What local brands can learn from the leaders

Guest Column: Sony Mathew, Consultant - Branding & Communications, writes how brands must do more than just deliver lip service and engaging communication to consumers

e4m by Sony Mathew
Updated: Jun 16, 2020 2:53 PM

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen plenty of videos circulating around that have been promoted by brands to connect with the customer. Here the key question is how many brands have connected with the customer through sustainable solutions, in the form of product or service that help them to overcome the crisis. Or how many brands were willing to sacrifice its topline and stand by the customer?

Many brands played with their identity to express solidarity with the customer during these tough times and some global brands even chose to tweak their positioning to exhort the public to stay home and remain safe. Some notable calls made were Stay Inside (Intel), Finger Cleaning Good (KFC), I am Washing It (McDonalds).

A closer look shows that most big global brands tried to stay true to their claims by acting swiftly and through creative and timely communication. True to its belief that technology could change lives, Apple updated its Siri software to answer queries about the coronavirus and through Apple Maps it made available mobility trends across cities. Also the brand took steps to ensure that employees are continued to be paid the regular wages. Google launched an educational site that offered quick access to advisory information and it also made available Google meet video conferencing facility free for all. The two big giants also forged a partnership together to curb the spread of Coronavirus through technology.

The travel and tourism industry was the worst affected during this time and Airbnb was forced to lay off employees. The brand responded by launching a talent directory to help laid off staff to find new jobs. Linkedin helped in filling critical positions by offering free job postings. Uber set up the Uber Care Fund to ensure that essential needs of its drivers and families were met. Facebook pledged $100 million to small businesses that were impacted. Toyota and Hyundai offered buyer protection to car buyers who may not be able to pay in the next six months and My Burger Lab, a relatively small brand from Malaysia, offered the services of its staff to the elderly and those with restricted mobility, to run errands for them. Even global fashion brands like Gucci and Prada started producing masks at affordable costs.

Among the Indian brands, conglomerates like Tata have committed Rs 1500 crore in financial support to fight the pandemic and has ventured into manufacturing of ventilators. Asian Paints was swift and innovative. It announced a hike in staff salary to improve confidence and ventured into production of hand and surface sanitizers. The speed at which the product was ready was truly admirable to say the least. In fact, hand sanitizers became a gold rush for many Indian companies. Even a biscuit major like Parle-G ventured into the hand sanitizer market, but at the same time it has also distributed crores of biscuit packets free to the poor and the needy.

Brands like Emami, Nivea, Dabur, Dukes India, Bajaj Consumer, Jyothy Labs, Cavin Kare, Patanjali Ayurved, Zydus Wellness and many more had ventured into this lucrative space. Lifebuoy partnered with Paytm and Youwecan to distribute soaps and hand wash to vulnerable sections. In the service sector, very few Indian brands came forward with a solution to fight the crisis and build a long-term relationship with the customer. There were notable exceptions like Oyo Rooms who offered work-from-Oyo at 50% discount. Zomato too launched the ‘Feed the Daily Wager’ project to provide food support to those daily wage workers, and Jio offered more talk time and twice the data. The aforementioned Indian brands and a few more might have done their best to match with global brands but many other Indian brands in the IT and financial services sector seemed lacking in spirit to come up with that extra step to enhance their brand image and thereby cement a long-term relationship with the customers.

Those extra steps could ensure customer loyalty and reduce customer attrition during these tough times. That’s why leaders continue to remain as leaders. Also this was the time for small businesses to make some noticeable contributions. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much. Scriptorium, a printing solutions company in Telengana, came up with a brand Cofi under the category No Touch, which would function as a third hand for the customer. This was made available through online market places like Amazon. Small local brands could take a leaf out of them and can also learn a lot from the initiatives taken by the Global and Indian brands.

The pandemic has reflected on the scope of many unexplored areas that Indian brands are yet to venture into. Apart from secured online meeting platforms which emerged as a hot discussion since the controversy around Zoom meetings, a host of other areas that remain unattended are — improving efficiency in last mile delivery mechanism, solution to reduce queues in supermarkets, door step delivery of critical medicines in rural areas, absence of urgent healthcare facilities at home, easy availability of organic food products and cost effective and broad solar solutions for retail use. In these times, delivering customer value is not limited to a good product / service or constant engagement through communication. Purpose branding will be more relevant than ever from now on.

(Sony V Mathew is an alumnus of IIM-K. He is an independent brand consultant and is the Chief Brand Consultant to ESAF Small Finance Bank.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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