Abhinav Anand
Planner's Journal

"Memories are short; revenge-shopping is a likely reality": Sunit Khot, Network Advertising

In a new series 'Planner's Journal', we explore what the world looks like from the perspective of those in charge of mining consumer insights every day.

Here's what Sunit Khot, chief strategy officer, Network Advertising, has to say:

If theres one piece of advice you could give all brand marketers now, what would that be?

The entire population of the world today seems to be at a crossroads where nobody can actually predict the way the future is likely to unfold. At one end, it could spiral downward into a long-drawn-out recession, or it could bounce back in a manner that could surprise everyone. What’s more, a rude shock like COVID-19 is actually a wake-up call for the entire human race to take a step back, and figure out our actions and their consequences.

Going forward, it is likely that there will be a shift from mindless consumption to mindful consumption. Brand marketers will have to take this reality on board, and responsible citizens may even need to nudge it along the way. Doing so will help brands and marketers gain traction with consumers, who are reeling under uncertainty. Taking a higher stance for the brand will increasingly be a good thing to do, and a necessary one.

What are the top 3 ways in which the Indian consumer has changed? And, how will these changes affect the way brand managers will sell to them (the consumers) in the days ahead?

Most importantly, the Indian consumers have been reintroduced to their famous resilience. In a lot of ways, the lockdown situation has exposed every consumer, regardless of their social stratum, to a new lifestyle, where the learning curve has been extremely steep. This is why we hear of top level executives doing the dishes, and the daily wage earner contemplating a walk of over 700 km back to the home town. In either case, and for all the cases in between, consumers have been forced to understand that their self-imposed limitations are surprisingly fragile, and resilience is a well that is always available to draw from.

The fallouts of the steep learning curve are many. A discovery of new talents leading to new confidence, overcoming of past conceptions, and a higher mindfulness to consumption.

While these may not be the only emotions consumers are experiencing, these are by far the most positive ones, and I am certain that every individual has felt these to a certain degree.

Which product segments will have the toughest road to recovery? And, which categories will bounce back faster than others?

All product and service brands which are in segments that require physical fulfilment are likely to have a tough road to recovery. Travel, restaurants, entertainment, sports and their ancillary industries are going to face tough times.

On the other hand, product and service brands in segments that empower the consumer by providing remote access, convenience and wellness are likely to bounce back much faster. These would include select durables, digitally sourced services, DIY aids and, of course, FMCG.

Are we headed towards a world in which consumerism will become a bad word? What will happen to marketing in such a world?

Being an advertising professional, I will never admit to consumerism being wrong. However, blatant and wasteful consumerism has always been wrong. I can’t imagine human beings eschewing all consumerism because of the COVID-19 situation. Memories are short and revenge-shopping is a likely reality for some consumers. That being said, the biggest shift I foresee is that consumers are not going to find blatant consumerism aspirational. This will also be due to hard facts, like having lesser disposable money.

In this scenario, marketing will have to evolve to focus on creating a real difference to the consumers’ lives, rather than just differentiating from competition. At the same time, there is a danger of falling into the trap of meaningless lofty campaigns, which have tenuous brand connects and can even border on being insincere. In that event, it might be better for the brand to remain grounded in its communication approach.

Do you see purpose-led brand communication increase, or decrease, in the days ahead?

It will definitely increase. Hopefully, in the right manner and direction.