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Ramnik Chhabra, Director & Head Marketing, Motilal Oswal Financial Services Limited (MOFSL) says a lesson for marketers from the pandemic is that even if physically distant, you need not be far away in terms of building relationships

Be it Lockdowns, Locusts or Ladakh; we are currently living in unprecedented times. Would life in an ‘After Corona’ world call for a reboot of Marketing as we know it? Or would it be business as usual? The answer maybe lies somewhere in between. Like any new version of software; you need to evaluate what works from the past and add some new/enhanced elements to be in tune with the new normal. Here are some aspects to consider.

Unknown & Unknowable:

In stock markets, sometimes uncertainty goes into a completely different dimension of non-knowledge. Richard Zeckhauser of Harvard University calls this the “world of ignorance” or “unknown and unknowable (UU)”. A UU world is one where the future states of the world are not known – both in terms of outcomes and probabilities – as in investing, so in marketing. Consumers and marketers have come to terms with the UU aspect of the environment. And that not everything can be planned and accounted for. At the same time having a fatalistic approach is also not the solution. Hence brands need to continuously arm themselves and their customers with knowledge to reduce the impact of the unknown and act with agility & creativity in marketing to respond to the unknowable. The lockdown was in a sense, a trial by fire for a UU scenario. At MOFSL, we received regulatory approvals for our S&P 500 Index Fund. In what was not planned before, we created a campaign on educating investors on the need to diversify investments into US stock markets (which had low co-relation with India) and helped them execute transactions from home; making it India’s first ‘digital only’ NFO.

Physical Vs Social Distancing:

While customers remain at home and would still be physically distant for some time to come, their need to interact with friends, family and brands is palpable. That’s the reason why online video webinars received such an enthusiastic response during the lockdown; even among hitherto digital laggards. Man is after all a social animal (remember Maslow?) and hence has a natural need to interact. This need is fulfilled partly through physical interactions. But when that avenue reduces, the need for substantive relationships (be it personal, professional or with brands) still remains. As an example, stock brokers have seen increased stock market interest and engagement of investors during the lockdown. This lead to a rise in accounts opened and trading volumes. The lesson for marketers – even if physically distant, you need not be far away in terms of building relationships

Doing Business – Digital? Physical? Or…?:

A recent online survey asked the question: “Who has been most responsible for your company’s digital transformation?” – Choices were: A: CEO B: CTO C: CMO D: COVID. No prizes for guessing the winner! Jokes apart, the Covid-19 experience have made the already ascending trajectory of digital transformation attain escape velocity. Doing business digitally has become the norm to survive. But go ‘digital only’ at your own peril. While such experiences are great for DIY customers, new to category and novice customers in high ticket/complex categories may still need advice to navigate through their decision making process; especially in volatile times. The ‘Physical’ experience (eg kiranawala service in lockdown) also provides an essential back up in times of crisis. Customer experience hence would not just be Digital or Physical but “PHYGITAL”. Here Physical interactions = interactions with a human interface (On Phone / In Person / Chat). For eg: in investing while there are people who do their own research and decide what asset class, fund, stock to invest in and transact directly; there are also many who use the services of an investment advisor.

Frugal Innovation:

With the state of the economy and business climate in general, spending power of both consumers and brands would be stressed. Brands that are able to innovate by providing better value to customers as well as create marketing innovations at lesser costs would benefit. While overall, I feel that marketing activity would remain the same (or even increase), expect reduction in costs of marketing initiatives. For eg. TV production may change (integrating stock footage, greater adoption of on-location shoots Vs people intensive set shoots) and briefs would be for shorter yet impactful TV commercial lengths to maintain media salience at a lower cost

Wellness And Its Impact:

Given the health concerns in 2020, Wellness is a theme that would be top of mind. Besides physical, wellness can have many dimensions – emotional (ability to cope with uncertainty induced stress), financial (wealth protection & creation despite paycuts, stock market falls, layoffs), occupational (skill enhancement; especially in WFH scenarios), social (building substantive relationships), environmental (save the planet) and spiritual. There would be opportunities for brands to engage with customers need for wellness on multiple levels. However care should be taken that these initiatives are only where the brand truly adds value. Every brand would be taking customers for a trip on the Wellness Wagon. You better be sure your brands trip is worth it!

Volatility & Trustmarks:

In times of uncertainty/ risk aversion, brand trust is paramount. While being agile in terms of messaging, brands need to maintain a consistent and constant proposition and product delivery/credibility to build a clear image in an already cluttered (and stressed) consumer mindspace. At MOFSL, despite the stock market fall and current risk aversion to equity, we continue with our “Equity Expert” proposition and stayed invested with the firm’s money in the firm’s equity products. This consistency and skin-in-the-game commitment not only reassures investors, it also reiterates the brands belief in the long term wealth creation opportunity through equity investing

To summarise, with recent and ongoing tragic experiences, consumers are looking for beacons of hope. Brands need to be these beacons using knowledge, agility, creativity and a consistent message. While staying away from the unrealistic, this optimism is what will help brands connect with consumers. To paraphrase a dialogue from the recently released movie, Kaamyab – Be Optimistic. Aur option hi kya hai!

About the author / 

Ramnik Chhabra

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