Direct communication by brands has taken centre stage in the changing times: Sujit Patil

In today’s edition of the ‘e4m PR and Corporate Communications Festive Series’, we speak to Sujit Patil, VP & Head Corporate Brand and Communications, Godrej Industries Limited & Associate Companies

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Nov 5, 2020 8:53 AM  | 7 min read
Sujit Patil

Hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the Indian Inc is optimistic about a bounceback during the ongoing festive season. Brands are making the most of the festive sentiment with ascended marketing and advertising budgets and altered communication outreach plans to garner growth during Q4. Brands have realised that consumers want to be heard.

With a legacy of 122 years, Godrej Group enjoys a patronage of more than 1.15 billion consumers globally and is counted among the top five FMCG companies in the country. With consumers moving out and having the purchasing capacity once again, Godrej Industries and associates aim for recovering from the downward spiral and attaining the lost market share.

To share more on the new communication policies and marketing trends, we speak to Sujit Patil, VP & Head Corporate Brand and Communications, Godrej Industries Limited & Associate Companies, in today’s edition of the ‘e4m PR and Corporate Communications Festive Series’.

Edited Excerpts

How have the past six months been for the organization? What were the key learnings?

On the communications front, the past six months have been about looking inwards and building relationships with our TG. We went back to the drawing board to ascertain what matters to us and what is required to strengthen bidirectional conversations through our direct communication channels.

There were several learnings of this period for the whole industry. Earned PR and earned social PR both gained immense credibility. Brands also realised that they need to listen to their customers more often, and do this with utmost commitment sans inherent brand biases. Communication was sharper and weighed. Authenticity in messaging was neccessary. And regardless of how much discounts a brand could offer, it learnt that discounting empathy, or undermining the sensibility of its TG will expose its crisis propensity.

What is your outlook for the current year, assuming Covid impact will last till early 2021?

Most markets are bouncing back to pre-Covid levels. The last two quarters will see a renewed push from brands to earn more from its TG. The period has definitely altered consumer behaviour. The way out is to build an agile strategy with shorter campaign durations. Use data and analytics to listen to your customers more. At the end, customer is right; and customer is your might.  

With the increase in online traffic and digital getting a major push, how did the brand leverage digital?

For a vast majority of the population, the definition of digital evolved. WFH and the lockdown pushed people to explore digital avenues for information and engagement. We were one of the first brands in the country to set up an in-house digital PR vertical four years back. We also pioneer the use of our owned media platforms such as Godrej L’Affaire, Vikhroli Cucina and Design Dekko to co-create content with influencers and audience. As part of our direct communication strategy, we utilised these platforms to create relevant, timely and engaging content for our audience.

Through the lockdown, Godrej L’Affaire hosted live concerts and discussions almost every alternate day of the week. We also hosted the first Instagram exclusive lifestyle awards along with our partners. Vikhroli Cucina brought together more than 1000 professional chefs to cook simultaneously, live on the platform. Design Dekko hosted its biggest digital conclave with global architecture and design experts. All of these shows how digital can be leveraged to create authentic and relevant content.

What has been the shift in brand communication around these Covid-hit months? What are the new trends that have stepped in the communications industry?

The biggest shift has been driven by consumers. Brands realised the importance of being authentic and why cause-washing is detrimental to its objectives. With tightening string on marketing budgets, the focus was back on earned media. At the same time, with surging incidents of fake and paid news, consumers were sceptical about any information which is not backed by research and data. Another trend has been towards direct communication channels. Owned media channels offer brand more control and varied formats to tell their story. The pre-requisites were to make the story compelling, authentic, relevant, engaging and experience driven. All of these trends have shaped the communication industry.

How has the consumer behaviour changed? How did your brand manage to stay relevant in its communication?

Consumers today are more intelligent and savvy than what they are given credit for. Inauthentic communications are called out faster than ever before. Due to over exposure to branded content, consumers have developed a cognitive ad-blocker which is constantly filtering messages that are factually incorrect, biased, or cause-washed. Consumers today prefer direct communication channels and are signing up for content which is relevant to them. To make the content more engaging and experience driven, brands can keep adding layers using data-analytics and consumer insights. Finally, the idea is to reach the right audience, on the right platform, using the right medium and on the right time. This is an intricate equation that must be balanced for the success of a campaign.

At Godrej, we have been following the POEMS (Paid Owned Earned Media Strategy) to connect with our customers and stakeholder. We have re-written the communication rule-book during this period by using each of these channels with a renewed focus. Our direct communication channels raised the benchmark by creating content that driven with experiential engagement. Being heard is one of the most precious values that audiences seek today from brands. Therefore, for every campaign we do RECCE (Relevance, Engagement, Content, Community, Experience) check! Customer experience and brand ethos form the core of our owned media strategy. This approach pushed our brands to create relevancy among target consumers to drive engagement using interesting content which eventually led to community building through experience (RECCE).

What are the areas that the brand is investing in during the festive chatter?

The first and foremost investment is to improve listening skills. Your brand is no more defined by how you perceive it; it is about how your consumer defines it. We have created a robust mechanism through which we listen to what our customers are talking about. Campaigns are designed with authentic and relevant data-driven content which is focused on delivering experiential engagement. The communication strategy is then chiselled to meet the objectives. These messages are not just amplified through traditional and digital mediums but also through our direct communication channels.

What are the major festive season campaigns that the brand is focusing on? What is your take on influencer marketing?

There are several festive campaigns that will be unveiled by our brands across the businesses. One such campaign is on Work From Home range of solutions. During the pandemic, one of the biggest realisations any of us had was that we never were prepared for a work from home culture. It required both cultural and infrastructural adjustment at our home. The cases of musculoskeletal disorders rose sharply in the initial days only because we didn’t have an ergonomic WFH set-up at home. Our latest campaign is targeted at helping people create a seamless WFH environment which improves both physically and mental well-being.

Influencer engagement is on the rise. However, the definition of influencer is constantly evolving. For instance, there are campaigns in which aspirational value of the product is the objective, and then there are some where relativity is more important. These, among others, decide your influencer engagement strategy. Having a celebrity or influencer on board is no more an assurance for a campaign’s success. It is the relevancy and authenticity of it. If consumers feel the only connect the influencer and celebrity has with the product endorsed is money, the sub-conscious cognitive ad-blocker gets switched on.

With rebooted operations and sales everywhere, what are your expectations from the festive season?

Resilience has been one of the biggest plus of India market. Being an optimist (of course there is enough data to support my belief, too), my assessment is that the markets will bounce back sooner to pre-Covid levels, and will gradually move to healthier grounds by the end of this fiscal year. The festive season this time is more about recovering from the downward spiral and attaining the lost market share. Wish you and all the readers a very safe, healthy and happy festive season.


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