The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to put a big dent in India’s economic growth over the next one year. Analysts at ratings agency Moody’s expect the country to not show any expansion in GDP, while the UN projects a growth rate of 1.2 percent, compared with 6.8 percent GDP growth in 2018-19.
With recession signals already starting to show up in markets around the world, the downturn in the economy is expected to batter businesses and force many to shut shop permanently.
“It is advisable for Indian brands to follow certain guidelines while communicating with their audiences. Reflection of the basic values such as empathy, sensitivity, relevance, relatability, amongst others, is a must,” says Amit Tripathi, managing director at leading Indian digital agency IdeateLabs.
In an exclusive interview with SMBStory, Amit talks about changing consumption patterns in the country right now, and charts communication strategies Indian companies can use to liaise with their audiences.
Shift in consumer behaviour
The pandemic and the subsequent has led to a drastic shift in consumer behaviour, not just because people had to explore different means of getting their hands on things – such as by using grocery delivery services, for example – but also because layoffs and salary cuts mean tighter purse strings.
“The sentiments are changing each passing day, and the most dominant ones are concern, safety and care for oneself and others. Every individual is going through the concern of getting infected with the virus and affected by the poor economic conditions,” says Amit.
As an example, content consumption rapidly accelerated towards digital and television viewership, thanks to the lockdown which forced people to stay home.
“Millennials and people in the Gen Z bracket are consuming content online, whereas Gen X and baby boomers are heavily consuming content on the television. Indian brands which are posting content related to COVID and social distancing on these platforms are witnessing massive traction,” Amit says.
The five do’s and don’ts
As brands actively change and modify their communication strategies, some are cutting their advertising spends, while others are increasing their digital footprints.
Amit lists five do’s and don’ts for brands to follow while designing their marketing right now:
Do: communicate wisely. In this crisis, it is vital to communicate carefully and avoid adding fear. Consumers are already in a panic situation. Brands should focus on developing content that gives hope and is positive.
Do: focus on long-term planning. Pausing social media marketing is not a solution. Having a full-proof plan for a longer duration is of utmost importance. There must be feasible communication happening with the brands. Brands must avoid short-term approaches to reach out to consumers.
Don’t: be a seller. Using the push strategy to sell products is a big no at this time. Brands must opt for strategies that project them as responsible, and state that they are willing to provide a helping hand to consumers.
Don’t: use humour in messaging. Humour works for brands under normal circumstances, but it is not advisable during this crisis. Using humour or overdoing it will definitely hurt the brand.
Don’t: do macro-targeting. It is necessary to stop targeting irrelevant audiences. As marketing budgets become tighter, companies must look to target specific and relevant audiences.
This is the time when consumers are forming opinions about the brands, says Amit, adding over-communication, or bombarding consumers with content can be tabled for the time being.
Self-help and DIY
Because of the lockdown, consumers will begin to overuse some products, and those items will go through wear and tear. With the current state of things, servicing those items, or supporting consumers might be logistically difficult.
“In this phase, brands may not be able to reach out and service products or offer immediate remedies for these issues,” says Amit.
The problem can be solved by using digital solutions, such as video conferencing, to support self-help solutions, or creating Do-It-Yourself (DIY) videos for regular and easily-fixable problems.
“70 percent to 80 percent of issues raised on service calls can be solved by customers themselves, if they knew exactly what they were looking for. This might be a great time to put this theory to effect,” he says.
Surviving two crises
Amit’s advice for communication during a crisis stems from his experience in dealing with two, himself. His digital marketing company IdeateLabs, was started in 1998 as an online education business. However, the dot-com bust at the turn of the century forced Amit to shut down his education business, and pivot to digital services.
“Then, in 2008, the financial meltdown dealt us a painful blow. About 95 percent of our business was in the BFSI sector and our business was completely wiped out. But we fought a hard battle to survive,” he says.
The two near-bankruptcies not only disrupted the company’s business, but also the operations of businesses around the globe. Furthermore, Amit believes the current COVID-19 and lockdown situation could cause an even bigger disruption than the 2008 recession.
“Digital adoption seems to be a solution, and most pundits are quick to predict growth in this area, but it is easier said than done. Mere sustenance will not only be difficult but also painful. Only the companies with great teams and a good depth of offerings will come out the other side,” he says.
IdeateLabs is headquartered in Mumbai, and has offices in headquarters in Pune, Delhi, Singapore, and Dubai.
(Edited by Aparajita Saxena)