#TwitterChat: In search of the ‘new normal’ in marketing for a VUCA world

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the economy and businesses in ways that no other global event has ever done. It has led to a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) world that marketers around the world are grappling with.

VUCA, a term coined by the US army to describe the post-Cold War world, has often been used – or sometimes abused – by business leaders, especially in the digital age. Now, the COVID-19 crisis has forced marketers to return to their drawing boards, redraw strategies and plan for an uncertain, unprecedented ‘new normal’.

Adgully’s industry leading ‘TwitterChat’ series saw some leading marketers, brand strategists and agency partners involved in some serious discussions to understand how the marketing function is looking to navigate the post COVID-19 world. The TwitterChat was held on Friday, April 10, 2020.

Joining in the conversation were esteemed panellists:

  • Moderator: Prashant Puri, Founder & CEO, AdLift (@puriprashant)
  • Ambi Parameswaran, Author and Founder, Brand-Building.com (@ambimgp)
  • Atin Chhabra, Global Director, Digital Customer Experience, Schneider Electric (@atinchhabra)
  • Babita Baruah, Managing Partner, GTB India (@babitabaruah)
  • Girish Kalra, Senior VP - Marketing & Corporate Communications, Leading Insurance Brand (@girishkalra)
  • Imran Qadri, Head - Marketing & PR, Harley-Davidson India (@harleyindia)
  • Naveen Anand, Senior Director - Marketing, Oriflame Cosmetics South Asia (@naveenanand_1)
  • Vidhu Sagar, Managing Director - India, MediaDonuts (@vidhusagar)

Here are some of the key learnings from the discussions.

Marketing mix – do’s and don’ts

The COVID-19 lockdown has caused a surge in media consumption. According to BARC-Nielsen report on Crisis Consumption on TV, overall TV viewership has seen a 45 per cent increase in consumption globally across categories although new genre has seen the biggest spike.

Online entertainment consumption has also surged, with Bobble.AI reporting 82.63 per cent increase in time spent on OTT platforms.

Should/ Shouldn’t brands leverage this opportunity?

Ambi Parameswaran wonders whether consumers are even interested in anything that is not of immediate concern. “Should not-so-relevant brands just go silent for two months and save the gunpowder for Diwali?” he asks.

Continuing further, he adds, “We need to separate this scenario into three stages – During lockdown; immediately after lockdown; and much after. Will marketing games change? The 2008 meltdown did pretty little. Why will a little virus change us?”

Babita Baruah posits that with “RoI (Return on Investment) being uncertain for many categories, a media investment has to be really justified. I would say we are all looking at channels we trust.”

Vidhu Sagar explains how each marketing channel has its own advantages, “OOH and Events are out. Print, though credible, is relatively expensive. TV and radio to some extent. Digital, however, is unavoidable – intent based, contextual search, if your category is getting searched; social media marketing, most certainly; OTT is a great bet, and gaming tactically for engagement.”

Prashant Puri concurs, noting, “Social content is key to digital communication at this point. Top of mind awareness is more important than ever! Organic traffic is the bread and butter of brands.”

For Atin Chhabra, too, digital is the name of the game in these uncertain times. “Content marketing and consumption are on the rise and seeing a lot of traction,” he points out.

While Naveen Anand also agrees that social is the king in times like these, at the same time he notes that because of lockdown, TV continues to be strong.

Girish Kalra believes that “channels which are not intrusive work better. Having said that, digital and TV (Doordarshan) seem to be garnering the reach.”

Moment marketing with a purpose

A lot of brands have leveraged moment marketing communications during the COVID-19 crisis. Are these communications clutter breaking or clutter making? What impression is created on the consumer?

Babita Baruah opines, “There’s a difference between moment marketing and forced messaging. That has always been the toss up even pre-COVID-19. With such a global pandemic, I feel these terms take us away from people and the gravity of the situation at hand.”

Girish Kalra feels that moment marketing has taken over right now. What is important is we don’t simply add to the noise. “Communication needs to be sensitive, reassuring and say clearly what the brand has to offer in these times, that’s what is working,” he asserts.

Vidhu Sagar agrees to moment marketing, saying “as long as you are doing it in a relevant way. Be sensitive, humane and don’t appear to be a mercenary exploiting the situation.”

Imran Qadri, too, believes that moment marketing is essential in these times with the kind of media usage. “Customers are literally always on social media. The messaging should, however, be positive, informative and less gimmicky. ORM (Online Reputation Management) should be quick and smooth, gain the confidence of the customer,” he adds.

Atin Chhabra explains, “These conditions have affected marketers too and our ability to respond. For moment marketing to succeed, the brands have to be agile and have their ears open. That is the challenge for brands.”

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Should marketing channels remain open?

As brands launch CSR initiatives and turn to responsible communications, some ask whether marketing channels should be open at all? What is the purpose of marketing in a crisis?

Atin Chhabra believes that “marketers should ask themselves – rather than shutting the channel, how can we transform it.”

Babita Baruah adds here, “Marketing channels are also brands. This may be a good time to leverage their role as positive influencers or become a platform for positive influence. People remember the messenger as well as the message.”

Ambi Parameswaran opines “The truth is that most products are having zero sales this month. Brands have no control on earned media. And owned media may be too little. So, paid media will be needed. You need to prioritise your objectives first. Then spend. If at all.”

Imran Qadri opines, “Owned platforms and earned platforms should be leveraged at these times using the reach and credibility of the brand. Through these channels, the brand can push positive ‘forward looking’ brand content.”

He further adds that “An experiential to virtual bridge is required. Confidence building is necessary for participation in on-ground events.”

Vidhu Sagar believes brands need to focus on RoI differently. He explains, “This is the time to implement the ROI principle very vigorously. However, ‘return’ in this equation should be measured differently. Immediate results yes, but potential future returns too.”

Naveen Anand is also in favour of marketing channels remaining open, even though the intensity may vary, depending on the channel. “Remember, one needs to always be connected with customers,” he maintains.

According to Prashant Puri, “Whenever there is a drastic decrease in marketing, there’s a faster upward wave afterwards. Marketers need to watch out for the upward curve or they will miss out.”

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Customer Retention is the New Growth?

In his book ‘How Brands Grow’, author and Professor of Marketing Science, Byron Sharp argues that a majority of consumers of brands consume that brand once or twice in a year. For brands to grow, they need to reach the widest possible audience and reach new buyers.

Does his theory hold during crisis consumption?

Naveen Anand believes, “Retention has always been a priority, more so today. Remember, it costs more to get a new customer than to retain one.”

Imran Qadri concurs, adding, “Existing customers are needed more than ever as strong brand advocates. Referrals and word of mouth will form strong communities. Customers are looking for more security than ever. A strong community will give them the confidence.”

Babita Baruah opines, “With existing satisfied customers, upselling will still be growth driver. Across industry, more than 50 per cent of the revenue comes from existing customers. For unsatisfied existing customers, it is an opportunity to serve them better and make them brand loyalists and advocates.”

For Vidhu Sagar, retention has always been the new growth. “Getting a new customer is at least five times costlier,” he adds.

Atin Chhabra believes that new realisation and not new growth is what is required. “Now marketers can go back to chasing the 20 per cent of the 80/20 pie. This will also lead to the advent of digital customer experience + digital marketing + product management + engineering,” he concludes.

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Also Read:

#TwitterChat: Keeping communications relevant in a new normal forced by COVID-19

Isolated, but not insulated: How creative honchos are making the most of WFH


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