A late Friday afternoon is a perfect time to recline and unwind. As they say, the weekend is merely a ‘feeling’ which one gets on a Friday evening. Or so I thought Friday last week. Just to be reminded that I had committed to be with some of my CMO friends for a drink over video conferencing. So, I did. The following, 90-minute conversation turned out to be rainbow picture with varied responses from marketers who had traversed similar journeys but with different mindsets and that had got them to different outcomes dealing with COVID-19 scenarios.
The crisis is far from over, business planners and leaders are dealing with the scenario much like how one drives on a road with fog in front – careful and cautious. Naturally, not being able to see the full horizon has slowed down the pace. The bruises of this constant need to reinvent were clearly visible and had divided businesses into those who are paralyzed and those who have been bold to take brave steps albeit with shorter horizons and acted on them. These bold ones today were seeing the first wins in a post-Covid-19 world.
As the hour with the CMO’s was progressing, some common strands emerged from the winners’ playbook.
Keeping the ears to the ground: Doomsday predictors aside, winning brands did something basic yet had a profound impact. They listened to their customers’ needs even more closely in the new normal. And when they did, they got two prominent insights – there is a pent up need which is waiting to explode in the form of revenge buying behavior and second, an overwhelmingly high number of consumers are looking to change their brand preferences.
The lockdown has prompted them to step back and examine their buying patterns more closely to make changes. The biggest gainers in this process have been the “challenger” brands- ones which have moved fast to occupy consumer mindshare. For instance, an edutech brand has succeeded in bringing “digital education” and “coding at an early age” into mainstream conversations through their digital engagement initiatives. Another insurance company has identified a clear pattern where younger people in the age group of 30-35 years are buying insurance, a hitherto unknown phenomenon.
Working on what (really) counts: A bank very strong in retail sensed an opportunity to amass market share from competition who they saw as lagging on digital transformation curve. With the current situation in play, they sensed that customer experiences led by digital would be a clincher for them. But they needed to act smart and fast. They worked towards recreating delightful customer journeys and in about 4 months, have amassed nearly 10% additional market share which otherwise, would have taken them at least three to four years to achieve. Placing customer experience via a digital platform as the pivot for success has delivered the first, formidable win for the bank.
Re-imagining business: The pandemic has left companies on a spectrum of impact. Some brands have re-imagined their business. The CMO of a leading luxury hotel shared how the hotel has launched three new services: destination workplaces, a unique combination of family stay and vacation and corporate gifting. Destination workplaces provide a change of scene to executives in luxury properties that they can work from while enjoying a vacation. Drawing up a new spectrum of businesses leveraging the existing infrastructure could save the day for many businesses
Building on existing customer base: For brands, which have realized that they have gained the trust of their customers, a massive boost has been to upsell to the existing base. For instance, a real estate company has offered to build an office infrastructure at home for the owners to work from home, an aspect that most builders had not considered in traditional home designs. Yet another company is building workspaces in the common areas of apartment complexes.
Learning from another context: The challenging business scenario has led companies to learn from everywhere. A healthcare company, which is facing a deluge of demand with Covid-19 cases, is learning operational practices from an e-commerce company on scheduling services. An adhesive manufacturer is looking to create a loyalty and education program for the carpenters who are its customers and influencers.
As the hour was closing with my friends, there was the relief of a week gone by and the mind not wanting to think yet about the coming one. Clearly, there is a realization that the post-COVID-19 world will see the restoration of many aspects from the earlier world and that there will be a few aspects, which will have the COVID-19 hysteresis. But winning has started again for the bold and the beautiful!
Sunder Madakshira is head of marketing, Adobe India.
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