Marketing for the Future

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“It is_not the strongest of_the species that_survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one more responsive to change.” –Charles Darwin.

Covid-19 has paralysed the nation and many countries too. With the prevailing fear on an uncertain future, consumer priorities have changed drastically. The focus now is on safety, hygiene and good health for survival. The new normal is likely to see far lower levels of economic activity across the spectrum of goods and services with both companies and consumers resorting to cost saving measures.

What will be the marketing like in the future? Mr David Appasamy, Head-Brand & Strategy, Social Beat, had a conversation with Mr C K Ranganathan, Chairman and Managing Director, CavinKare Pvt Ltd., known for his visionary entrepreneurial leadership and skills. The conversation threw up interesting insights and perspectives that may help marketers prepare for the coming years.

Highlights of views expressed by *Mr C K Ranganathan during the conversation:

Covid-19: It is likely to stay on forever, like other prevalent diseases. Vaccine is a long-term solution to keep it at bay. If the world comes across a powerful, miracle sort of medicine, then recovery can be very fast and it can eliminate fatalities. Then, Corona will be treated like any other flu and people will get used to it. Let us keep our hopes alive on such a medicine. For practical purposes, let’s consider a vaccine as 12 to 18 months away and learn how to go about in this scenario.

Business sustainability: It depends on the business that one is in. For instance, airline business and hotel industry are going to be badly hit. For these businesses to sustain, the current model needs transformation in the short-term. Options have to be looked at. Many airlines are converting their passenger flights into cargo flights. Hotels are offering their rooms for quarantining Covid infected people.

Customer spending will come down and there will be job losses. In my estimate, about 4 crore people may lose jobs temporarily. In this scenario, rather than waiting for the sun shine, it is better to be proactive, look for new opportunities and at the same time, be flexible enough to rebuild your business. The quote by Charles Darwin on the need to adapt and that of Andy Grove that ‘Bad_companies_are destroyed by crisis;_good companies_survive them and great companies_are improved by them,” are worth recalling now.

Media landscape vs. marketers: Online is most welcome now, but offline is also picking up. TRP ratings of many programmes in TV are going up as people are locked indoors._News channels are most sought after because of the people’s mindset and fear. Consumers are anxious and hungry for some good news. Print media is in for a danger now due to people moving towards reading of digital / online / mobile content.

E-Commerce: Once lockdowns are over, e-commerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart will deliver quite a lot of non-essential goods. E-commerce will double in growth and it is here to stay, as mask and social distancing will become the norm and rule. Small kirana stores where people can buy quickly will prosper; new ones will come up and overall, their capacity will go up by 20% in a year’s time.

Consumer sentiments and priorities: Fear now drives consumers to save and be frugal, even if they have money on hand. Only when they see the light, they will open up the purse. Discretionary and life style items will take a back seat. For example, if we don’t attend marriages, why would we like to buy dresses? Focus will be on needs and not wants. Hygiene and cleanliness products and immunity boosters will do very well. Prior to Covid-19, hand sanitizer was a Rs.810 crore market. My guesstimate is that it will now become a Rs.40,000 crore market. Once mobile stores open up, smart phones will be in great demand from first time users.

For factory operations: We need to look at back-up options. If one factory gets closed due to Covid spread, there has to be a standby arrangement to have continuity of production.

Saloons and spas: Schools, colleges, theatres, malls, saloons and spas will be definitely affected. If saloons are able to demonstrate hygienic practices, it may restore customer confidence. In our group, we are trying it out, with protocols similar to that of hospitals to have a fool-proof arrangement. Saloons which implement such measures will get a phenomenal advantage over competitors.

Agility and adaptability: We had a line of products prior to Covid. We have put many of them in hibernation and are now introducing topical products to suit the present customer needs. For instance, beauty products will not sell now. We have an agile team and amazing team members who can quickly turnaround our facilities to meet the needs of the current situation.
Till 4 March, we did not have any idea to launch hand sanitiser in our range. On 5 March, we decided to do it and within 15 days, we rolled out our first batch of sanitisers. Within a month’s time, we have introduced gadget sanitisers and surface sanitisers. Shortly, we are going to launch four more products. We feel we can come up with one more CavinKare, with a range of hygiene-related products. It is once in a lifetime opportunity.
WFH has become the new norm. In CavinKare, we have decided to wind up our Corporate Office and all staff will continue to work from home even post-lockdowns. Pandemic has given us such advantages.

We are working on how to do online recruitment, train employees on the job through online, conduct all meetings and monitor progress in virtual mode with WhatsApp videos, etc. Our travel costs have come down. Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens have a great scope.

Restaurants: As social distancing has to be in place, more small restaurants will come up. The rates will go up.

Real estate: Because of social distancing, factories and offices that function in the physical mode will need more space. So real estate demand may even go up. Some will vacate and some will occupy those spaces.

Multi-tasking: It will be the new norm from the erstwhile specialisation. Many full-time jobs can go to gig economy. Part-timers will find lot of opportunities.

Highlights of views expressed by *Mr David Appasamy:

On the Covid crisis: Bill Gates has said, “This is the Third World War. The difference is that all the countries are lined up on one side against an unseen enemy who is only revealed through testing.”

Digital adoption is the only way to survive. We may see a change in habits of our people like in Japan and Far East where wearing a mask when someone has a cold has been in practice even before Covid-19. The ability to adapt and cater to the changing needs will become the key factor for survival. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

There is a massive growth in the use of all digital platforms. It will go up and surge in the near term. Print media may see a decline but it will not go away. Like radio, it will stay.

Sensing opportunity in a crisis: I am reminded of a story. A shoe salesman was sent to Africa. He went there, saw that nobody wore shoes and told his office that there was absolutely no scope for sales. Another salesman went there and said, “Wow! This is a virgin market. No one wears shoes and so, we can sell a lot.” It depends on how you look at the situation.

Brands: Brands must continue to communicate in these times, not like they normally do. They must show empathy and be helpful. If they do so, they will stick in the consumers’ minds.

WFH: Emotional connect is important. Use tools to build relationship with employees. Have a bit of fun. WFH is an intense experience. Have breaks. It is the people who make the emotional connect and digital is only a medium.

Consumers: The consumers are emotionally fragile. They need reassurance. Marketers must address their concerns in a positive way. Empathise with them. Be part of them. Connect with them emotionally. If budget permits, help the society and build goodwill for the brand.