Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Post Lockdown

"We will see a shift from lean-back to lean-in media": Sagar Boke, Tata Consumer Products

We interview the head of marketing of the foods division at Tata Consumer Products about the major shifts expected in consumer behaviour and market, post lockdown.

At Tata Consumer Products, Sagar Boke heads the marketing function for 'heavyweight' food brands, like Tata Salt and Tata Sampann.

Once the lockdown is lifted, what will be your big priority?

First, the outbreak of this pandemic has altered, and will alter, the way consumers buy, and the way companies sell. Our focus is to innovate our product offerings, channel strategy and go-to-consumer models to become a truly customer-centric organisation.

Second, brands have to revisit their communication strategy with the changes – in terms of messaging, carrier of the message, media vehicles and interventions through the purchase funnel. We also have to have a narrative that builds empathy and solves some of the issues that the consumers would be facing, without sounding opportunistic.

Third, though e-commerce is playing a huge role in ensuring that essential products are delivered to the doorsteps, traditional retail will still be an integral part of the consumers’ lives. With retail being hit the most, it becomes even more important to rethink strategies and win higher share of shelf and mind, through meaningful engagement with the trade.

We will be revisiting and innovating our go-to-consumer strategy. I personally think that the new ways, such as direct to home distribution models, teleselling, etc., will become part of the new normal, and help the business grow, even post lockdown.

"Though e-commerce is playing a huge role in ensuring that essential products are delivered to the doorsteps, traditional retail will still be an integral part of the consumers’ lives."

Will your market behave the way it was before lockdown, or will there be subtle changes?

While one can’t, and shouldn’t claim to be prophetic, here are my predictions. First, the pyramid of need hierarchies will be inverted, such that safety, nutrition, health, hygiene, and value for money will be at the apex of the pyramid, while the other parameters will slip down. We will adopt this for our brands. For instance, on Tata Sampann, we will focus on educating the consumers on food safety, hygiene and the goodness of our traditional wisdom. For Tata Salt, the focus will continue to be on that of being a health enabler, be it through the addition of iodine and iron, or through the reduction of sodium levels. We are also promoting products, like Tata I-Shakti Cooking Soda that helps in cleaning the vegetables and aids hygiene.

After the scare of this pandemic, the consumers’ focus would be to build a strong core, and be better prepared for the future. Products that focus on nutrition and immunity will be in high demand over regular offerings. Demand for products built on traditional Indian wisdom will rise. Consumers will take to more of home-cooked meals.

In the last two months, e-commerce has grown to the level it would have otherwise taken at least five years, in many markets. India will be no exception. E-commerce and direct to home distribution models will get more prominence over the traditional retail stories due to the deep-rooted safety concerns. New-age options, such as selling through AI bots/teleselling, will get more prominence. Human intervention would be encouraged only where it is indispensable. Many of these things were unthinkable in the past, but will become the new normal for many brands.

Partnering with the government to improve the level of sanitisation at the neighbourhood 'kirana' stores goes beyond business. Overall, hygiene will score high.

"Safety, nutrition, health , hygiene and value for money will be at the apex of the pyramid while other parameters will slip down. We will adopt this for our brands."

Will your broad view of marketing communication be different from before, in some way?

Consumers’ preferences, their selection of products, and buying patterns are fluid, and will stay that way. We’ll shift from plain advertising to content-driven communication; content will gain prominence over advertising as consumers will be more keen to know how the brand can solve an issue in order to bring some value addition to their life. Classically, marketing communication has relied on entertainment to grab attention. There would be more focus on education now onwards. Consumers are looking for information that can help them stay healthy and safe.

We’ll also see a shift from lean-back to lean-in media. Digital media – be it video formats, like OTT, gaming, influencer marketing, virtual fan clubs – will grow. What started with COVID-19 will become a way of life. Marketers will have to adopt and adapt.

Last, we’ll move from attributes and brand purpose to solid, tangible and authentic differentiation. Brands will have to justify their promise, value for money, and create more avenues to establish credibility. Brands whose purpose stems from differentiation in the category itself, will have strong chances to succeed.