How to conquer the market during and after COVID-19?
We live in unprecedented times that no management, entrepreneurial or marketing book has prepared us for. Chances are that when we come out of these dark & uncertain times of COVID-19, we will be introduced to a different world. That is not to say that the laws of physics will be altered forever or that the healthcare workers will be paid more than their management bosses (albeit that should not be ruled out), we should be ready to witness a shift in the pattern of consumer behavior driven by macro-economic policies that will be in place, for at least sometimes even after we have sailed past it.
It’s a confounding time for brands. Consumers are concerned with macro issues, but also still need fundamental necessities in their life. How do you find the right tone for this moment? How do you make sure you don’t come off as exploitative or opportunistic? How do you deal with the shift to online across, potentially, the entire business, while balancing the concerns of all your stakeholders?
Own Your Purpose
Mission & vision statements, brand purpose, social responsibilities — these are not just terms of effective management anymore. They become the North Star for each brand at such times. Citizens trust businesses more than their governments to cater to both their fundamental needs and to squash fears of macro-finance. Yes, businesses are out there to make profits & create value for shareholders — but desperate times call for desperate measures. Brands from all industries owe it to their stakeholders — employees, suppliers, customers and the government to provide support in any way they can. The last thing a brand wants is to be remembered as that exploitative company in times of disasters.
The Tata Group has gone above and beyond its default calling by pledging INR 1500 crores to fight the pandemic. The funds will be utilized for providing protective equipment to medical personnel, respiratory systems for treating increasing cases, testing kits to ramp up testing in the country and setting up treatment facilities for those who have already caught the virus. The group has also said that it will train health workers and the general public to empower them against coronavirus.
The effect of such altruistic actions cannot be ignored because:
1. It adds significantly to the nation’s capacity to fight the pandemic.
2. It positions Tata Group on a pedestal so high in terms of community service that can never be achieved by traditional marketing & CSR activities.
The sum effect is an incredibly strong positive bias that will seep into the products and services of all branches of the Tata Group once the world starts coming back to the new normal. Is this positive bias the main goal of the Tata Group? Of course not. Tata has shown multiple times in the past that their service to the current needs of the country and community precedes their idea of making profits for the shareholders, and they are strongly rooted in this purpose.
Their ability to own this purpose as and when the need arises is an example of how brand leaders need to step forward and do the right thing. The good will follow.
Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Identify Your Brand’ Calling
Every brand defines its own unique purpose to serve. Thus, it does not make sense for every brand to go out of their way to become the caregiver in these times of crisis. Each brand, irrespective of its valuation, can in some way serve the needs of its users that is an extension of its brand, without being dismissed as opportunistic or exploitative.
Here, we give you five examples of how different brands have come out and fulfilled different kinds of needs, based on Maslow’s groundbreaking & now a ubiquitous theory.
Hygiene is one of the most basic needs of mankind & its importance is amplified in the times of social distancing. Unilever is the largest producer of soap in the world. The match is plausible & logical while being in sync with Unilever’s purpose of providing a cleaner community wherever it can. Unilever announced a commitment to provide free soap, sanitizer, bleach, and food to the value of €100M to consumers & communities across the world.
Microsoft is using Azure to develop a Healthcare Bot service & serve it to the organizations on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response to help screen patients for potential infection and care.
For example, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a COVID-19 assessment bot that can quickly assess the symptoms and risk factors for people worried about infection, provide information and suggest the next course of action such as contacting a medical provider or, for those who do not need in-person medical care, managing the illness safely at home. Microsoft is serving the need for personal security & health through its chatbot, a product that is an extension of the brand and what it stands for.
Love & Belonging:
Vodafone Idea is offering double the amount of data on its 4G data packs than it used to initially to allow individuals to stay connected to their family, loved ones, friends & colleagues, and also enable the Work From Home culture of their customers.
Taj Hotels opened its doors free of cost to all healthcare professionals in the city of Mumbai. It also served out packaged boxes for the healthcare personnel at different hospitals. This gesture elevates the sense of esteem and pride that the healthcare workers should rightfully develop within themselves as they steer us through.
Adobe is giving higher education & K-12 institutional customers of their Creative Cloud apps the ability to request temporary at-home access for students & educators. Coursera too is offering 3800 of its courses to any university & its students in the world affected by COVID-19, at no cost. Individuals looking to hone their skills or just learn a new one can catch up with a world that has gradually come to a halt.
All of the above examples are just the tip of the iceberg of how brands around the world are prioritizing the pandemic in the ways they best can while supporting their community & their users, and overlook the bottom line to a certain extent.
Role of Advertising Agencies:
Advertising agencies are being consulted by brands to devise novel methods to stay in touch with their consumers in any way they can. Multiple brands cannot provide any form of their service or product due to strict lockdown norms. Thus, it is imperative for them to provide support, relief & entertainment without saying the wrong thing — which is where honest advertising agencies need to do their bit.
Agencies representing any brand in these delicate times should remember that saying nothing is better than saying something stupid. Exploitative or insensitive campaigns can bring the castle crashing down in no time. The chain of Weatherspoon pubs in the UK faced severe backlash when their boss asked his employees to find work at Tesco soon after the lockdown was announced. An unscripted communication has led to a twitter outrage that unleashes malice on the brand, and the brand is now in the mode of Reputation Management.
Keeping their users engaged and their sentiment neutral (at worst) is the best any brand can ask from its agencies today. And any agency that delivers on it deserves the plaudits.
This article is written by Umang. We continuously work towards building great content to help brands grow. Please share the article if you think it can help someone.