“Marketing budgets can be supported through pooling policies”
Dr N K Sharma, Former Professor, Marketing, IIT Kanpur, suggests that companies manage their marketing budgets through consortia. This can help reduce the cost and the benefit can be passed on to the consumer.
TPCI: At a time when the market is down and restricted to a few essential categories, how do you view the importance of marketing communications by companies to their target audiences? What should be the new communication approach and strategy?
N K Sharma: Marketing communications are always critical and important to inform, educate and update consumers. In order to make the communication relevant and consumer-centric, a company should tell, and demonstrate through visuals, what the consumer gets in its product. The focus should be on excellence through quality and service.
TPCI: Given the emphasis on social distancing and hygiene, what key adaptations do you deem necessary for companies in their supply chain management?
N K Sharma: To perform in the post-COVID competitive scenario, companies must open to public scrutiny the steps they take at various stages of the supply chain, including procurement, processing, packaging, storage and distribution. The steps should ensure hygiene, safety and general wellbeing for all stakeholders. The demand for green human resources will be on the rise during the changed scenario. Companies will have to declare their recruitment policy to let consumers know that their manpower is aware of, and trained on matters of concern to the user of their products.
The situation is not going to be normal very quickly. I conjecture that the marketers will find it difficult to do business the way they were doing earlier. Customers will get used to new ways of buying. Instead of visiting retail stores and comparing, more consumers are likely to find the alternative of sitting in the cosy comfort of their home and getting things delivered as a preferable option. Consumers will continue to do so even when the situation eases.
TPCI: What major changes do you anticipate in customer behaviour, approach to consumer brands and buying patterns when the lockdown opens? What kind of opportunities does this open up for marketers?
N K Sharma: Customers will look for stronger and higher number of assurances than at present, expect better quality products, compare more alternatives online and will want better value for their money. Consumer brands will face the problem of customer loyalty. Brands will have to work harder to retain customers since face-to-face interaction with the retailer will be on the decline. Family members are likely to have more differences in their preference for a specific brand. Companies will have to develop new segmentation strategies.
TPCI: The role of e-commerce is expected to increase drastically in the coming months, as retail stores and malls become more or less forbidden territory. What should Indian consumer brands do to prepare for this shift?
N K Sharma: As e-commerce goes to new heights, the role of efficiency will become very important. A consumer brand will need to fulfil tomorrow’s needs of consumers TODAY. It should remind the consumers of their next need in time, and how they should be prepared to meet that need. The brand will have to engage the customers so it becomes personally important to them.
TPCI: What impact do you expect on allocation of media budgets post-lockdown, especially the role of digital channels? How do you perceive the importance of content marketing in this context?
N K Sharma: There will be a decline in discretionary income of consumers, which is likely to have impact for quite some time. Necessarily, this will influence media budgets (if people can’t buy a product, what do you promote?). At the same time, companies will have to work towards sustaining customers’ memories about their products to avoid any cognitive bias when the situation improves. Therefore, content marketing will be on the rise (and a must for competing brands).
TPCI: Marketing budgets are expected to be under pressure as businesses try to revive their fortunes in a post-COVID world. What should be their approach to marketing budget optimisation in this period in your view to maximise impact at minimum possible costs?
N K Sharma: Individual companies will face the daunting task of finding marketing budgetary support from within their individual means. They will need to evolve pooling policies and form confederations. In the changed marketing scenario where consumers will utilize saved travel time (less/no visits to malls and retail shops) to make more online comparisons, individual marketing budgets will neither be sufficient nor that effective.
What should be the share of a company in the pool? One possibility is to contribute according to the market share. Cost of communication should be reduced and the benefit of that should go to the consumer. In particular, small companies can derive considerable competitive advantage through the pooling strategy.
Nowadays the concept of green HR is emerging, where people are looking for companies that talk about environment-friendly processes on their website. University students are also increasingly showing a preference for such companies despite relatively lower remuneration. So, if I know today that the company is green and hygienic, and the people involved are also educated and trained, that makes a lot of sense.
Dr Narendra Kr Sharma is Former Professor (HAG), IIT Kanpur. He has over 50 years of teaching and research experience and his key interest areas in research are cognitive psychology, organization behaviour, consumer behaviour and other areas of psychology and management. He has also conducted workshops and seminars in organisations like HAL, GAIL, NTPC, AMITY (Lucknow and Jaipur), NADP, LML, RECs (NITs), IITs and other organizations.`