Brands need to take responsibility to respond in a quicker, more efficient way: Experts

With lockdown restrictions being lifted in the country even as COVID-19 cases continue to see a spike, India is gradually coming to terms with a ‘new normal’ and having to live with the virus in our midst.

The past 4 months have been quite interesting for the digital sector. With print circulation being restricted and the broadcast sector, barring the news genre, seeing a paucity of fresh content, digital has come to the forefront as the first choice of not only consumers but brands as well.

Spending on digital has become extremely important now as brands need to maintain its visibility and relevance, it’s a cheaper source of gaining visibility and digital also has a widespread reach. Consumers, too, are spending more time on several digital platforms and if you’re a brand and want to increase visibility, there is no better time than now.

To discuss “How are brands adapting digital in their overall strategy?” and how the future looks for the digital sector, industry leaders came together to share their key insights and take deep dive into this topic. The panel discussion was part of the DIGIXX 2020 Summit & Awards initiated by Adgully, which was held online this year due to the pandemic situation.

The panel was moderated by Rubeena Singh, CEO, iProspect, who began the session by saying, “I believe the pandemic has changed consumer habits and the customer journeys have changed not only the short term but also the long term. This has accelerated digital transactions in many ways. Companies in every industry are facing trouble to adjust and meet with the customer expectations. At the same time the digital customer is very unforgiving. Any move that a digital marketer makes will go through a lot of scrutiny from the customers. To be successful in this area, brands will need to go beyond just using digital for performance metrics and just keeping digital as an extension to their current strategy. They will have to use digital in a much larger and useful way, not just to sell but to create a larger intent and brand love for them.”

Singh then asked Sudan Deo, Vice President and Head Of Marketing, ICICI Securities, about the impact of the lockdown on their business.

Talking about the challenges, Deo said, “The lockdown has resulted in a huge change the way markets are functioning, it is a little volatile today. Because everyone wants to trade, there are several other challenges coming in. There was a tremendous pressure on mutual fund redemption in March. However, we noticed most of those who were redeeming then, came back by April. We realised that business seems up and coming for the entire financial space. While all call centres are down and we are taking discussions online, we can’t breach any privacy norms. If people have to provide solutions from home, it has to be done in such a way that they aren’t losing out anywhere in terms of compromising on their data.”

He further said, “During the lockdown, new accounts opening have been an important part of the business. Hence, getting that done smoothly, too, has its own set of challenges. There are multiple verifications we go through. Work from home was always going to be a larger challenge and the implication we see is that we should accept this as the new normal and we should be working for business continuity and more detailed business planning perspectives going forward.”

To the question on COVID-19’s impact on the retail sector and whether people using e-commerce platforms was a short term trend and would they prefer going to stores in the post-lockdown period, Uma Talreja, CMO, Shoppers Stop, commented, “There is no doubt that the offline businesses are going to be affected for at least some time till we don’t adapt to co-existing with COVID-19. We have a very huge department of several stores. Different stores are having different impacts. The clothing category has always been a browse category for the customer so the natural affinity to e-commerce is natural for that category. The touch and feel category suffers because we don’t have trial rooms anymore, therefore, brands need to keep an eye on technology and see what can help both the marketers and consumer’s side so that it can become a more satisfying experience and how those needs have completely changed now.”

She added, “While stores are slowly opening up, we do see our members and loyalty program members come back, who are 80% of our revenue. When people are coming in, they are coming in with an intent to buy and our bill sizes are far higher. We also see a lot of engagement with our staff. We have more than 280 personal shoppers who serve 3 lakh customers directly. We had been doing sales where we deliver directly to the customer’s home and we had gained a lot of engagement for that. We took necessary steps for the safety of the customer and assured the sanitization of the goods. We are working on getting a high pivot growth on our e-commerce channels. We are looking at how can we create an experience for the customer online and playing up values like brand love. It is very important for retailers to understand the consumer behaviour by leveraging digital extensively.”

Singh then asked Kaushik Prasad, General Manager - Consumer Marketing, Ford India, how consumers were reacting to the shift of selling automobiles online. To this, Prasad replied, “Research for cars has been online for a while. Consumers researched online and the footfalls for showrooms had gone down. The journey the consumer goes through before actually buying a car has always been online. The only part affected in this situation has been customer and brand experience in the showroom. I don’t think that is something that can be replicated by online tools and technology. Most companies in the business have already adopted digital channels.”

Continuing further, he said, “The current situation has changed everything from the brand’s end as well as the consumer’s end and hence, I would be cautious before saying anything about this situation. I would like to wait and watch before confirming anything.”

When asked whether PepsiCo India had done something different to communicate with the consumer during these times, Dola Halder, Brand Head, Doritos, Pepsico India, replied, “Even the beginning when we were hit by this situation, we had made some basic rules for ourselves as to how we will communicate with the customer. We knew consumers are going through a lot and are suffering. We had laid down our principles very early on and had decided that we won’t be heard just for the sake of it. We wanted to make sure whatever communication we do is intrinsic to the brand and what it stands for. We started with a lot of character level changes in all our brands. We wanted to sense the best way to communicate instead of just going ahead with it. A lot of reprioritisation took place and we knew digital would be the main channel for us. A lot of repurposing of money took place and there was strong focus on digital spends.”

She further added, “We created great engagement by responding to a Netflix post, which eventually resulted in a campaign to create a nacho emoji with influencers on board. We went trending within a day and it really helped us in creative interesting engagement and conversations with the consumer. While we trying to keep our supply chain steady, there were several restrictions from the Government. While managing situations like that, we saw people loved Dorritos even more during this time as we are a brand people use to heighten their viewer experience. We had taken up the responsibility to react and respond to all such interesting activities in a quicker more efficient way.”

Singh then asked Akash Deep Batra, SVP & Head of Marketing, DBS Bank, what the digital ecosystem needed to offer to marketers to help them in the current situation and let people do better.

Batra responded by saying, “The big challenge is that the directional ability to innovate on digital is going down. With the fact that there 2-3 brands that are rolling the digital ecosystem, they literally define how the consumer experiences my brand. Creating differentiated brand experiences is extremely critical and a big challenge because a lot of the tools are not available to the brands while the platforms themselves take control of it and use it to engage their users. Brands should move on to investing in their own platforms and take control over this scenario.”

He added, “The time and effort and money spent to reach out to the same consumer on various platforms is a big headache for brands and also a big challenge.”

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