Subramanyeswar S

Group CSO, MullenLowe Lintas Group

1. The situation we find ourselves in is completely unprecedented. Can you share some thoughts on the 'shape of the new normal?

Yes, the outbreak is turning or turned a health crisis into a humanitarian and economic shock of unprecedented proportions. Even the frequency of use of the word 'unprecedented' is unprecedented at the moment. According to Google Trends it's been used three times more over the last two weeks than the highest point recorded previously.

It is a war like situation at the moment. As the biggest global event and challenge of our times, it is changing human attitudes, behaviours, perhaps values, and belief systems too, and forcing businesses to respond. We are forced to imagine the world anew.

Just as any of the previous pandemics of this magnitude brought decisive shifts, like power to labour by ending feudalism in Europe after the plague, centralised public healthcare systems and employer insurance schemes after the Spanish flu, or the rise of e-commerce after the SARS, the post COVID-19 world too will see major human implications that will make businesses to reinvent themselves.

Some of the key changes that we feel will happen are, every business will be a health business in some form because concern for health will be the most dominant conversation in every section of the society, cocooning that will bring changes in the way we employ, eat and entertain ourselves as we spend more time at home, the shift towards localisation as fears about products originating from virus affected countries rise, balance in gender roles as the couples become more empathetic towards each other, like actually sharing childcare and domestic work 50/50, leading to more equal work places, and a more equal society, accelerated trend towards purpose with brands taking a definitive stance towards solving human problems over selling products, and getting digitally active in every context of life. And lastly, addressing the dent in confidence that the human sentiment got hit with on every front.

2. What is your take on the changing consumer behavior? Do you also feel that some of these behaviors are here for good, even in the post covid world.?

When most recessions have stopped, consumers' attitudes and behaviors by and large returned to "normal" within a year or little more than that. Following more extreme downturns, though, consumers' heightened sense of economic vulnerability can persist for a long time. The magnitude of bad economic news this time is eroding confidence and buying power, and it will drive consumers to adjust their behaviour in fundamental and perhaps permanent ways. In a young and genetically scarcity-led (we became consumption-driven only from 1992) country like India, they may also realize that spending over the last few or many years was built on a quicksand of debt and dwindling savings. The shock of the downturn and the anger or helplessness may accelerate preexisting trends toward savings, reduced materialism, demand for sustainability, higher expectations of corporate social responsibility, and deeper brand meaning.

At the same time, a series of corporate dishonours, slowdown in financial and housing sectors, demonetization, yet-to settled implementation of GST, and taxpayer bailouts of mismanaged businesses will all combine and may foster consumer distrust and skepticism. All these collective effects create a profound challenge for businesses, not only during the current crisis, but also in the recovery that will eventually follow, however soon or later.

3. How are you planning to help your clients come back to business post the Lockdown restrictions ease? How is Lintas working around it?

There is always a premium on fearless thought leadership during crises. We will continue to be the understanding partners and provide that leadership to our clients as we have always done in navigating the maze. We are already doing it more vigorously now, rising to the occasion. And the engagement will only get hyper.

4. Do you see this pandemic accelerate the digital transformation process that some brands have been working on? What are the brand/marketing trends here to stay?

The pandemic has put the attention on all aspects of marketing. There has never been a better time for digital marketing to come to the fore than today. And for many brands, it'll be the deciding factor in whether they make it through the current testing and come out as winners or fall by the way side.

When crises of such magnitude happen affecting people's lifestyle and life situations, it leads to drastic changes and it's important to get under the skin to understand consumers' emotional reactions to the economic environment they found themselves in. That will give us an understanding of the new mindsets with which they perceive and prefer brands. Just to mention some of the trends that are here to stay for a considerable amount of time

  • Instead of shopping people will start buying
  • People will get immune to sales
  • They will reduce wherever possible and alter whatever they can. Prioritize and make tough choices. Not just idealistic but a pragmatic shift grounded in practicality
  • Need will beat wants. Discretionary purchases will be delayed
  • Value will beat difference. Some differences are fine but value has to lead
  • Self-reliance or what we call DIY will become the new norm in several aspects of our lives
  • Will be reluctant to indulge in conspicuous consumption, trading for good experiences and not possessions
  • Time tested and Trust worthy brands will gain currency over new ones
  • Sacrifice will get added to our vocabulary

The bottom-line is that for every brand it's time for authentic action and not words.