'We see a longer-term trend towards people seeking reassurance, trust & quality'

In a webinar organized by ISA, in association with Free Press Journal and ABP Network, industry leaders discussed how the top brands will tackle the challenges of this pandemic and look beyond

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Feb 25, 2021 9:20 AM  | 7 min read
ISA-ABP Webinar

Consumer behaviour has gone through a paradigm shift during COVID. As a corollary, it has posed new challenges for brands. In order to understand the strategies devised by top brands to tackle the challenges of this global event/pandemic and to look beyond, The Indian Society of Advertisers in association with Free Press Journal and ABP Network has organised a webinar ‘Brands and Consumers: 2021 and Beyond’. 

The session was moderated by Sunil Kataria, ISA Chairman, CEO - India & SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd.

Anil Viswanathan, Sr. Director - Marketing (Chocolates), Mondelez India Foods Pvt. Ltd.; Anuj Poddar, Executive Director, Bajaj Electricals Ltd.; Gauravjeet Singh, General Manager - Media Services (South Asia), Hindustan Unilever Ltd; Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director, Suzuki India Ltd., and Suparna Mitra, CEO- Watches and Wearables Division, Titan Company Ltd., were among the panelists. 

Before starting the discussion, Kataria explained what are the implications that the industry is going to face in the post COVID era of 2021 and beyond, what are the biggest changes which the C of COVID-19 has done to the C of consumers. He also explained the three C's, which are going to be different in the future consumer world - a future consumer is going to be constrained, conscious, and connected. 

To start the conversation, Viswanathan spoke about a couple of things that have impacted consumers and what they see in the future when it comes to consumers, and what are the implications for them as brands and marketers?  “At Mondelez, we always believe in being consumer-centric and having the consumer at the heart of everything that we do. Over the last year, and now 15 months, we are now getting clarity that some of the new normal is likely to stay in the future. Just like many other industries, our industry also went through a fair amount of turmoil. Firstly, from a supply perspective, and then from a demand perspective, but I'm glad to say that we have overcome all these. On behalf of marketers and business leaders, it has been a challenging year, but we've come through it, people have fought hard and brought the business back.”

He further added, “We keep tracking on what the consumer is doing and one of the things that we do, for example, is an annual state of snacking study that we do globally, including India. And one of the things that the state of the snacking study tells us in 2020, is the fact that people are snacking more and that's good news for us and for all of us who are in the foods business.”

He mentioned the two elements -  the first one is really about the new normal which is, Home is where the party is. “I think people are rediscovering life at home and over the period of the last year and a half as people have started experiencing life at home, meaning at home, relationships at home, things that they do at home. I think we're clearly seeing home becoming a central piece in the way consumers are going to interact and live their lives and that's something that brands need to take cognizance of we indeed are, I think people are nesting people are cocooning. Home is becoming central to many things that brands can do.” The second element is about consciousness. “We are seeing a longer-term trend towards people seeking reassurance, trust, and quality,” he added. 

Poddar of Bajaj Electricals further added to the conversation and commented on the behavior of consumers, "What they claim, and what we see and read on social media is not the actual human behavior. The stark example of that is all the noise that we hear and see, and read around the anti-china sentiment, which is not the reality in the marketplace. Just a month after the China sentiment, some of the banning, etc, Vivo reported as best or highest average sales of mobile handsets, a Chinese brand, and that's the power of the Indian consumer speaking with the power of his or her wallet.”

Poddar also mentioned that BCCI dropping Vivo as a title sponsor for IPL last year is now back on the tournament. “As marketers, our job is not to sit in judgment, our job is to actually distill through this superficial layer of what's being spoken and presumed to be a behavior to actually understand what's the underlying behavior, and then act on that. Otherwise, we tend to take wrong decisions,” explained Poddar. 

Of course, COVID, in the pandemic affected people that affected their income levels, jobs, salaries, and supposedly, therefore effective spending patterns. And therefore, the dominant narrative was that people are cutting back on all kinds of premium, luxury splurge and the strongest example of that is luxury travel or luxury hotels. “The reality is different. I think consumers are not one homogeneous set of people and different consumers, we must understand the different segments of those consumers. And there is, if not dominant, a large segment of consumers that are not affected in terms of income, that would not actually cutting back on space.” 

“It's not the time to cut back on the marketing spends, in fact, we have the best deals out there. And we could actually have made the dollar-rupee stretch a lot longer,” added Poddar. 

Talking about the automobile industry, Srivastava said that the pandemic's most enduring feature has been that it's been an accelerant of some existing trends. Globalization and digitization, which have already impacted our lives and our businesses, and I believe in 2021, the macro trend that is driving the most change in our lives, business, and the market today, is digitalization. This whole change of business is probably going to affect the business model as such and I can say that from an auto perspective.”

He further explained, “Marketing scholars call this a great dispersion. And what does this mean? It means that you get rid of all unnecessary friction costs throughout the value chain, and delivering the product and service whenever and wherever it's needed the most. It's not a new phenomenon, by the way, we may have seen it in how e-commerce has dispersed retail, online streaming services dispersed DVDs and cinema, even social media. As far as the pandemic is concerned, the 2020 experience has been just accelerated this trend exponentially.” 

“Now auto industry is a little trickier, I would say, than this simple digital dispersion that I have spoken about. That is it's a high-value item purchase, it's a discretionary purchase, there is a lot of involvement of the consumer. So, here it is not just digital. So, while today 95% of the current inquiries for digital automobiles start on the internet, almost a fifth of our sales are through the digital beginning. But at the same time, since it's a high-value item, there is a lot of trust the consumer has in the product and therefore we still have 94% of the people visiting the showrooms.”

Mitra, CEO - Watches, and Wearables Division, Titan Company Ltd., shared that the first week when the entire country was under lockdown, it was a period when everyone faced a jolt. Then when we entered May and June, for the category like Titan which is heavily discretionary, we really pulled out all stops in terms of innovating and imagining what should be the next step? “A lot of communications to the customers, even during the lockdown period, we did an empathy call and find out how they were?  And the second round of communication was on safety. And later on, we executed Titan Gift Smile campaign, which was reaching out to people to thank loved ones and gift them. We also did a campaign on Let’s Get India Ticking, which was not a watch campaign but a category agnostic campaign and it was about getting consumption back.”

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