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Virtual Experience Economy Will Rewrite the Fundamentals of Brand Strategy: Nipun Marya, Vivo India

In the post-Covid era, it will become more important to understand that marketing is not equal to only advertising and communication but goes much beyond it writes Nipun Marya, Director - Brand Strategy, Vivo India.

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The world has changed around us and how! A simple tracking of internet searches can tell us more about this. It shows that consumers interest areas have changed, giving an insight into how people are thinking and perhaps what concerns them the most, in real time!

‘Loss of smell’ trended online before it was a known symptom for Covid-19. Search trends perhaps reflect how our lives, priorities and preferences have changed. For instance, interest in gym membership has declined from January to April, while searches for online yoga have shot up. What does this tell us? The virus has not only had an impact in the way we lead our lives but also the way we internet, the way we buy and the way we look at brands!

This changing consumer behaviour will perhaps drive the next wave of innovation in the way businesses sell or engage with consumers now. It’s not for nothing that we still hear about innovation loving a crisis, because creativity loves constraint. There are numerous examples of companies that have harnessed the opportunity of disruption to create new markets, new segments and new business models altogether. 

Airbnb is a great example of a company founded during the recession of 2008. They offered pocket-friendly options to travelers who were already suffering due to the recession. They were able to revamp the market of short-term living quarters for those who were priced out by hotels. Even today, when it is expected that the travel industry will see unprecedented effects, they have recently announced that “it was taking a billion dollars in new investment to endure and thrive in a travel world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic”.

More recently, Thai Airways made an exciting quarantine marketing idea come alive by flipping the idea of earning miles by staying at home. “Thai stay at home miles exchange” is extremely contextual, and continued to keep the brand relevant in conversations even as its industry was the hardest hit with this pandemic. 

As we enter the new normal, there are fundamental changes that will come through. Many new aspects like autonomous commerce and virtual experience economy will rewrite the fundamentals of brand strategy, marketing and consumer engagement. With no playbook to refer to and no precedence for the rewritten rules of engagement, marketers will grapple with questions around how will my target consumer behave, how will their buying pattern change, will my wallet share increase or how will festive period 2020 be?

Meanwhile, even with businesses devising new ways to communicate, the underlying rules of engagement are not new. It's back to basics, with a strategy pivoted on "customer-first" mindset.  Marketing strategies will have to focus more on the fundamentals. In its most essential form marketing is about meeting customers' needs profitably. Additionally, in the post-Covid era, it will become more important to understand that marketing is not equal to only advertising and communication but goes much beyond it. And let’s start with marketing 101.

Product: In the new normal, customers won’t shun new products, in fact they will embrace products that meet their needs, solve basic challenges and help them adjust to their new existential reality. Zoom is a great example. The video conferencing product has seen its daily active users jump from 10 million to over 200 million, as people continue to value connectivity solutions, not just for business but even to keep in touch with their loved ones. 

Price: Price is a function of value, the value that a consumer associates with the product/brand. The value assigned could be in the form of additional services, a service warranty extension, DIY guides from the brand (how to service your electronics) or bundled offers. In the near term, as people navigate through tough times, we may see the “lipstick effect” coming into effect once again. This theory states during days of economic crisis consumers will be more willing to buy less-expensive luxury products like lipsticks and low cost gadgets than big-ticket luxury items. So, while some categories may have an inherent advantage, others may certainly use the levers of price and affordability to arrest the decline of consumer interest in them. 

Place: The debate between online vs. offline debate will now assume a different shape. According to an industry report, autonomous commerce will see contactless delivery, with drones becoming the new normal. Or existing channels and buying methods may be revamped, where online demands are fulfilled offline or vice versa. 

And the last P - Promotion – Consumers, like businesses, see extreme polarization especially during a crisis. Many researches have pointed to the rise of consumer preference for Purpose led brands. And I believe this pandemic will only precipitate this phenomenon. Consumers will remember brands that deliver on a purpose, go beyond profiteering and drive emotional relevance. Qatar Airways' messaging of "We Will Get You Home" – seemed to strike a chord. Closer home, with consumers looking for familiarity, DD’s rerun of Ramayan and old popular shows have seen BARC data hitting the roof for them. Amul - the much loved milk brand used this opportunity to run their ads from the 1990s archives, bringing back nostalgia and striking a strong emotional chord. So, when the world around us is in an unprecedented state of flux, a brand which can calm people’s nerves through its communication stands a strong chance to strike an emotional chord with its audience. 

I have always firmly believed that the three main rules in the business of brands are customer focus, authenticity and purpose and as marketers arrive at new playbooks in the post Covid world, the contours of the market will change but these three rules will be as relevant and powerful as never before.



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