e-Content Jam: Marketing in times of COVID-19 with an eye on positivity & empathy

On the panel were Arvind RP, McDonald's; Atit Mehta, BYJU’S; Avi Kumar, ZEE5; Gaurav Jeet Singh, HUL; Nipun Marya, Vivo India; Jayam Vora, Fitternity; and Sandeep Juneja, DHL Express

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jun 1, 2020 8:00 AM
e-Content Jam

Content Marketing has become an integral part of a brand’s marketing plan but with COVID-19 it has become bigger than ever before. With mainstream marketing coming to a grinding halt, content continues to play a pivotal role in ensuring brand salience, say experts.

A panel with a diverse speaker roll including Arvind RP - Director Marketing and Communications - McDonald's; Atit Mehta- Marketing Head, Think & Learn Pvt. Ltd. (BYJU’S); Avi Kumar- Head Marketing, ZEE5; Gaurav Jeet Singh- General Manager Media, South Asia- HUL; Nipun Marya- Director Brand Strategy, Vivo India; Jayam Vora- Co-Founder and COO- Fitternity; and Sandeep Juneja- VP Sales & Marketing, DHL Express, spoke about how marketing content has been changing during the times of the pandemic. The session was chaired by Nawal Ahuja, Co-founder and Director, exchange4media.

The industry leaders on the panel spoke about the changing dynamics of content marketing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ramayan and Mahabharat has taken TRPs through the roof and proved that a huge part of the population has their faith in God and in the fact that they are taken care of by Him. However, there is another side to it. Series like ‘Money Heist’ have been popular with the Indian audience and that goes to prove that good content has nothing to do with language. Good content cuts through barriers and makes its way to the audience. This is a big learning from the past two months," said Singh.

OTT has seen a phenomenal growth rate, said Kumar, and ZEE5’s focus has been on becoming a super app built to provide for each of the customer they have.

Elaborating on Zee5’s strategy, Kumar said: “If you see in the last two years, we've pursued a vision to become one of the nation's destination as a super app for entertainment. And one of the most profound changes over this time has been that we've got a very rich understanding and deeper commitment towards delighting the customer. Our only focus is the consumer. We are now focusing on hyper personalization. We use technology to understand the consumer so that we can connect better with them and in these unprecedented times it becomes even more important for us to understand what the consumer needs. We have introduced kids’ content in the last one month along with hyper shorts, gaming and news. We've come up with a lot of content innovation, both live or shot in-house. But the key is the consumer and hyper personalization of the consumer. So while there is 1,25,000 hours of content it is important to provide the consumer what he's looking for without him going through the hassle of searching it," said Kumar.

But in instances when not many are looking at buying products like phones how does a brand like Vivo keep the consumer engaged.

Elaborating on the same was Marya, "In the last month and a half we clearly saw that consumers were not really looking at a product or product advertising in general, in our category especially. There was much less interest in the product because nobody was really looking at buying a phone. There weren't any options available to buy as well. Even e-commerce companies were not delivering for a large part of the lockdown. So people were genuinely not interested in going out there and checking out product features and therefore from the brand side they weren't really interested in us communicating much about the product features."

“However, what the consumers were really interested in was what we were doing with respect to Coronavirus? We put out a lot of videos, for instance a video which we made on heroes who care, saluting all our policemen and healthcare workers. Those kinds of videos and content really got a lot of engagement," he added.

"We have entered lockdown 4.0 and since the market has started opening up and people have again gone back to buying phones. Therefore, we have seen sort of a restart in smart phone sales. Since the sales are starting to revive what we've also seen is people are now more interested in about features which they weren't interested in a couple of weeks back. Accordingly, we are also shifting the focus of our communication slowly," Marya said.

While some brands struggled to keep the consumer engaged, some from the beginning of the lockdown were overloaded with demand. What did a brand like BYJU'S, which is inundated with demand do in such times? Did they still need to engage with customers?

To talk about it was Mehta: “When the lockdown started the first thing that was closed was schools and the last thing to open up as the economy and the market open up will also be schools. This is also the start of the academic season. So most schools and especially the A-plus ones where we send our kids started doing online classes using multiple platforms and Google Classroom became a go-to market product. But that's not even 0.1% of the total population. That is where we took the big content initiative which created business for us. We started live classes. At the end of the day, everything has gone on, OTT consumption has gone up. TV viewership has gone on 24X7 it was becoming difficult for them to manage the students. That’s where we came and provided educational content in a live format and had the best teachers on board. That is where we saw the surge both in terms of engagement, and subscription as more and more students at a pan-India level came on board."

However, for sensitive product categories like food - the messaging had to be done with care. McDonald’s Arvind RP spoke about treating customers as people first and consumer second.

“There are certain a thing that we realized very early on in this lockdown that it is very easy for brands to become tone deaf in this entire scenario. The sales are down and you have to push and generate demand. So we took it to a place where we treat customers as people first and consumer second. What that meant was reassuring customers of our safety and hygiene. McDonald's is known for its high standards of safety and it was time to narrate the story all over again. We told customers how we followed contactless norms and social distancing in our supply chain in our stores. So we needed to do the storytelling all over again and prove to customers that it's only safe and hygienic food that we are serving. We were one of the first brands to launch contactless delivery and it was very much appreciated by customers. This gave a positive impact to our delivery business, which picked up slowly based on this assurance messaging that we were giving.”

He further said, “The other thing we picked was that consumers were asking brands, what are you doing for the society, especially when there were a lot of stories about underprivileged. We dialed up our social initiatives where we tied up with NGOs across the various cities and delivered food to the underprivileged. So it's been two months now and the programme is still underway. So in a very small way, we were doing our bit for the society and this was again appreciated by customers. So I think it's very important for brands to realize the situation we are in and dial up programs accordingly."

But with lockdown rules being relaxed people are craving for their favourites, Arvind said. "So our messaging has changed in the context of reassuring customers about the safety of the food they are ordering. In these two months, we have seen at least three distinct phases in terms of consumer expectations and consumer sentiment and accordingly we have fashioned our communication." he added.

For some marketers the phase isn’t a marketing opportunity. Juneja shared how DHL Express has realised that this is a health crisis and there is a need for empathy. "As a brand when we are communicating externally there is also a lot our internal employees are also looking at what we are communicating. Therefore, that sense of responsibility is there in our communication. At a time like this, we realize that this is a health crisis and not really a marketing opportunity. At this point we are trying to sincerely embrace empathy. So in our communication we are trying to be genuine. We know that social distancing is not equal to customer distancing and therefore, being in touch with the customer is far more important than ever. We are in international logistics and therefore, for us to function we have to be on the ground, we have to be picking up, delivering, running vehicles, working at the airport, unloading our aircraft, loading across building containers etc. There's so much work to be done."

Talking about how they kept their communication going, Juneja said, "The organization was fully involved in negotiating and understanding the terms and conditions on how to operate and in all this chaos to maintain a clear narrative were very important. I think as we are inching towards opening up to, the customers are also looking at getting involved; they want to know what's going on. So we kept our communication very and very meaningful. The big question is how do we cut the clutter and communicate to people about what exactly they need to know. They need meaningful information right now. That's what we've been doing. And the one common string which is running in our communication is that we realize that positivity is far more important in these times. Therefore, we're trying to be sensitive, staying positive and trying to communicate happy and cheerful stimuli in order to drive away the attention from the negativity of the situation. So I think these are the three or four tenets we are basing our communications on," he added.

Some brands have also changed their business models to cater to the need of the hour. With regards to Fitternity’s style of functioning, Vora said: "By nature of our offerings are offline. I think the lockdown kind of shut all avenues of business for us. But we saw more and more people wanted to get into fitness. So the whole idea was to identify what formats of fitness we'll be able to cater to. We realized it is better to offer a series of formats rather than pinpointing on one format. So we kind of created a skew of offerings, which would cater to different segments of consumers. For example, if you are a consumer who's just entering fitness, if we provide you a pre-recorded video, for you to kind of watch and workout, there is a high possibility that you may end up getting injured. So that's when thought that let's create a high touch model. Let's get on board a few hundred thousand trainers from across the, country for all categories of fitness enthusiast-beginners as well as advanced practitioner."

He further explained the need to create sustainable equation between supply and demand. "So while we earlier used to help you find a class and go to it now the idea was how we get the class to you and how to do it in a group so that you get a sense of normal. The third thing that we did was to get a library of pre-recorded content with the aim to create scale and cater to a user base which was already into fitness and wanted to level up. So these are the kind of things that we've done.And I think the way we look at it's going to be a very interesting model in the future. So I think six months down the line, we'll actually have a yoga class happening in Bandra where eight people will be attending physically and 16 others would be attending from different parts of India virtually. Given the offerings, it's very important to communicate them in the right way," he added.

The panelists also discussed how the lockdown rules were slowly be eased and they predicted the economy would take anywhere between six to eighteen months to come back to normalcy where buying will go up and so will media spends by brands.

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