The marketer’s guide for the post COVID-19 era

India cannot afford to have a complete lockdown for months on end, but a complete return to pre-COVID-19 days is also out of question. Along with life, the way marketing has been done will also undergo a change.

The lockdown is here, and it is the new normal. As a country, India cannot afford to have a complete lockdown for months on end, but a complete return to pre-COVID-19 days is also out of the question. It takes just one infection in a community to restart the cycle again.

So, in all probability, it will be a phased approach to lift the lockdown, with factory operations having partial headcount, movement of both essential and non-essential goods allowed, grocery store operations being given go-ahead, and e-commerce for most categories being allowed. Hotspots and clusters will however continue to be isolated with the imposition of Section 144 and police patrols.

Along with life, the way marketing has been done will also undergo a change. Some questions marketers will have to grapple with are: How will my target segment’s behaviour change? How will their altered lifestyle impact marketing messages? Has the wallet share for my category expanded or shrunk? How will the big festive months change in 2020 and beyond? How can I conceptualise and execute campaigns while the team is remote?

There are, and will always be, some constants

Consumers will remain emotional beings: Everybody believes that they are rational consumers, but decades of research has proven it wrong. Consumers still make very emotional decisions when it comes to what they buy.

Consumers continue to seek value: The value could be in the savings the customers get from a discount sale, or in terms of getting a good warranty period, or perceived additional features compared to competitors.

Consumers will seek a vote of trust: Back in the days with only mass media, this meant having a share of voice on expensive ATL media. But now, there are proxies, such as word of mouth or testimonials or finding someone in your network who has bought the product/service. How they get it has changed, but they definitely seek it before buying.

Consumers value both product and service: Even if you are only selling a product, the post-sales service and the quality of your relationship with the customer will determine how they remember your brand. The days of selling something and disappearing into thin air are over.

Here are a few changes that will inexorably occur in the coming months in how the marketing departments of most companies will function.

Buying behaviour

Estimates put the number of job losses in India at 12 crores since around the time the lockdown came into force, about 27.7 percent of the working age population was unemployed. Starting with the daily wage earners and going all the way to white collar workers, this will definitely have a ripple effect across all consumer segments. It is not rational, but a knee-jerk reaction to all the negative news surrounding us. Consumers will tighten their purse strings and will instinctively want to spend less. They will have concerns about salary cuts, getting laid off or worse, huge medical bills if someone in their family is infected.

Implication – marketers have to work at truly demonstrating that value is added to the consumer’s life to make the sale happen.

TV consumption

A Nielsen report from the first week of April 2020 says that television viewing in India has gone up by 43 percent, and those who spend more than three hours in front of their TV screens has gone up to 63 percent. Each of the 592 million users are watching about three hours and 51 minutes of TV per day. Most of this growth is coming in non-prime time, which means people are watching TV during the day time, while they are working from home.

Implication – if you happen to have ready TV advertisements, it might be worth spending some money to remain in the consumer consideration set.

Smartphone consumption

Average smartphone usage has increased by nearly six to eight percent and is inching towards the 25 hours per week mark as of April 2020. At the same time, various industry reports estimate that CPM of Google and Facebook has fallen by 20 to 50 percent and CPC has fallen by 10 to 25 percent. Brands have pulled the plug on advertising budgets and are avoiding the spend to conserve cash. Even if they want to spend, they cannot spend with the standard call to action of “buy our product”.

Implication – create content and campaigns to engage with your community of users and add value to their life during the lockdown and stay relevant to them.

Brand perception

In these difficult times, emotions run high. Research has shown that most consumers are highly polarised during difficult times. Meaning, they tend to be overly optimistic or overly pessimistic in their outlook to life, thus making them all sensitive to various topics. This means that brands cannot be seen hard-selling their products, nor can they be perceived as callous and indifferent to the plight of their community. They have to walk the fine balance of engaging their audience, adding value to their life and retaining top of mind recall.

Implication – think through your content and social media strategy and be sure to handle sensitive topics delicately.


Creating a successful campaign usually involves programme management across multiple teams and companies. A good campaign requires fine orchestration between the various moving parts to ensure that the production, dissemination, PR and advertising budgets all work seamlessly. Gone are the days of long drawn production planning meets, complex shoots involving 50 people on the set and in-person meetings to plan the launch.

Implication – brands need to figure out rapid prototyping, remote execution and very lean shoots to ensure social distancing.

In essence, marketers will need to learn to navigate the new world, one in which consumers have evolved drastically, and yet remained same in many core ways.

Edited by Javed Gaihlot

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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