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BW Businessworld

Standpoint: Reassess, Reskill, Recover

In the new normal of a Covid-19 reality, consumer behaviour is changing. In order to adapt and recover, marketers will need to collectively prepare for the new rules of the game

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Hindustan Unilever, Nestle, RB, Airtel, Mahindra are among a handful of industry behemoths that have set aside community assisting funds to combat Covid-19’s fallouts. From large manufacturers such as Welspun and Nivea to younger online brands such as SHEIN, efforts are being seen to produce hand sanitisers and face masks for free distribution. As these initiatives intensify, brand custodians need to play their part in relevantly and timely connecting with consumers. 

Covid-19 has disrupted not only regular and seasonal marketing activities but also largescale sporting events and brand launches. This will impact consumer sentiment and marketing spends. The immediate challenge at hand is for marketers to accurately read the changing situation and prepare an apt series of messaging. But they also need to understand how this new normal will impact their plans for the rest of the year. In some sectors, automotive for instance, that were impacted with the downturn already, Covid-19 has added to the negative outlook, exacerbating the problem. In this backdrop, the always-on marketer, who at present is locked at home, is required to continually prepare for a rulebook-less game.

KAVITA ANGRE,Director - Consumer & Marketing Insights and Media, L’OrealKAVITA ANGRE, Director - Consumer & Marketing Insights and Media, L’Oreal Brands are taking steps already. They are sending personalised and reassuring messages to their customers. These are not just ‘stay safe’ but tangible actions to address problems and anxieties. From extension of warranties and payment deadlines to advice on finance and health, brands are putting in their best to maintain consumer confidence.

Irreversible Consumer Behaviour Change Surveys indicate that even as the Indian consumer portrays an optimistic attitude towards Covid-19 and containment steps, their action is not in similar vein. This behavioural change is here to stay. “Covid-19 is a much larger ‘nudge’ to humans to examine their behaviour. It’s a forced pause, imploring us to reevaluate everything we do,” observes Kavita Angre, Director - Consumer & Marketing Insights and Media, L’Oréal India. “The obvious change is the way consumers will view physical proximity, hygiene and cleanliness. For a while, there will be fear in stepping out in crowded places. In the long run consumers will expect businesses to display more care towards cleanliness of premises and hygiene,” adds Tarun Jha, Head of Marketing, Škoda Auto India.

Covid-19 has ensued a shift in purchase behaviour. The sales of long-life shelf products, packaged goods, ready-to-eat have declined by 6-17 per cent, as per a WPP study. There is also a marked decline in online food ordering, consumption of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and even cosmetic products. On the contrary, there is a sharp increase in personal and disinfecting products (56 per cent & 51 per cent) and home hygiene products (47 per cent). The WPP report also shows increase in sales of daily food items such as staples and nutritional products. 

TARUN JHA, Head of Marketing, Šcoda Auto India Change from physical to digital has also amplified making ‘contactless’ an important change. “Comfort with virtual has gone up and will impact behaviours and industries. More consumers will adopt online as a new channel of purchase. The world has opened up to accessing fitness programmes. When you get used to doing yoga with an online instructor, it doesn’t matter where s/he is based,” Angre explains, adding that the same applies to education.  

More people have added online entertainment like gaming and streaming to their habits. A more cautious attitude to spending has also come into play. There are also changes in media landscape. “TV too have seen a boost — specially news and general entertainment. With lack of new content, networks are re-organising programming. Online video viewing, gaming, digital is surging,” observes Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India. 

Relevant to Recover The 21-day nationwide lockdown triggered Barclays to cut India’s calendar year 2020 GDP forecast from 4.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent. Citing this, Barua says, “We will know the real impact only by Q3 but budgets will come down.”

As consumers defer planned purchases that include not only travel but also sectors such as auto, white goods, apparel, luxury, home décor, real estate to name a few, for many marketers, the next few months will focus on recovery. 

“The prevailing consumer sentiment may take a while to turn positive and will impact nonessential and high-value segments. These will be the last to recover,” notes Jha, pointing out that in “recovery mode”, marketers will be extra cautious in spending and will also avoid frivolous actions.

RANA BARUA, CEO, Havas Group India  “It will differ from industry to industry. There will be greater probity and we will seek innovative and new ways of doing things,” the auto marketer explains.

Marketers’ being  “extra cautious” can mean a relook into marketing budgets. Jha believes it can also revisit terms of engagement between marketers and their agencies. “We all have to take a humane and balanced approach. As we minimise the human cost of this situation, agencies will also have to put in the extra effort to revive their clients’ business. This will be a test of both relationships and skills,” he says.

Being agile and reading early signals will help the fraternity to be better prepared. Covid-19 can also be seen as an opportunity to do things differently. “It is a good time to look within, examine our assumptions, take a hard look at some of our activities and re-invent ourselves for the future,” advises Angre.


* Consumer behaviour is irreversibly changing

* Forced pause implores re-evaluation of all activities

* Ruthless prioritisation for marketing activities that clearly deliver

* Marketers need to reskill

* Brands must make meaningful connections

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