Today, businesses or brands are going through challenging times. With almost no prior experience of dealing with a pandemic situation, it has to navigate a course of the action plan. Economic activities were receding even before the pandemic, and now the problems have further amplified. Businesses are fighting the battle at all ends, protecting their employees, stimulating demand or finding new opportunities, dealing with pay cuts, layoffs, and also learning to adapt to the new normal. If that is not enough, there are cyclones, earthquakes and the rising fear of pandemic amongst people.
Marketing is often the first department which comes under immediate pressure in any economic conditions. It begins with the cuts in marketing spends, the media spends, agency fees, followed by pay cuts of the marketing department. It is, therefore, for marketers, they must make strategically right decisions by carefully reading the people's emotions. The economy runs on public sentiments, markets rise and falls with it. Therefore, a business person or marketer must align with the essential markers to adapt to the market.
Less than 30% of people have returned to factories and offices. Those who returned to offices say, "what's the point in going to the office when most of my colleagues are working from home?" Life is like a pendulum, and most are oscillating between hope and despair. Mental stress is an all-time high, even in people who rarely step out of their house. Today, an average family is grappling with multiple situations. The fear of not getting any hospital bed in crisis is a big concern, and unable to pay the hefty medical bill is another. Naturally, it makes sense to step back inside the home. Less than 1% of the population is affected, and that is enough to collapse the healthcare infrastructure. The concern is what will happen if cases rise to 10%?
Business and marketing cannot function without understanding the impact of all these circumstances on people. If we believe that news and social media is not presenting the real story on the ground, then marketers either have to work basis their gut feeling or guess. We have been in constant touch with industry associations, and business owners at the grassroots level as well as have been working for multinational organisations throughout the lockdown period and unlock phase one.
We identified five essential markers which are providing a guiding light to business and marketers.
Focusing on Business Relevance
The rich have stopped spending, and that has poorly hit the market. Across the world, households are keeping a tight grip on their wallet. They are not spending anything beyond the essentials. The expenditures are much more relaxed in lower-income groups. Therefore, a business needs to focus on its relevance in today's context. We are now in a circular economy, and as we shared earlier people are likely to get things repaired instead of buying one. Firstly, as a marketer or a business person, the first thing is to see which of your offering is relevant at the moment and of low ticket value. In case you don't have any suitable product in this category, you can focus on the second marker for relevancy customer service of your earlier sold products. Optical stores that have been offering customer support during the lockdowns are seeing footfalls in their retail stores. The third marker for relevancy is creating a new offering. Many entrepreneurs and organisations have quickly developed new products to be in the business of the essentials. In recent times, fast-moving consumer goods companies aside, liquor companies and sugar mills have stepped in offering to use their supply of extra neutral alcohol to make bottles of sanitisers amid a growing need for the product. The fourth marker of relevancy is communication to the market. If you relook at your website or your sales brochure, you may notice disconnect with current circumstances.
Focus on Relationships
At some point, we will have a breakthrough in dealing with the pandemic, and it is undoubtedly going to take time. "People don't forget how they have been treated in the time of crisis." It is valid for all business ecosystems. In recent time, a hospital's rate card came into heavy scrutiny from the public. The amount was excessive. Today, if your customer is in trouble, a business must help them out knowing that this act of kindness will fuel a long-lasting relationship. Therefore any business communication which doesn't offer the assistance or help will not resonate with the audience. If your expertise and insights can help others, then you must share. Business partners need support and directions, and they may lack essential knowledge, technology and skills set to tide over this crisis and as a brand, you can help them tide over. In the long run, your ecosystem will emerge as a community.
Timely Response is Key
Digitisation is the buzz word, and ROI is important, but the most crucial thing at the moment is how a business and brand is responding to the situation. The smaller organisation has an edge in this matter, and they can change rapidly to meet the new customer demands. Smaller companies have enabled video and voice chat and WhatsApp messaging services directly from their website, thereby enabling the sales and customer support team to respond faster to a customer. Check it for yourself, how long does it take to respond to a customer query on your website? Due to the situation sales teams are unable to go around doing the best they can do, while your website may still be attracting many prospects and customers. We've enabled video and voice chat services directly on our site, so our advisors can now respond to any queries within minutes.
Flexibility and Adaptability in Marketing Efforts
The situation in the market is changing too fast, much like the undercurrents in rapids. It doesn't seem so on the surface, but it is changing too quickly. Initially, a PPE kit was not available and the cost of one was over a thousand rupees, in less than 3 months it has come down to two hundred and fifty rupees, and it goes same with all the other essential items like mask, and sanitisers. Therefore, a business must be flexible and adaptable in their marketing effort. Customers are also considering long term or future investment, but they may not respond to it now. Therefore a short term effort for long term investment will not work out. A long term solution will require a longer and sustained marketing effort while a short term solution will require a shorter burst of marketing effort. Families with children taking online cases will need laptops now. It won't be the case a few months down the line. In this scenario, a relevant economical laptop brand can make the deal sweet with an EMI option on the affordable range, and their marketing efforts need to be short and disruptive.
Media planning and alternate channels
Digital ad spends have increased multifold in the last three months. A marketer needs to approach the media planning and point of sale differently today. Traditional and standard media planning strategy and channel strategy may not fly in the current circumstances. The primary reason for this is the cuts in marketing budgets and the current higher cost of digital media publishers. Margins are too thin to keep the traditional channel happy, and there are virtually no retail walk-ins. For a business person and marketer finding the new way to connect and reaching out to a customer is an essential piece of the puzzle. Webcasts, e-commerce, co- marketing, video marketing, content marketing, are becoming new standards of marketing. During the first phase of lockdowns, digital media costs were low, but that is not the case today. Businesses have realised that they need to up their expenditure on digital marketing which has resulted in limited inventories.
Marketing and running a business in this pandemic world is not going to be easy for anyone. These five essential markers will help business owners and marketers to evaluate their status periodically and evaluate their effort using this five marker framework of relevance, relationships, responsiveness, flexibility & adaptability and alternative media and channel strategy are the key to make better decisions. We believe that market conditions will continue to change until a vaccine or herd immunity is achieved.