Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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As the lockdown gets lifted in stages across India, there is tempered optimism among marketers about a slow but sure revival of the economy. ET Insights conducted a survey among marketing stalwarts and leaders in the Indian industry to assess the impact of COVID-19, business sentiments, and changes the pandemic may have triggered.

In a survey of 500+ industry professionals, a cause for concern for 83% of respondents is uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic which they believe is causing the slowdown. While for 14% of those surveyed it was the fear of losing income,  3% believed that it is the expenditure on health and other areas that is creating anxiety.

A universal impact of the lockdown is that many companies have accelerated technology investments. Technology is being seen as an important tool to counter the impact of the pandemic on businesses. We also see a huge shift of marketing to online channels including social media, virtual conferencing, and content marketing.

Impact on marketing budgets

Nearly 67% of companies surveyed saw a negative impact on marketing budgets due to COVID-19. Though the percentage of budget cuts was disparate, certain factors – such as supply chain disruption – played a role in the decision to cut budgets. Many of the companies we surveyed had slashed a quarter of their marketing budgets but anticipated the situation to change once the lockdown was lifted completely.

Companies such as Microtech Solar had completely cut marketing budgets while financial services companies such as LIC Mutual Fund, IDBI Federal Life Insurance and IIFL Finance & Finance Securities saw budgets slashed by 20% or more.

Marketing budgets were also hurt because of a drop in sales. Sandeep Ganguly, Head-Sales and Marketing, D Flamante Corporation, said, “We expect Q1 sales to be just 30% of our target, affecting the marketing budget to the same extent.” He also expects manufacturing costs to rise due to safe distancing measures and maintaining of better hygiene in factories.

Technology takes centre-stage 

Companies we surveyed were unanimous about the importance of leveraging technology to fight the business impact of the pandemic. In fact, Vividus Hotel has moved to digital check-ins at its properties and contact-less dining at its restaurants. Chemicals manufacturer Yasho Industries said its R&D programmes would be key drivers of innovation.

Cactus Communications claims to have launched the world’s largest repository of available literature on COVID-19 from all the prominent sources and made it searchable using state-of-the-art AI technologies. “Our database is updated regularly. We are also looking beyond just English sources and will be covering content from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean publications, journals, and preprints,” said Dina Mukherjee, Director-Marketing.

According to Arpan Biswas, VP-Marketing, Housejoy, the online service provider had started selling groceries in a span of weeks, allowing it to be flexible and adapt its business model to market demand. His advice to companies: Think like a customer and do things that will have an impact on you. “If you are losing money per order, stop selling,” he said.

Orientbell Tiles has leveraged existing technology and addressed friction points in the purchase journey of a tile shopper, according to Alok Agarwal, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). “The company’s website allows a customer to select tiles by size, colour, and design and even allows the customer to visualize the interiors once an option is selected,” he added.

Using a ubiquitous platform like Facebook has helped Columbia Pacific Communities create meaningful engagements for senior citizens who are confined to their homes because of the health crisis. According to Piali Dasgupta, VP Marketing, the company launched The Living Room, a series of Facebook Live sessions with experts and celebrities such as comedian Anubav Pal, actor-director Nandita Das and cricket commentator Charu Sharma.

Ixigo has innovated its content marketing by reworking its processes to produce consistent video content from home. The company has experimented in new video formats, which have resulted in multiple videos going viral on WhatsApp and Facebook, said Aashish Chopra, VP-content marketing.

Sharjeel Siddiqui, CMO of Netsoftmate has an interesting observation, “Marketers are exploring platforms to reach target customers – B2B marketeers are adopting B2C techniques to convey their messaging.”

Here are some interesting takeaways from the survey: 

  • Impact on marketing budgets: 76% saw their marketing budgets being put aside as cost savings or investment corpus for future; 17% saw a positive impact with more budgets getting added and 7% saw the budget getting redirected to other departments
  • Shifting marketing: 43% said they would partially shift to online marketing; 38% said they would shift completely while the remainder had no intentions of making any change to the status quo
  • New marketing channels: 45% were considering social media; 36% content marketing; 14% were all for virtual conferences and 5% were looking to increase video/audio adverts
  • Pandemic-related marketing campaigns: 56% of the respondents shied away from creating COVID-19-related marketing campaigns while the rest were open to creating campaigns around the pandemic

And here are some marketing mantras from our stalwarts to help you cope with the crisis, and keep the faith for better times ahead: 

Vipul Oberoi, CMO, IIFL Finance & IIFL Securities, opined, “Like BC and AD, the post-2020 era will be known as PC (post-COVID). The ‘how’ in marketing will not change, but ‘what we communicate’ and ‘who to’ will. Engage with customers and stakeholders digitally and keep post-lockdown plans ready.”

Sachin KS, Director – Sales and Marketing, Vividus Hotels, stated, “Stay awake, do not stop if your units are still closed. Out of sight would be out of mind.”

Arun Malkani, Founder of AM Marketing, rounded off by saying, “Be relevant at all times especially during a crisis like the current one. Avoid being too opportunistic with integrations, people can see through that and it will backfire with a serious negative rub-off on the brand. Recognize the depth of the situation and keep the customer’s sensibilities as the priority.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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