Consumers have different habits, thought processes and outlooks. What are the challenges that a marketer is facing due to COVID-19?
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of a consumer’s life, and made marketing a much more challenging process. On the sidelines of a virtual press conference, where Facebook and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report, a group of marketers tried to explore a few questions. What impact is the disruption of 2020 going to cause on the larger scheme of things? Where are we heading? Where do we go next?
The panel included Anil Viswanathan, director – marketing, chocolates, Mondelez India; Santosh Desai, MD and CEO Futurebrands India; Sadashiv Nayak, CEO, Big Bazaar; and Asim Warsi, senior vice president, Samsung India.
Desai kicked things off by saying that these unprecedented circumstances are changing the way the consumer behaves, and thinks. “Some of these behaviours can even be classified as a heightened response due to the (unprecedented) nature of the situation. But, it’s not necessarily a permanent response.”
He added that the home space has taken on a whole new meaning with multiple people adopting to work from home models. Gender roles are also becoming more equal at home.
“Social interactions are in a whole new dimension altogether. Terrifying in some aspects, fascinating in some others. We’re forced to think of things in new ways, and I think what will remain are opportunities,” said Desai.
Samsung India’s Warsi said that the smartphone plays a central role in creation of new habits, and reversal of past trends, since citizens rely on them to stay connected.
“Brand trust, values, and positioning play a more important role in today’s scenario than ever before. We’re not looking to only communicate with customers, but also with our offline and online channel partners. We’re using Facebook content toolkits to teach retailers how to scale up for hyperlocal consumers,” he said.
“Typically, they’d also go into a retail environment to get a touch and feel of the product before buying. We’re trying to find a replacement for this physical retail touch point.”
According to Warsi, electronics at large, and mobile phones in particular, are a very high involvement category. And, consumers have always been referring to digital media and influencers to get information about their upcoming purchase.
Viswanathan confesses that the first thing that had to be considered as India got into a lockdown was whether ‘meetha’ was an ‘essential’, or not. “As we initially got into the lockdown, we had some issues on the supply side, and a large part of April was spent handling these challenges. In our business, availability at the retail level is important,” he says.
Mondelez adopted a broader tone of gratitude as people grappled with the pandemic, and reflected on its own sense of privilege. Viswanathan mentions that the company’s marketing messages chose to pay attention to the large group of people who work to make our lives safer, and reassure our consumers about their own safety.
He explains that Gen Z and millennials made up a large chunk of Mondelez’s out of home consumption (on their way to school, college, etc.), but everyone is in the phase of restricted living right now. The question that came up for the marketer is, ‘Now that we’ve lost all our out of home consumption occasions, how do we trigger impulses at home’?
It seemed instinctive to turn to digital platforms, as digital natives are spending more time than ever on screens. They’re just getting used to life at home – including school at home, college at home, and work at home. “This presents a good opportunity to connect with them through that medium, and trigger that impulse,” he added.
“We also believe that family connections are going to emerge stronger than ever – triggered by restricted living. Snacking category is also going to increase. Snacking occasions at home are also going to increase. When it comes to advertising, the future is with integrated media. It’s not going to make sense to break away from one medium, or use one over the other,” he said.
He used ‘Fivestar’ as an example of taking an ad to the digital medium. “Instead of an outdoor ad, what if they saw the ad for the same product on their digital pathway? How can I convert that ‘click’ into a ‘buy’? We’re also seeing good results from our launch on IG shopping,” he said.
Big Bazaar’s Nayak pointed out that in India, we focused on the constant messaging of reassurance, which is why panic buying didn’t happen in the country as it did in the West, and other parts of the world.
Our geographical view of the nation has also changed. “We’re looking at nation, state, city, and then locality. We adopted a similar strategy for our stores. We looked at stores, which were present in different catchment zones, and we got the community to get to know its staff better. For the first time, we, as a retailer, were competing neck to neck with a consumer on the safety aspect – to assure them that our retail stores are as safe as their homes,” Nayak said.
He added that there’s been a huge uptick in the home category, with a creation of impulse buying in new categories, now that people are spending more times confined to their homes.
Futurebrands India’s Desai ended the discussion with emphasis on the fact that ‘habits can change’, urging marketers not to take behaviours as a given.
“The speed with which marketers have adapted to this tells us that this is a capability that they have, and are not using. New habits, categories, and modes of connecting have opened up. For a marketer, the main question is, how do you use these to the best of your abilities, given the fact that people who were previously not online, are now getting online. The challenge that marketers will now face is to enrich their online experiences,” he concluded.