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On marketing mindfully during Covid-19

As brands and businesses try to remain relevant, it’s important to remember that we are in the midst of a pandemic

In times that call for sensitivity, brands need to learn how to communicate mindfully with consumers.
In times that call for sensitivity, brands need to learn how to communicate mindfully with consumers. (Photo: Alamy)

Some weeks ago, during the lockdown, a colleague forwarded a press note from a salon chain owned by a consumer goods brand. The subject line read: “Calling all Husbands! It’s time for a quarantine task! Learn the art of salon-style pedicure and pamper your lady love." As ridiculous as this sounded, I opened the email to read that the brand was organizing a Facebook Live session to give a “step-by-step lesson" on pedicures because “After all, your wife deserves a little break from her household stress!"

Another mail, this time from a luxury wellness resort property, spoke of organizing an “Isolation Getaway for Longevity" for just 75 guests.

This just reeked of insensitivity, indicative of a desperation to stay relevant in a pandemic-driven world. There is, in fact, an abundance of content from brands, especially in the travel and luxury segment, out there as they try to prepare for a post-lockdown scenario. They are taking different approaches to branding and marketing—but while some may resonate with consumers, others only invite ridicule.

Pareina Thapar, founder of public relations firm Longform, says: “It’s a very difficult time to be in. On one side, when everyone in media applauds, for instance, a good deed by a luxury brand, we forget that while we are playing our parts in a larger ecosystem, that might be the very same brand that might retrench its employees because of an economic crisis that can’t be blamed on them. It’s not easy for anyone."

The terms branding and marketing also tend to be used interchangeably. While marketing is about preparing the product for market, branding is about creating an image, which can in turn help businesses market themselves. “When any product is prepared for being marketed on softer, intangible platforms, that is where knowledge about the economy helps. With social media, everyone just wants to push their content out. But there needs to be a third-party objectivity in equity with the brand and its authenticity. It’s also important to have the brand’s own guidelines and books to follow," Thapar says.

So it’s important to home in on a good idea that is in consonance with the company’s branding, taking forward a story that has already been told well. But since these are times that call for sensitivity, brands need to learn how to communicate mindfully. They need to identify their yardstick for success in the long term: Just consumer engagement or, more importantly, retaining the trust of consumers?

One example cited often is Surf Excel’s #NekiNahiRukegi, which shows a child helping out people—security guards, the elderly and nurses—with deliveries and handmade greeting cards while maintaining social distancing.

This may be tougher for luxury brands that deal in non-essential goods and services but keeping quiet is not an option. Peepul Consulting founder Srimoyi Bhattacharya, who deals with luxury brands, says: “We are advising our brands to introspect on their ethos a while rather than sell anything because nobody needs to buy them right now. So they need to reprogramme their content for a consumer’s immediate needs, with context to who they are." For instance, designer Anuj Sharma of Button Masala came up with a tutorial on making masks at home using his signature no-stitching technique, using just buttons and rubber bands as fasteners. This can both help retain goodwill and maintain a connect.

Several luxury brands are taking to social media to talk about home and how “We’re all in this together", while trying to provide medical cover to their employees as well as discounts on products and services to customers. Designer Anita Dongre set up a 1.5 crore medical fund for her employees, while Sabysachi Mukherjee donated 1 crore to the Prime Minister’s fund and continued to pay his karigars (artisans) and staff.

We may emerge from the pandemic as very different consumers. And as Bhattacharya says, “All brands are looking at re-strategizing for at least the next 6-18 months and communication will play a big role to address this new customer." Businesses will need to tread the fine line between over- and under-playing their roles.

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