The bustling streets of lively cities which once seemed comparable to Piccadilly Circus, brought to a screeching halt. Veritable bedlam of chirruping reduced to deafening silence all around. Deserted shopping malls, grocery stores punctuated by the sanguine eyes of suppliers and shopkeepers. Food supply chain frays as people stay home. Sounds familiar? It sure does. This is a sneak peek into the impact the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has had in our daily lives. The pandemic forced myriad retail stores to shut down, thereby signaling an unprecedented disruption of commerce. Historically, even incumbents fail to survive such disruptions. Needless to mention, stock markets are roiling, and the economy is crippling. This further leads to a tough balancing act between stamping out the virus and keeping a subsistence economy functioning.
Brands, retailers and the FMCG industry are staring at a multitude of unnerving challenges ranging from demand-supply dynamics to workforce uncertainty. With no cure in near sight, social distancing and lockdowns have become the need of the hour. With people increasingly staying at home, consumer shopping behavior has undergone a sea change. Following are a few ways how consumer behavior is transforming:
- Stocking up of essential items such as groceries, pharmacy supplies, etc.
- Increased shopping through e-commerce platforms via smartphones, laptops, etc.
- Curtailing travel and shopping of luxury goods
- Refraining from using food delivery services
- Exercising increased caution during visits to retail stores
These are also coupled with a change in consumer attitudes. Life before the pandemic revolved essentially around work, gyms, schools, eateries, clubs, shopping malls and grocery stores. This has now been replaced by working, exercising, learning, eating and shopping from home. Some of these habits would now become the new normal, even after the end of the crisis. Hence, it becomes crucial for companies to view consumers as individuals, not as customer segments. Also, those companies that gear up to fulfill the needs of their customers from the very onset of the recovery period would most certainly have an edge over the rest. To some, it may seem that the role of marketers is now obsolete. However, here is where the opportunity lies. A crisis like this is the best time to proactively comprehend the shifts in consumer behavior and engage with consumers in novel ways (virtually). Savvy marketers should look for ways to salvage their investment in going digital. Following are some of the ways in which firms can revamp their marketing efforts to sail through this adversity:
- Anticipate consumer needs and adapt
Brands need to look for opportunities to serve in times of need and innovate. In the words of Philip Kotler, “Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires.” This can be accomplished by addressing customer pain-points and expanding product portfolio. For example, online sales revenue data for the week of February 23-29, 2020 consisting of more than 250 retailers across the globe revealed that the sales of hand sanitizers and masks increased 590% from the week prior. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, Kolkata-based FMCG major Emami Ltd. recently announced its foray into the erstwhile untapped hand sanitizer segment under its flagship skincare brand BoroPlus. This would not only help bridge the gap in demand-supply of hand sanitizers, but also improve the brand’s visibility. On similar lines, Netmeds, an Indian online medical store has ventured into delivering essential groceries as well, thereby reducing customer effort.
- Go Digital
As the time spent on mobile devices grows exponentially, organizations must devise strategies to cater to their customers’ needs with finite resources amidst social distancing constraints. The pandemic is rapidly accelerating the transition to digital commerce. Companies, especially the e-commerce giants, are over-burdened with the huge surge in the number of online orders, prioritizing essentials, stock-outs and health hazards to employees and customers. Technology must be leveraged to not only be present in the digital space, but also offer viable and realistic alternatives to keep services up and running. Another sector that is hugely benefiting from this is ed-tech. Online classes have replaced traditional learning methods and virtual classrooms are the new favorite to bond with peers!
- Re-assess marketing expenditures
Social distancing and lockdowns can easily become hotbeds for loneliness, stress and boredom. In such a scenario, first step of organizations and brands should be to assess what they have currently running or in the pipeline. This calls for a thorough audit to gauge the appropriateness of campaign visuals, imagery as well as taglines. As e-commerce sales soar to match the rates of a ‘Black Friday’ or ‘Cyber Monday’, brands must re-allocate budgets to advertising campaigns accordingly. Facebook, Instagam, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. are platforms where consumers are most active these days. According to a research conducted by Smartly.io in November, 52 percent of retail marketers said that they will spend more on social advertising than they did in 2019, and 50 percent were planning to spend at least half of their annual marketing budget on social media advertising this year. This number will only increase as people stay indoors and social media advertising becomes the primary focus for retail brands.
- Become a purpose-led brand
As grocery shelves for popular items sit empty, consumers’ brand preferences are bound to erode. The current pandemic makes going beyond their preferred brands exigent for consumers. Post crisis, these people could emerge with entirely new brand preferences or lower overall brand loyalty. Adversity is a good time to exhibit statesmanship, commitment and character. Times like these are when the work put in by the company to create brand value can be incredibly valuable. Organizations should use their brand values and purpose as the North star to set the tone of what it stands for in the context of COVID-19 via purpose-led marketing messages. However, brands should also prevent the spread of misinformation and panic while communicating tangible benefits and helpful content. A great example of this is how Google is cracking down on unreliable sources by curbing phishing attempts and malware attacks.
As social distancing, online shopping and remote work become the bellwether of consumer behavior during the ongoing crisis, nobody can predict what’s next in the global pandemic and when will it end. Marketers always find it taxing to change habits. But crisis situations act as the stimulus that nudge consumers to alter their routines. The onus now lies on the brands and brand managers as to how can they find a place for themselves to fit into these new routines. Great brands forge strong brand equity if they handle these situations tactfully. Perhaps, that’s what differentiates a great brand from a good brand!