There’s something about festivals that rubs off hope even on the most die-hard of cynics. That is especially true for India. Festivals in India symbolize auspicious beginnings and prosperity. This is why the festival season this year is being seen as a harbinger of a positive wave— lifting the pall of gloom and the dense sense of inertia that has descended on us owing to the pandemic.
A recent study conducted by Deloitte India reports that consumer anxiety around finances, health, spending, and mobility was down to 36% in August from the 41% reported in April.
Boston Consulting Group’s August survey also indicates similar findings with 66% of customers admitting that they have been visiting friends, up from 10% doing so in May.
Despite the pandemic, the mood of the consumer remains strong as the festive season approaches.
The Road to re-build
The pandemic’s initial stage impact shook consumer confidence and impacted buying power, making them choose cheaper alternatives or hold back from unnecessary expenditure.
Whether during the festive-season shopping window consumers go back to their old purchase habits is yet to be seen, but an InMobi study interestingly indicates that 71% consumers are unplanned or undecided about their shopping plans. Considering festivals in general validate indulgence and justify a little splurging to beat away the recession blues, this would be an ideal time for brands to sit up and take note to ensure they are grasping consumer attention when and where it matters most.
The Challenge For Brands
● Brick-and-Mortar needs a re-jig
As things stand, shelf space has almost entirely gone digital. With stores competing with e-commerce, brands will need to pivot the in-store experience for consumers, especially keeping the upcoming festive season in mind. Stores will retain their significance in a brand’s journey as they offer aspects of the retail experience where e-commerce struggles. The in-person, touch and feel, face to face physical experiences consumers can’t get online. Physical stores also help drive discovery of newer brands and offerings.
Despite the retail reset that is sure to set-in in some form or the other, some experiences that the brick-and-mortar model enables will remain irreplaceable. People are inherently social and options of dining, live shows, events and classes etc will continue to find favor as long as venues are observing social distancing guidelines. These experiences work to build a deeper connection with the brand.
For instance, for Twinings, the well known London based tea brand, their flagship store is the city’s oldest tea shop. Their store does more than simply sell varieties of tea— turning it into a lifestyle-driven, immersive retail experience and tourist destination. Being mindful of the shifting consumer behavior, brands will need to get similarly creative about the retail experience, as not only will the consumers’ visits be limited, their purchases will also be planned and measured.
● Digital can feel impersonal
When the consumer is having a sterile interface with the brand through his laptop or smartphone, the same rich connection to hold brand loyalty can still be provided:
Increase share of voice- Being heard by acknowledging the impacted consumer psychology when the chips are down, is what catapults a brand into becoming a comforting partner in the consumers’ journey.
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Nike’s “For once, Don’t do it” anti-racism message is a powerful example of sharing the struggles of the consumers, making Nike an unequivocal voice for consumers.
Currently, it will be natural for consumers to become price-sensitive and attempt to adjust their behavior in response to the bad economic times. Their favored brands acknowledging the dip in consumer sentiment with a well-meaning “We’ll get through this together” approach can help keep hard-earned brand loyalists from leaving. Following a market slowdown in the U.S in 2008, De Beers ran successful brand-awareness ads with the message “Here’s to less,” urging consumers to buy better albeit fewer things because “a diamond is forever.”
Evidently, without altering their fundamental proposition or position, brands can continue to appeal to value conscious consumers by pivoting their product development and marketing strategies. Promotional tactics like multiple-unit pricing, markdowns, price bundling, easy financing schemes, higher discounts, gifts and vouchers are all effective ways to make the most of the festival buying window.
Reorient customer interactions: Brands are faced with the challenge of creating and managing brand trust from a remote space. Traditional retail has taken the backseat, and it seems like the trend might be here to stay as consumers are avoiding crowded marketplaces.
Through digital experiential marketing, brands can find new ways to build emotional bonds in the absence of traditional interactions. The approach can be tailor-made to fit the brand positioning and voice, keeping in mind the target audiences. An Inmobi research states that while 63% consumers now learn about products on the phone, 77% consumers do their research on their phones mobile, and 62% buy through their phones. Even when consumers are in-store, the phone remains the preferred mode for their research and exploration. Building a social media presence, influencer marketing, informative videos, running campaigns that personalize products, and inviting user engagement are great ways to reach the consumer in times when the entire consumer base is online. Setting up mobile stores in residential spaces is another way to reach consumers when they are hesitant to reach out to you.
Chip-off marketing spend astutely: The current times require strategic thinking and staying nimble. This is not the time to lob off marketing budgets substantially. Brands need to reinvent ways to reach their consumers in order to boost financial performance. In conjunction with the key marketing tactics suggested above, packaging design in the festive season will also enhance both the brand image and the user experience. Ideas to make the unboxing experience a memorable one to make the consumer at home feel special will go a long way. Effective brand packaging makes for impressive brand interaction in times when the shelf has gone digital.
A healthy brand is like a living breathing entity which responds to consumer sentiment, grabbing attention and brand love. A recent YouGov survey that gauged consumer sentiment around the festive season found that 43% Indians are likely to spend more this Diwali season as compared to the festival last year. This “revenge buying syndrome” is understandable given the pent up frustration. Brands must stay on-point when rolling out their festival season shop windows in order to stand-out.
The author is the consultant director – India and South East Asia, bluemarlin.