Unlocking recovery through marketing amidst COVID-19
Authored by Deepa Mohan, Marketing Director, IPM India Wholesale Trading Private Limited, (country affiliate of Philip Morris International Inc.)
The world has witnessed one of the most unprecedented times with the ongoing pandemic impacting us to the very core. The situation has not only brought everything to a grinding halt but also pushed us to survive and recover – emotionally as well as financially. As Albert Einstein rightly said, “In the middle of adversity there is great opportunity”, so, it would be more productive to focus our energies towards establishing and streamlining a new way of living and working in the new normal.
The current war like situation with this invisible enemy has accelerated transformation at an unprecedented level, pushing us to not just acknowledge and adapt but also plan next and the beyond, with a sense of urgency. Undeniably, in just a matter of months there have been sudden changes in the consumer behavior. Marketers will lead the transformation in businesses, helping them bounce back faster and stronger, with ‘Consumer Centricity’ and with Artificial Intelligence - Digital driven conversations and transactions. Let’s look at some ways to move forward and transform this crisis into an opportunity for businesses.
COMPASSION AND TRANSPARENCY
As we move ahead towards recovery, we can never let go of the core values i.e. empathy and transparency which will continue to be one of the pillars to run the organization. Brands need to play the role of inspirational leaders and tap into resources, to provide a compassionate environment in these difficult times. This will not just aid in building long-term loyalty but more importantly, help develop a personal connection with the consumers. For instance, a leading personal hygiene brand released public service messages with witty analogies for washing hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19, by using any soap available. The communication emphasizes that the ad was not for branding or promoting sales, but to spread awareness around protection against the disease.
Brand offerings today should be consistent with the evolved value equations of the customers. While in some cases, consumers are giving preference to affordability, in others they are more inclined towards known and trusted brands. In fact, the very definition of trust is also changing. Brands must offer a convincing value message to succeed in the next normal.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to maintaining or improving consumer value perception. Brands need a multipronged strategy to address what value means to your most important consumers. If there has been a financial impact on your customer, it is obvious that they will move to brands that are offering better price points. However, consumers who are rather affluent, may not become too price sensitive but they may look for brands that offer better quality and safety standards.
Lockdown may be over, but the pace and shape of recovery is still unpredictable. The ability to respond quickly to shifts in consumer sentiment will certainly play a vital role in business recovery. It is critical to build a rapid-response operating model with advertising agencies to quickly craft messages as circumstances change. Strategically supplement commercial levers that have long lead time (print, commercial etc.) with levers that allow immediate adjustments (digital, in-store pricing, display etc.).
ADOPTION OF TECHNOLOGY
Until a few years ago, nobody wondered that the role that technology is playing by connecting socially separated people will come as a rescue for not only businesses but also for people who are unable to socialize with each other for months. While we are avoiding meeting people in person, it is still imperative for brands to stay connected with its consumers. Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes it possible, without sacrificing much of emotional connect. For instance, the use of emotionally intelligent chat bots can help us stay connected with the consumers, while video analytics that leverage facial coding, voice modulation and eye movements can be used to decode the true consumer sentiment. OOH (out of home) to In-Home, the progress in digital technology has never been more evident than now, during the pandemic, and screens are a boon.
So, whether it is a virtual team meetup or official work, it still remains relevant even as we move ahead since no one wants to take risk at such a time. From helping each other virtually to automating remote work and to enabling robots to respond to emotions, AI and machine learning are already reshaping business and society. Companies that don't use AI will soon become passé.
Crisis is an opportunity to bring across new innovations and systems. If the brands are evolving as per the needs and requirements of its consumers, they can certainly tide over the most difficult times. It has been observed that change in buying patterns of consumers during the lockdown period, has also given rise to smaller and niche brands who have emerged in a better way and are providing a better value to consumers. No matter what, these ‘lockdown brands’ are certainly here to stay.
In conclusion, we can say that as marketers, we need to look forward and create a stronger value for our brands even in situations like these, by effectively adjusting to new realities. While in the interim we may resort to being tactical and operational, but in order to recover stronger than before and be resilient in the future, we will need to delve into emerging opportunities real-time.