The evolving nature of the brand-consumer dynamic

The Covid-19 pandemic has re-shaped relationships in unprecedented ways, and the evolution of engagement between brands and consumers has not been any different. The exceptional times made all of us face a new reality – new behaviors emerged, consumption patterns evolved, and brands had to re-think and re-evaluate strategies to adapt to changing consumer disposition.

Safety and hygiene took precedence across all interactions; at-home consumption rose as home became the new social hub; affordability became a key factor for consumer decisions across categories; and consumers started choosing brands which rose to the occasion at hand. The last few months also saw an emergence of how a trusted brand would behave and communicate.

At PepsiCo India, we conducted a research on the shift in consumption behaviors during the lockdown period and three main pillars emerged, that are now core to our marketing and communication strategies across our brands. These three pillars are Hope, Trust and Fun.

Hope is tied very closely to empathy. Brands need to be empathic and craft messages which are reassuring and relatable to consumers in these unprecedented times. Secondly, with uncertainty all around, consumers want to reach out to brands whom they can relate to and those that provide them value for money. That’s where trust comes into play. Now more than ever, consumers need to see brands walk the talk in everything they do – whether it is the core product promise or leading a cause to support communities.

Lastly, we found that consumers want to have fun. They are working twice as hard, donning multiple hats and with sources of entertainment and recreation being limited, brands have become enablers to give them that opportunity to engage and feel creative.

We emerged stronger and better equipped for success by understanding these consumer needs and sentiments and matching it with strategies across the portfolio, with campaigns such as Pepsi Salaam/Namaste Lay’s Heartwork and Pepsi Save Our Restaurants.

Each campaign built on a different pillar which emerged from our research. Pepsi Salaam/Namaste aimed to promote social distancing while encouraging people to maintain connections responsibly, while the Lay’s Heartwork initiative recognized the effort of our entire value chain to keep bringing joy to our consumers. As part of the initiative, PepsiCo partnered with the Smile Foundation to provide hygiene kits to over 100,000 unsung heroes and their families.

Similarly, Pepsi’s Save Our Restaurants initiative was also built on the belief that we need to find various meaningful ways to provide support to the ecosystem. With cause at the heart of it, the initiative saw us partner with the National Restaurant Association of India and delivery aggregator Swiggy, to provide 2.5 million meals to the workers of the restaurant community who were in distress.

However, consumers were also looking for brands to delight them when it came to product offering and access. Brands across sectors tried (and continue to) to innovate and adapt to the new normal by bringing in changes to their retail models. With this in mind, we went ‘contactless’ and deployed Aquafina water dispensers, which required minimal human intervention.

Similarly, where once physical distribution might have been enough, innovation became key. We partnered with Swiggy and Dunzo to ensure uninterrupted availability of our food and beverage products to consumers across locations, within an hour of ordering. PepsiCo also explored the emerging eB2B model for brands in the beverage portfolio wherein we entered a close partnership with B2B platform Udaan and online grocery service BigBasket to help SMEs.

The last few months have been a steep learning curve for the entire FMCG industry.  But  at PepsiCo India, we believe that COVID-19., needs to be viewed not just a disruption as but an acceleration trigger. Brands need to take the lessons from the health challenge and apply them at every step of the way going forward. The key mantra for the industry is to listen to the consumer, adapt and evolve. Brands which follow an agile, consumer-centric approach are more likely to thrive – now and forever.

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

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