Survival of the Quickest

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Survival of the Quickest

Sunday, 17 May 2020 | Gauri Chaudhari

Survival of the Quickest

It is the passion that is going to help us all sail through this storm, says Gauri Chaudhari, as she studies the market trends, lessons for and adaptability by the brands in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic

Corona has taught us the basic rules of the nature — ones that we probably had forgotten: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” This lesson is equally important for the brands, of course, with a small rider — “To survive and thrive, brands must not only adapt to the new environment but also do it quickly enough.”

In the Covid-19 era, agility and speed of response will decide the fate of brands. Companies reacted to Covid-19 from a range of emotions. From the feeling of uncertainty and sense of retreat to confidence and surety, companies travelled the full circle. While some adopted ‘wait and watch policy,’ others were quick to accept the situation and move forward. Instead of looking at Covid-19 as a problem, they studied the external and internal environment to align their brands to the new reality. They discovered many opportunities on this path. Brands that are agile and quick to respond will stay ahead of the curve.

The Covid-19 touched every aspect of brand’s existence. From the product portfolios, packaging, distribution, to customers’ post -purchase experience, everything needed re-evaluation.

Products, Portfolios and Packaging

While some may believe that Covid-19 has shut many doors for brands, it has opened up unusual opportunities particularly, for those who are open and receptive. Those who can give up a rigid approach to their products and portfolios stand to gain. Lockdown is no deterrent for them. They have formulated new products and set up manufacturing lines during the lockdown period.

For instance, ITC Ltd. was quick to launch its Savlon disinfectant surface spay. It converted its state-of-the-art perfume manufacturing plant into a sanitiser unit to build up production capacity. Asian paints is quick to launch its sanitiser ‘Viroprotek’ and will make it available in hardware shops for painters and carpenters who will need to be extra careful before they visit any home post lockdown.

Nippon Paints launched anti-viral paint for hospitals, public spaces and even homes. The quickness at which they operated was commendable. Zomato modified its services and offered to deliver groceries to customers.

Ayurvedic and pharmaceutical companies too are launching wellness, immunity booster brands. While ayurvedic companies are busy formulating chawanprash that can be consumed in summers , pharma companies are stepping up the production of anti-oxidants with zinc and ascorbic acid.

Raymond used its expertise to launch ‘Complete Care from Raymond’ comprising of masks and Personal Protective Equipment (gears). The range has well-designed premium products for use in the post lockdown era. It not only fits into the Raymond portfolio but also strengthens the mother brand image of the ‘Complete Man’.

Covid-19 has helped companies to relook at their products and portfolios. Those who manage to go beyond the straight jacketed approach stand to gain. The trick is to stay in the domain of expertise and ensure portfolio and channel fit. If a new line extension is launched, it must strengthen the mother brand. If it’s a new brand, it must enhance the portfolio and leverage channel strength.

Packaging and Process

Covid-19 will increase demand for single-use, safe packaging. So, reusables have to wait for a while. US National Health came out with report stating that the virus survives on plastic for two to three days but only for a day on cardboard. Will that make companies denounce plastic and move for porous material? There is a good chance that consumers will prefer goods that are packed in virus-unfriendly material.

Another important point is the contactless deliveries. Though fast food companies’ earnings are falling by double-digit, Domino’s Pizza delivery revenues are expected to be either flat or move upwards. Thanks to their ‘contactless delivery mechanism’. It is running an advertising campaign stating that “only hands that would touch Pizza would be yours’s.”

Some brands have used Covid-19 situation to redesign their packs and be socially relevant. CGFI promotes WAI WAI noodles in India. WAI WAI redesigned its pack with a dedicated space to promote the WHO-led hand wash program. When a brand aligns itself to a social cause, it definitely scores points over its competition. WAI WAI took that opportunity.

The Virus really has made companies press a reset button and revisit processes to add value to the business. In the post lockdown scenario, companies need to relook at packaging and processes to see if any change is needed to stay in the consideration set of customers.

Price and Place shift

The post lockdown period will see an increase in demand for certain categories. Looking at the challenges posed by public transport, the sale of two-wheelers and cars is expected to go up. The second-hand automobile market will see a surge in demand. Given safety concerns with housemaids, demand for washing machines, dishwashers and floor cleaning robots is expected to grow. Brands will need to offer good discounts and exchange prices to attract customers.

At the same time, Covid-19 and lockdown has opened up newer channels of distribution. ITC Ltd. entered into a tie-up with Jubilant Food Works, master franchisee for Domino’s Pizza. ITC’s Aashirvaad atta and spices will be soon available on Domino’s app for order and delivery. Another big change that lockdown has brought about is in the way doctors and patients interact. E-consultations are gaining popularity. The e-consulting platforms are here to stay. This is the time for Medtech companies to advertise their services for onboarding doctors and patients.

E pharmacies have seen a 200% upsurge in orders. Most of the e-pharmacies are on a hiring spree. Medlife, an e-pharmacy that is flooded with orders, has tied up with Uber, Yulu and Zoomcar to use their fleet for deliveries.

Covid-19 has reminded us of yet another lesson; if there is a will, there’s a way. Need is to explore every possibility with zero assumption.

Work on your Promotions

Despite an information overload, people are hungry for authentic information. This is the time to talk to customers and clients more frequently. Customers must get a sense that they are in it together and their trusted brands will help them in every possible way to navigate through this situation.

Locked up in homes, glued to smartphones, computer and television, customers are finding ways to live life during and post lockdown. This is an unprecedented time for brands to communicate with a sensible and empathetic approach. Those who managed to do it connected with customers, but those who were busy promoting irrelevant product features were pushed back.

With plummeted advertising rates across media and relatively higher exposure of customers to smartphones, computers and TV, now is the time to get seriously engaged with customers.

But there are clear cut rules...

Positivity and Empowerment

People are fed up with negative, scary situation around. They want to hear positivity and get a sense of empowerment. Brands that communicated from a sense of empowerment, instantly connected with customers only to increase their brand equity. Nike’s campaign ‘Play inside Play for the world’ echoed sentiments of the serious athletes. The brand launched an app that has indoor workout plans designed by Nike trainers. Surf Excel’s Ramazan ad too, expresses the same feeling of empowerment. Pharmaceutical companies conducted webinars for doctors on various subjects. The idea of webinars was to empower doctors during the pandemic to treat COVID and Non-COVID patients.

People want to hear from brands assuming that they are experts in their own categories. They want AC companies to guide on how to use office ACs post lockdown situation. Given office designs, it might not be possible for small, medium size companies or doctor clinics to shut ACs completely. They want to know what precautions should be taken to be safe. The one who will reach out first will stand to gain.

Be helpful and partner with customers

Brands can be helpful in easing out the pain of the customers. Kansai Nerolac Paint Ltd. has tied up with Urban Company to provide a discount on sanitisation services for dealers’ offices. The company has announced a weekly scheme and settlements for dealers. It is heartening to see that the company has declared Covid-19 insurance for shop boys working with dealers. The company is also working closely for the welfare of painters. They are educating painters for safe practices. They are giving cash rewards to painters and are providing special support to those who are diagnosed with Covid-19. Nerolac has launched a crowdfunding initiative for painters who need additional support. Alkem Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company, provided Covid-19 protection kits to the doctors in private practice so that they can continue working without fear. Abbott India provided flu shots for doctors and their families to stay safe. Lupin Pharmaceuticals launched helpline for patients who need any kind of help during Covid-19.

Prospective Customers

Marketing and branding experts Ambi Parameswaran and Sridhar Samu wrote in one of their articles that in the post lockdown phase, there will be three types of customers in the market. Revenge shopper, Revelation shopper and Restricted shopper. Revenge shoppers are those who are waiting to be out there and shop to their hearts’ content. They are young and affluent. The revelation shoppers are a middle-aged shoppers with spouses and kids. They have gone through severe hard work. They will respond to discounts, sales and exchange offers to buy things that will help them doing household chores better. According to these marketing experts, restricted shoppers are old age shoppers who may discuss and deliberate their shopping lists.

Brands will have to understand their customers and the emotions they are going through to strike the right chord. All post lockdown strategies need to be based on this understanding. Education and awareness about how to be socially responsible are extremely critical factors in the post-lockdown era. The salespersons and servicemen have to be extra careful if they are required to come face to face with customers. It is not only important to take care but also to be seen as the one who is taking care. Customers will react adversely if they feel unsafe. Sanitising hands is not enough; doing it in front of the customer is critical. Taking body temperature before setting out for work is not enough, but having a certificate from a company stating the wellbeing of the salesperson is important. Those who accept the new dynamics and show concern for customer safety will go a long way.

All it takes during this time is the passion for your business and brands. Who would have ever thought that working from home would result in higher productivity? But here are the corporate honchos, entrepreneurs and the MSME owners who are slogging it out. Those who have the passion and never-say-die attitude are here to stay and grow. It is the passion that is going to help us all sail through this storm.

So, here are the three lessons Covid-19 is teaching us. Accept the situation and adapt to new normal; QUICKLY. Relook at every possible aspect of your business, starting from products to post-purchase customer experiences and add value. Don’t shy away, talk to your customers and partner with them. If done with sensitivity and empathy, they are going to hold your hand tightly.

The writer is author of The Perfect Pill: 10 Steps to Build a Strong Healthcare Brand, published by SAGE Publications India

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