Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

How has the abrupt shift in consumer behaviour changed the job of a strategist today?

We started out with a key question around the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on brand storytelling. Here’s what experts had to say.

Work from home, lockdown and a deadly virus lurking outside our doors, is the new normal. No one saw it coming and so, no one planned for it. With Indians locked inside their own houses, every bit of resource, every memory of a face-to-face conversation, every experience of an outdoor trip is dearer than ever. The only common link holding us together is the internet. Much of the work, amusement and interaction is happening digitally. This also means that consumers are missing the brands they adore and rely on. Last week, when we spoke to marketers and strategists about the Coronavirus impact, all of them agreed that the aforementioned factors are altering consumer behaviour in an unprecedented way and the biggest need of the hour is to ‘help’ consumers.

We then set out asking what the strategic planners at agencies are up to, and how they’re mining their consumer insights. Also, what are the key ‘asks’ from their clients amidst today’s crisis. Here’s what they had to say.

Ajeeta Bharadwaj, national planning director, Wunderman Thompson, India

I think that with every passing day, it is becoming clear that Day 22 is going to come with a new set of realities for brands and categories. The consumers are already looking at finance, beauty, health and housing very differently than they used to. This means that we need a whole new set of insights to stay relevant. We won’t be able to be presumptive on the back of the 100 hours of research and insight mining that we have done in the past. To that extent, Day 22 will be Day 1 for a lot of categories.

Ajeeta Bharadwaj
Ajeeta Bharadwaj

Specific to insight mining, some things won’t change. The need to deep-dive into the needs, moods and aspirations of consumers, is not going to go away. If anything, we will need to do it with fresh eyes, fresh ways and in greater detail to capture shifting realities. But among the things that will change, I think, digital behaviours will play a much larger role in insight mining. COVID-19 has made consumers, across strata, rediscover and re-engage with digital platforms and possibilities. Today, consumers are leaving their imprints across these platforms, and any consumer understanding will be incomplete without an understanding of these digital imprints. E-commerce is also set to get a huge shot in the arm, and understanding the digital buying journey of the consumer and using data will become non-negotiable.

The other area where I see consumer insight mining changing, is a move towards brand purpose-driving insights. As the fundamental context of categories changes, a lot of brands will feel a need to redefine the purpose that they play in consumers’ lives. This requires fresher, less templated and more co-created ways of getting to insights. I think we will see a lot more of cross-functional teams from clients and agencies getting together in workshops and working sessions to identify fresh, ground-breaking insights.

Right now, where we stand, there is a pressing need for brands to make a real difference in whatever way they can. We are seeing an overwhelming number of clients being very vocal about doing the right thing and, more importantly, about walking the talk. And there is some serious action that is backing this. There are clients who have preponed launches to help with the emerging COVID-19 needs. There are those who have repurposed assets, those who are quietly operating below-the-radar, making a huge difference. Their ask, in turn, is that the best creative minds apply their creativity to come up with real workable solutions that will partner their intent. It’s a very humanised perspective of the industry.

Anand Murty, strategy head, Taproot Dentsu

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes in the way all of us go about everyday life. Coping with all kinds of stressors, panic and anxiety, managing the running of households and making sure the essentials are in place, working and working out from home, and just generally trying to keep sane.

Anand Murty
Anand Murty

In this scenario, some organisations and brands have the technology and other resources to go beyond tokenism and contribute meaningfully to serve people. As such, the strategist is looking at ways to partner such organisations in re-working distribution ecosystems and consumer interfaces to get supplies to their doorstep faster. Coming up with ideas to help skill people and help them to forge interest areas and passions to constructively use lockdown time. Helping people stay safe by ensuring they understand and implement precautionary measures.

Given the fact that people are at home and on devices, a large number of touchpoints that we are focusing on are digital and mobile-first. This is a time of putting in the effort to go well beyond the usual campaigns and awards to see if a brand can provide truly meaningful experiences to serve people.

Ankit Sharma, associate vice president - Strategic Planning, FCB Ulka Bangalore

In current times, while TV viewing will see a spike, it’s digital which is going to grow considerably. With lesser number of interactions with people, everyone will find more time to glue to their mobile screen, whether it is to keep themselves occupied, get information, be aware and share comments and views online. It’s the platform where brands can keep people informed and engaged.

Ankit Sharma
Ankit Sharma

With no opportunities of interacting with consumers - reports, articles and studies have become the way to mine insights. However one interesting way of mining insights is by observing family and friends with whom we are spending more time. It’s an opportunity to gain nuggets and observations from their everyday life and share between teams to keep everyone abreast of changing behavior in current times.

From just being topical, now clients want to be more meaningful in life. From a simple post, to a film, to acts of generosity, everything has meaning to it.

Secondly, with everyone working from home and face-to-face interactions having gone down, clients are seeking more time from agency partners.

Thirdly, there is a spike in strategic conversations as clients want to be prepared for the anticipated change in coming times.