Guest Column, latest-stories

Covid-19 Marketing Strategy: What They Didn’t Teach You In A Century

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Ramakant Khandelwal, CMO, PAYBACK India says that going ahead advertising spends must be calibrated with clearly defined objectives and tied to outcome.

We are facing a crisis that can only be compared to the Spanish Flu, which occurred a century ago. It’s safe to assume that we know very little about it yet, and it’s nearly impossible to make an accurate prediction about the future, least of all, an effective Marketing Strategy.

But within a few weeks, our lives have changed dramatically; our behaviours, attitudes and expectations have undergone a “pandemic” shift and basis these insights we may be able to think of a playbook to adopt.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Covid-19 has forced us to take shelter in our homes. And unlike World War II, where life in a bunker would be mostly idle, out here we are fully operational – working, learning, shopping for essentials, connecting with family and friends, entertaining ourselves, etc. Perhaps, not many are complaining and may like to continue it even beyond Covid-19. Who wouldn’t want an extra productive hour instead of getting stuck in a traffic jam or a virtual client meeting in place of a full day inter-city travel?

Don’t be surprised if the real-estate industry suddenly attracts a lot of buyer interest for homes which have an office, gym, study, a balcony, without bothering about the address, as the only address of note would be Zoom or Skype ids. Residential real estate may become a recipient of savings generated from commuting costs while office space owners are questioning their future.

The moot point is that reallocation will happen – in consumer interest and spends. Similar scenarios could play out in the car ownership (vs cab-hailing), dining at home (vs at restaurants) and so on & so forth.

So, how should Brands align themselves to this new reality?

Brands Putting Food On The Plate Now, Will Have A Head Start Post Covid-19

Time to act is now! Consumers will be sympathetic to brands that helped them during the crisis. Mere availability of the products could win favour, products delivered to homes, nothing like it. Brands are doing it. Consumers have been expressing gratitude to our partners for supply of fuel and cooking gas, delivery of essentials, digital payments, streaming entertainment etc. In our loyalty platform, we are allowing point redemption for “stay-at-home-essentials”, Charity, amongst others.

Basics Back In Business – Like Health, Safety, Hygiene

Consumer attitudes towards life has changed. Instead of deriving higher order pleasures, they shall focus on securing themselves. Health, Safety and Hygiene will be their concerns. Even before this crisis ends, they will be out securing themselves for the next. Financial products like insurance and savings will also see great interest.

Discretionary Spends Will Wait

A major setback of this health-crisis is the financial crisis that emanated from it. It has led to reduced incomes and dampened consumer confidence and sentiment. There are innumerable examples of layoffs and salary cuts all around. Several categories will have to wait, like travel, fashion, dining, entertainment etc.

Everything Digital Will Rise – Including Digital Marketing

Digital and low touch is the way to go. If zero-touch, even better! Consumers across all demographics are rapidly replacing many in-person aspects of their work, entertainment, payments and healthcare with digital solutions.

Marketers too will allocate more spends to digital marketing, without any doubt. Not only do the performance metrics of digital are robust and result oriented, they will eat into other pies like Out-Of-Home, which will see diminishing value if people don’t venture out as much.

Communication Style Must Be Sharp & Contextual

A pandemic like this has gotten all of us preoccupied with concerns for safety, health and financial stability. We really want to first solve these issues. If the messaging is not aligned to these, it’s more likely to be neglected. Instead of painting a very sombre picture, the tonality must be that of hope and positivity.

Sustainability, Conservation & Wellness Are Postive Themes To Adopt

We are amazed at the some of the positive changes. Our air is clean, skies are blue, river water is transparent, and Himalayas are visible from several places in North India, after decades. We are learning about the dangers of encroaching into animal habitat, to satisfy our needs. A lot of people have become interested in wellness and immunity. These themes will remain front and centre in the consumer minds.

Lower Consumer Sentiment & Marketing Budgets- A Double Whammy

I think this is the most challenging part. Not only are we looking at the prospect of consumer incomes going down but also a major cut in Advertising and Promotional spends. It will slowdown marketing activities and impact product trials, adoption and brand loyalty in the short run. Brands will have to run a tight ship. Spends must be calibrated with clearly defined objectives and tied to outcome. Digital marketing is the most obvious solution here. It will help sustain in the short run and build a strong foundation for the long run. The power of a successful loyalty program will unleash during these times.

To emphasise on judicious spending, I would like to quote Warren Buffet – “If you buy things you do not need, soon you will have to sell things you need.

Given the uncertainties, it’s best to keep an open mind. Learn fast, adapt and act quickly.

And above all, Stay safe!



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Ramakant Khandelwal

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