It's time for brands to be salient, but not silent: Arun Narayan, Titan

Narayan, AVP Category, Marketing & Retail, Tanishq, Titan Company Limited, reveals that the brand is witnessing pent-up demand and has received bookings even during the strict country-wide lockdown

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jun 3, 2020 8:37 AM
Arun Narayan, Titan

In a first, India’s jewellery sales were all set to plunge to the lowest in a quarter of a century as lockdown to combat the rapidly spreading coronavirus brought the industry to a standstill. However, the industry is slowly inching back towards normalcy as restrictions ease down and various stores reopen. As social distancing leads to an upsurge in digital shopping and the pandemic leads to change in consumer behaviours, we spoke to Arun Narayan, AVP Category, Marketing & Retail, Tanishq, Titan Company Limited to find out how the leading brand in the space is grappling with the challenges, its revival strategies and how it continues to shine despite the dampening general mood and consumer sentiment.

With regards to the unprecedented pandemic situation, what has Tanishq’s strategy been to navigate the volatile landscape that has caused a huge blow to businesses across sectors?

To start off, from our side we made reams of empathy calls to customers asking them if there is something we could do for them. There was a lot of confidence, we got to know that customers are safe and wherever some support was required at an attachment level, store level, we kind of pitched in. And during the course of these empathy calls, we realized that there are some problems that we need to solve. In fact, I think most of this year is critical for brands to not sell but to solve and focus on solving problems, because even though we reached out to customers and told them that we know that buying jewellery right now is not at the remotest corner of their minds right now but were calling to wish them for Gudi Padwa/Bengali New Year which fell in the course of the lockdown. But there were some customers who said that I am looking at buying jewellery for Akshaya Tritya, how can you help me? What can I do? And that’s when we realized that there were people looking to buy jewellery for weddings and various occasions and were worried that when the stores open the gold rates might go up. That got us to work on a whole lot of jewellery purchase plans, which will focus on solving this problem and helping customers pre-book jewellery or buy jewellery to freeze the rate of the day and the actual transaction can happen later. So like that, I think it's critical for brands to show empathy, connect with consumers, keep in touch and at the same time understand specific issues which really you can pitch in and help with.

Secondly, the downtime really gave us an opportunity to review and introspect, and relook at business, what can we do better. Like Fastrack’s certain projects which typically get pushed back to the back-burner because of the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. So we brought those projects back on the forefront. It also gave us a chance to refresh as a company and also refresh people, their knowledge and their capabilities. In fact, a lot of employees feel that this is more hectic than coming to work because you know you're engaged in calls from 9 to 5-6 pm in the evening. There are a lot of training programs, a lot of brainstorming and reviewing things. So I think we were able to keep the company engaged, positive and optimistic. A lot of planning and lots of thoughts went into developing a new way of selling and new ways of shopping for jewellery.

As going contactless becomes all the rage, what has Tanishq been doing on the lines of the Contactless Shopping Experience? Also, how is the brand embracing online as it becomes the channel of choices?

We have actually implemented quite a few things. We had a very interesting Akshay Tritya, one of the big days for us. It’s an auspicious day to buy jewellery. And this year we were in a situation where none of our stores was open, so we had a really offline-online or retail-online partnership and collaboration that day wherein in a span of 10 days, online, we sold or booked as much as we did in the entire year, last year.

But only by collaboration between the 7000 odd people that we have across our stores and through leading customers online who otherwise would prefer to buy in stores, we provided them assisted online shopping because a whole lot of customers are not so confident buying jewellery online. But the minute somebody with whom you have a retail relationship kind of helps you to do that, then it's a very different experience. We had a whole lot of people who otherwise are in stores, be a part of our live chat program online, chatting with customers who came on in helping them through the process. So all in all, we had more than a million unique visitors on the website during this period. We were able to provide a very high-quality online shopping experience, which sowed the seeds for the new way of selling. It’s not either this or that, like either online or retail. I think both need to come together and support each other and then let the customer thereafter decide where he/she wants to shop. So the journey can begin in retail, and you can end up buying online, or the journey can begin online and you can end up buying in retail. I think retailers, in particular, need to offer the benefits of both and leave it to people as to how they want to go shopping.

The COVID-19 outbreak will change the way retail is executed in India. How is Tanishq preparing to reopen its stores as restrictions ease?

As and when we get clearances and as and when we have a team that certifies these stores, as being very safe we will look at opening stores. We will ensure that the gold standard of safety covers multiple touchpoints like how can you sanitise your footwear before stepping in, measuring your temperature as you come inside the store and ensuring social distancing in the stores. There are many areas in stores which are marked so that you cannot congregate in these spaces and maintain a distance from those. It’s critical not just for customers but also for our employees who come to work and for families who are sending people in our stores to feel psychologically safe.

With restrictions placed on social gatherings, weddings might not be the same and hence wedding jewellery could also see a hit, something which is a big margin contributor for Tanishq. Does it look like the consumer would be splurging on wedding jewellery right now?

Weddings have been deferred from Q1 to Q3/Q4, meaning that they could happen in November- December or Jan-Feb. So shopping that was to happen in Q1 will happen during Diwali or later. So that’s one impact. We also hear of big fat Indian weddings becoming slimmer or smaller and destination weddings not happening because of the fear to travel. That might also mean that people have more money because they are not spending on travel and other associated costs. We don’t know how that will play out. But jewellery is very integral to Indian weddings. It has both rational and emotional attachment. Rational from the sense of investment and being a safe haven especially in such a time of uncertainty and emotional because it is linked to traditions, rituals and relationships. People might opt for buying lighter stuff because across categories as it's not the mood of the nation for conspicuous consumption. So you might be discreet and more understated. But I don't think you might stop buying or stop planning for jewellery and how you want to look at the most important day of your life. There’s actually been a pent up demand of people who wanted to buy jewellery but couldn’t buy it in the lockdown period.

What was the thought process behind Tanishq’s advertising and communication through the lockdown? Also, how should brands prepare to embrace the post-pandemic reality and engage with the consumer through that?

It's time for brands to be salient, but not silent. All through the lockdown, we were communicating with customers. Our theme on communication was real golden moments, like appreciating relationships, appreciating your home and what you have despite being locked up. It's important to be responsible, to be empathetic and spread positivity. The next phase post lockdown it’s critical for brands to stimulate demand because it is important to get the economy and demand going. And that will create employment and ensure vendors and suppliers get orders and jobs.

So right now, our focus really is on the safe opening of stores and ensuring that everyone stays positive until the middle phase which may begin in July, we will start working stimulating demand. We are questioning what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. Digital has been a lead medium for us in terms of communication in these times.

More than ever, brands have to be seen as authentic and responsible. We need to show empathy and undertake in problem-solving at this point. Again, I think it's important for brands and organizations to look at the whole value chain and make sure that everyone in that chain is taken care of.

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