It seems indubitable now that the pandemic was never going to disappear from our lives overnight, neither at the stroke of a particular clock hour, nor with any loud blast of a self-praising trumpet, not even with an alteration in the solar, lunar or astrological calendar. Yes, one day it will go away, and most certainly we will figure out ways of protecting all humankind. But it will leave us via a graphical route of squiggly ups and downs, peaks and troughs, not in a straightforward downward trending line as many will have you believe. Because life is just not like that.
So, what are the lessons we must learn, and what should we practise in the coming months and years to deal with the one-step-forward and two-steps-backward dance that we are playing with Covid?
Immunity for brands
The first lesson is to accept that our world has indeed become more uncertain and hazardous, and that we will need to be constantly vigilant and watchful for an unknown potential danger that can arise from any quarter and take any nightmarish, unimaginable shape it chooses. The second invaluable learning is that black swans by their very nature are events that happen for the first time ever, and thus, we will have little recourse to historical answers and solutions for the next crisis. So, the only defence against current and future dangers is to build moats of immunity around ourselves and our businesses. We now know that these ramparts will not come from a pill hastily swallowed, but by following a disciplined lifestyle, healthy habits and mindful choices which are actively focussed on wellbeing and prevention rather than cure.
So, what could be these moats of immunity for brands and businesses? I think the foremost amongst them is the engagement and trust a brand has been able to build with its consumers and stakeholders over the years. In moments of change and flux, consumers flock back towards legacy brands with whom they have had a long-term connection. Equally, we are aware that credibility has a temporal dimension to it. It gets built up over years of consistent quality and committed service that a consumer has received from the brand she has been engaging with, whether it is an FMCG brand or a banking or delivery service. This feedback loop of consistency creates the unseen and emotional bonds that are the hallmark of powerful brands and businesses, which coalesce more and more consumers around them, especially in tough times.
To build trust and engagement, not only does a brand have to ensure consistent quality in all its various dimensions — from product quality to distribution to after sales service — it needs to also remain consistently available, whether in the mind of the consumer, or at her home, or at the click of a button on the online platform. I think that is a vital lesson most marketers figured out after the first wave: come what may, they could not afford to disappear from their core consumers’ environment. And thus, what we have seen as the critical difference between the two phases of the crisis is the effort most brands have taken to ensure robustness of their supply chains with back-ups and contingencies built into each element of the distribution and service chain, and a serious attempt to remain visible through advertising and communication. This augurs well for the media and advertising industry, and, clearly, we are seeing a substantially lesser impact than the similar period last year.
Having recognised the huge importance of credibility, I am also witnessing a significant attempt being made by newer brands to associate with carefully selected credible partners, whether in the spokespersons they use, the influencers they attach themselves with, or the platforms on which they advertise. A resurgence of the more traditional legacy media platforms as compared to the quick rise and equally quick fall of new-age digital platforms is testimony to ‘old is gold’ being a truism in today’s world.
As we all learn to grapple with a new way of dealing with newer forms of terror, maybe it’s time to go back to more of the tried, tested and trusted modes of communication with our stakeholders, and hope their credibility rubs off on our brands, too.
The author is president, Jagran Prakashan