Experts Column

Marketing during COVID-19

Having worked in the US at the District Attorney’s Office and in Hague for the EU, Kudrat leads strategic marketing and planning, brand management, revenue growth strategies, public relations and digital marketing.

COVID-19 has presented us a global health crisis with no modern-day precedent. In the wake of the pandemic, businesses have been quick to shape their language and campaigns towards sympathy and a sense of purpose. Quick to incorporate work from home strategies, mental health coping techniques or mentions of digital transformation.

Many businesses however have also been quick to let go of their marketing partners, their advertisement agencies, PR agencies or even inhouse marketing staff. In times of crisis seldom do businesses realize the importance of reinvention through marketing.

Opportunity to Reinvent

Pressing human needs are often considered the forte of non-profits, individual providers and charities. Many businesses during the pandemic have risen to break these binaries and make their core manufacturing units produce sanitizer manufacturing units to manufacturing PPE kits. Yet the greatest lesson here is that a pandemic should not prove to be the defining moment to incorporate sustainable solutions and do not necessarily have to be at the cost of a brand’s bottom line.

Businesses who recognize prioritizing creation of value over profit margins don’t only benefit from brand recognition but also growth. Take Zerodha for example, a retail brokerage in India. They could make their educational platform Varsity a paid service- yet they chose not to and now varsity a widely popular equities platform has undoubtedly resulted in increased financial literacy and possibly more customers to sign up.

“While all brands might not sell products that serve an altruistic purpose, service and procurement for a human necessity or even a luxury is putting the consumer’s human needs first”

To many, marketing is often mistook for a brazen promotion that should be paused in times of crisis. Marketing however is a communication tool, and a crisis offers an immense opportunity of reinvention for a brand to put the customer first.

While traditional notions of marketing might be limited to brands showcasing their products and services in the most eye-catching advertisement or editorial- authentic marketing attempts to go a step further and shifts the prism to the customer. To state the age old maxim – start a business to solve an issue not make money, marketing should in its essence enrich the lives of consumers without sacrificing the bottom line.

Brand Endurance in an Age of Attention Deficit

Marketing during the pandemic distills into a very unique challenge on brand endurance, using standard communication in times when there are no standard sales- or even any sales. Companies spend millions on inefficient media. A lot of opportunities which should have been earned are actually paid for, because they lac brand introspection.

Marketers must recognize their responsibility and the freedom that they have in crafting their message and the real value their product provides in order to create an enduring message in the age of attention deficit. The most clever slogan does not win – bit the more enduring message.

An enduring message is not defined by profiteering. While sales might have not been the agenda when many marketers green light the copy for a campaign, impersonal language often alienates the reader. Every marketing exercise is an opportunity for the brand to communicate who they are to the customer. The use of generic terminology such as ‘top quality’, ‘best in the industry’ is a lost opportunity where the reader reads multiple brands claiming the title, forgetting your brand as soon as they click on the next article.

Authenticity is often not a proclamation of being the best, but often a brand stating things with simplicity and humility. Human will as Descartes and Leibnitz noted follows from understanding (and not puffery one could add).

Aligning Altruism with Marketing Objectives 

While all brands might not sell products that serve an altruistic purpose, service and procurement for a human necessity or even a luxury is putting the consumer’s human needs first. In the age of fake news, constant mailers, easy access for brands to advertise on your social media platforms - it is easy to create content for the sake of content. Or a sales mindset takes over where the next sale takes precedence over any other value proposition. This mindset is not the right approach to create an enduring message. Instead an authentic marketer makes a promise to inspire to entertain or even to inform.

While marketing Tesla, Elon Musk did not harp on the affordability. Instead, he made it a point to talk about innovation and his own personal endevour to innovate and a commitment to sustainability. Similarly, at True Beacon Nikhil Kamath, despite having an impressive track record routinely speaks about removing redundancies in the wealth management ecosystem and building a mutually beneficial network for clients.

A starting point for a brand would be replacing clever and superior slogans with humility and honesty. Humanizing your brand, regardless of the mundane product you might seem to be marketing creates timeless resonance.

Pragmatic 

Steve jobs famously proclaimed customers often don’t know what they want when launching a new apple product which went on to be wildly successful. Businesses have much to learn from this often misinterpreted quote. In essence what Jobs was alluding to was that companies and marketers by extension are their most innovative when they give a sense of what they can provide to us, before the customer senses it. 

We must reinvent the narrow prism through which we view marketing specially in times of pandemic when the traditional definitions are being challenged of how we run our businesses and even communicate. As David Foster Wallace wrote, “those who help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.” Such should be aim of the post pandemic marketer.