roommate. We will also be bothered about the one rubbing shoulders with us in the 9 0'clock local, or, for that matter, in the shared office bus.

5. We will wear masks while at malls, greet without physical contact, encourage contactless deliveries of essentials, and, finally, video call more than ever before.

So, what would be the impact of this altered human behaviour on businesses? Extremely significant and very severe, as some of you would have already guessed by now. But suffice to say that businesses, more than ever before, will be forced to revalidate their 'growing concern' assumptions, and, even more stringently, re-evaluate future viability of their current and existing models.

What does this mean for the marketing community? As brand custodians, we are onerously tasked with the responsibility of understanding consumers and, amongst them, generating demand and preference for what we sell. In other words, this onerous task loosely translates into, first and foremost, understanding the context of our consumers, identifying and decoding their anxieties, anticipating their needs and how these would change, and, thereafter, use this knowledge to help redesign contextually relevant products and communication that furthers their proposition.

Tall order, indeed. So, what might be the starting point in this brand custodian journey? Here is what I think:

1. Keenly observe your consumers and listen to what they are talking about. Understand and identify their anxieties, which may often remain unsaid, given how scared they are to even confront them, forget sharing them publicly.

2. Understand the changes in behaviour this pandemic is causing. Most humans like status quo and enjoy the comfort of the known. They hate discontinuity and loss of control and, yet, that is exactly what this crisis is resulting in.

3. Critically relook at your existing portfolio and its relevance in the emergent new culture. Not just your product, but also the current processes and systems, that allow your consumers to access them. Would these delivery systems continue to remain efficient in the new context?

4. Re-evaluate your communication, its visual and verbal vocabulary. And, its core message. More than ever before, this needs to be honest in its promises and empathetic in its tone of delivery. This is the time to be objective, truthful and reassuring, and if your brand can meaningfully do that, it will be rewarded with the ultimate elixir, trust.

This brings me to the most vital element that actually nourishes and sustains consumer - brand relationships over and beyond tangible benefit delivery, trust. While purchase motivations have always been guided by several factors like esteem and self-actualisation to name a few, it is my firm belief that during times of tumult and discontinuity, consumers will invariably gravitate instinctively towards brands they believe are speaking the truth and in whom they can repose their trust. Simply put, trust equals to business.

So, as frontline warriors in the war for relevance and demand creation, brand custodians need to rededicate themselves to the basics which lie at the core of marketing – customer centricity. Keep your head down and ears close to the ground because from what you hear, you will be able to create product, propositions and processes designed for the new normal. This is critical because, as I said right at the start, the world we're heading towards now is not the one we came from. It will be bold and new, and brands that take the lead in defining it will reap advantage versus those which, as bystanders viewing the emergent new order, run the grave risk of being completely passed over.

(Karan Kumar is senior vice president, marketing, and chief marketing officer at DLF.)