#DigitalDialogue: India has been massively ‘digi-rupted’ by this crisis - Nikhil Rungta

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown has led to a challenging economic situation and uncertainty in the market. Some of the businesses are responding by cutting down on spends, salary cuts and even laying off employees, while others are taking affirmative action to gain the most out of limited resources and fortifying themselves for the new normal once the crisis abates.

While digital has been on a growth trajectory even before the pandemic, the global crisis has accelerated digital transformation in businesses. Most industry experts believe that Digital will lead the industry’s recovery and will permeate through every sector.

As a build up to our marquee event – DIGIXX 2020 – Adgully is continuing with its new series, #DigitalDialogue, which will have a special focus on the digital sector, how Digital is paving the way forward for companies and brands and how it will be a brand-building imperative.

Nikhil Rungta, Country Manager, India, Verizon Media, succinctly assesses the digital transformation that India has undergone almost overnight with the COVID-19 crisis and the resultant lockdown. He also cautions brands and companies not to be digital laggards, lest they are severely disadvantaged during the recovery period.

How can companies and agencies accelerate their digital transformation process in the current scenario?

So much has changed in two months! Customer behaviour has evolved rapidly. Companies have had to drastically change course, and with it, pivot their business models. In this new landscape, brands have to now urgently reassess their digital roadmap, moving faster than ever across certain priorities. Research shows that Indians are likely to remain online in the foreseeable future. Many first-time users have even gone straight to buying the most basic staples like bread and milk online. As an immediate priority, brands have to strengthen their digital platforms, for instance, to meet this surge and consolidation in online orders and transactions.

Many brands may not have the in-house digital expertise, or be able to scale up digital transformation rapidly enough to address new needs and opportunity areas cropping up through this crisis. They will have to turn to trusted external partners to innovate with digital and tech-led solutions that are useful in a post COVID-19 world. For instance, using technology to predict where best to execute DOOH executions – based on how community mobility increases – once lockdown restriction levels are lifted. Several of our clients are also working with us to explore how they can deploy Extended Reality (XR) and ‘hybrid digital experiences’ through periods of restricted mobility. With stores going to remain open-shut-open, consumers may no longer be able to visit a store to see a product physically, and even if they can, they may choose to stay away.

Cutting-edge ad formats driven by digital tech like Augmented Reality (AR) can prove tremendously useful right now. While browsing furniture, for instance, you can place a sofa virtually (at scale) in your own living room space to see if it fits. This can make the purchase decision easier when you can’t see a product in person. Very importantly for brands, it can convert casual online browsing into buying. This is just one use case. Digital technologies can power a whole breed of innovative solutions that build a bridge to reach consumers in this uncertainty. Blue sky ‘digital thinking’ is a must right now for every brand – the possibilities are limitless with digital tech.

How can Digital lead the recovery for brands in the new normal?

India has been massively ‘digi-rupted’ by this crisis. Consumers moved online virtually overnight, leading an overwhelming shift to digital channels. Today, digital products have rapidly turned into an integral part of ‘first-time users’ daily lives – these consumers are even buying staples like bread and milk online. With a digital-first approach, brands have to evaluate digital solutions and interventions across all areas of their business, across the value chain. If consumers are going to stay online, that’s where brands have to meet them. Customers who recently moved online have discovered how a ‘customised’ experience feels like. There’s an opportunity for brands to engage with them more deeply to earn their loyalty, by leveraging data and analytics to elevate the digital experience. This can bring them back for more.

Thinking digitally is crucial to meet the need of consumers, now that mobility will be intermittently curtailed. McKinsey research in China – which holds lessons for us as we open us – found that digital laggards could be severely disadvantaged during recovery. One of their key insights for brands is “Don’t just sell online; engage your customers digitally end-to-end”.

I see this period being a tremendous opportunity for brands. What we believed would take 3-5 years, has happened almost overnight, with digitisation accelerating. This period of forced digital innovation for marketers, if navigated carefully, can lead to outsized, enduring gains for brands if they use this opportunity to build stronger bonds with consumers, while reimagining products and services that bring enormous utility to consumers when they need it most.


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