With the Coronavirus disease, also called COVID–19, pandemic triggering a lockdown around the globe, Mahesh Chauhan, Founder, Salt Brand Solutions tells us what brands must do in order to come out shining in these life changing times
Don’t flinch. Don’t recoil in horror. Corona also means a crown or a halo. Well, it always meant all things good till the recent times! As is obvious from the title, this is about what brands must do in order to come out shining in these life changing times, out of what can easily be termed World War III. An invisible enemy has terrorised humans, triggering a total lockdown around the globe. A weapon of mass destruction prowls in virtually every neighbourhood. Humans huddled inside homes, deserted streets and highways, an eerie silence interrupted only by sweet sounds of birds chirping, no blaring of horns, a sense of foreboding in the air. Even the incorrigibles have meekly adhered to the norms of social distancing.
These are cathartic times; times when people have been forced to sit back and reflect. The outpouring, be it in messages or posts of thankfulness, reflects a journey that each individual is taking inwards. The messages from acquaintances, some of who you thought you had lost touch with, checking on your safety and wellbeing, once again reaffirm the belief that man is seeking connection and becoming thoughtful again, in the real sense. Even humour has fidgety nervousness about it, a sense of self-deprecation rather obvious. There is awareness that air-pollution has dropped dramatically, that the ozone layer is healing itself, that animals are regaining their habitat and so much more. All this points towards an awakening of sorts from the virtually drunken stupor of mankind. Mankind is more humble today, more aware, more respectful, more thoughtful, and possibly more repentant. And this will reflect in their choice of brands in the times to come.
The Economist put it aptly, (the globe is) ‘Closed’! As the ‘this too shall pass’ chant grows in social media, it is imperative that brands look deep within and re-evaluate their strategies. Not just an IPL but the Olympics have been postponed; some places of worship have been shut down, probably for the first time ever! There are no holy cows. Nothing is unquestionable, nothing sacrosanct. The crown sits precariously on the heads of leaders amongst brands. A little blip and it will topple. What will help navigate this paradigm shift? What will help one become a corona brand in the post-corona era?
For brands, this is a complete reset. Whatever worked just yesterday might boomerang badly today. The branding community has had a sense of déjà vu in the recent times. Earlier, the similarity to the blingy 1980s, in culture, fashion, and otherwise, helped derive consumer strategies based on learnings and extrapolations. While the superficial might still be true, one imagines a fundamental shift will take place when it comes to the core drivers. I believe brands will need to stand for causes and be seen actively pursuing them in the times ahead. Just talk will not be enough, and hence, communication strategies will have to account for the ability to deliver on ground. McDonalds might have stolen the thunder on social distancing but Coca-Cola took the cake with its far more responsible and real gesture. Even a hugely respected brand like MSD faced brickbats due to an irresponsible piece of reporting.
In the Indian context, with a population dispersion skewed heavily towards the millennials and Gen Z, the environment will be even more demanding for brands. Gen Z and millennials are watching the developments rather closely and keenly. They have been forced to wait out this lockdown, even though they are far less endangered, almost negligibly so. They might learn a thing or two about looking beyond themselves and even forgoing things for others, hopefully becoming patient along the way.
They have also been the driving force behind veganism for a while now, as per Forbes, May 23, 2018. Need we remind ourselves of the origin of Covid-19? These generations are passionate, yet ruthless. Once disenchanted, they flick the ignore button just as dispassionately! And consign a brand to the side-lines of history almost as quickly as the novel coronavirus disrupted human life. Armed with their utopian world views, they can be a formidable force. They are excited when Cognizant says it will pay 25% more to two-thirds of its employees as a token of gratitude in these times or when an organization puts its foot down due to unjust treatment of its delivery boys.
The rapid proliferation of ‘natural’, ‘no child labour’, ‘plastic-free’, and other such brand claims in recent times will see far greater acceleration once the world begins its limp back to life after Covid-19. But the winners will be brands that take action-orientation and activism to the next level. Brands, that deliver to the millennials and Gen Z on their premise of the greater good. Brands, that do so by involving them to set the agenda, the benchmarks. Brands, that allow them to lead as champions.
And, as always, there will be a counterpoint. Brands that stand for accomplishment, even hedonism and indulgence, will benefit as well. The fragile human ego will try to compensate for its misery. Expect Gen X and Gen Y to be less restrained as they accept their mortality and hence choose to fulfil longstanding dreams and deferred acquisitions. The younger ones will be patient and the elders unrestrained. It will be an incredible world, a post-Covid-19 world of corona brands. I, for one, can’t wait for it to play out!