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60th Episode: Media Communications & Brand Building insights with Sridhar Ramanujam

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Alliance University

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Dawning of a New Era

A person who may have gone into a coma in December 2019 and who has woke up in June 2020 would feel how ‘Rip van Winkle’, the protagonist of the story by the same name written by Washington Irving felt when he woke up after being asleep for 20 years. A world completely changed!

Now on, we could see the rise of the concepts of BC which refers to before Covid, DC i.e. During Covid and AC, After Covid

Everyone would be wearing masks, there are very few vehicles and people on the roads, Shops and shoppers behave differently — people have to clean their hands with sanitiser before being let into shops and supermarkets. There are fewer things to be on shop shelves.

The pandemic has affected nearly every sector and given birth to new business opportunities. It has forced almost every sector to innovate as there’s been a change in the consumer mindset. It’s been a great learning experience for every sector.

The Retailers Association of India (RAI) have seen its members seeing a shift from asset to experience creation for the shoppers. Also, individualisation is a major trend that is being seen across the world and along with it has come hyper-personalisation. Perhaps the scariest bit for retailers would probably be the shift to minimalism, the people buying just what they need and not buying what they want! A development that must be keeping Dr Harish Bhatt, Director-Marketing and Communication, RAI, when speaking at a CII webinar held recently. .

The CoViD-19 pandemic that swept across the world, affecting at least 197 countries, sparing only a few very small innocuous island nations. By the time the pandemic passes over, it would have left in its wake a completely different world.

The CoViD-19 pandemic is a great learning experience. It has accelerated the time taken for business transformation. From a period of five to ten years it took for businesses and the economy to transform, businesses have transformed within just two-three months of the onset of the pandemic.

An interesting change in sentiments is that of pre-conceived notions and paranoia impacting people’s behaviour. One sphere that has seen a big impact is in the business sentiment. “What can improve our lives post-CoViD-19 is expectations.” believes V Rajesh, a Retail and Shopping Behaviour Expert.
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We can understand how subjective aspects affect our behaviours. “We are aspiration-driven, says Ke Ranganathan, Managing Director, Roca Bathroom Products Pvt Ltd, the world’s largest bathroom solutions maker, “We are aspirations-driven and expectation that will improve our lives.”

Consumers are driven by uncertainty and fear, while they are looking for convenience and a desire for privacy. Today people want to be trendy.

Satyakam Arya, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles Ltd, expects vengeance buying once the situation normalises. That’s probably the warning about the Irrational Exuberance that could take over once the consumers return and with them the spending. Reboot, Resilience, Reimagine and Reform are the buzzwords that would bring the economy out of the rut.

Every sector would go through the process.

As an example, the supposedly recession-proof Healthcare sector is being transformed, it has seen a paradigm shift. Telemedicine has now taken centre stage and there’s a change in the mindset of the patient today. Clinical examination is being replaced by investigative examination!.

All fixed costs have moved into variables now, across sectors.

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brand-comm’s Webinar Decodes the Future in Post-CoViD-19 World

brand-comm held its fifth webinar in its brand-comm Connect Series here on Thursday. Despite being a working day, a significant number of people tuned in across various platforms to hear the eclectic panel discussing ‘How Are Businesses Donning An All-New Avatar‘.
With K Giriprakash, Associate Editor and Chief of Bureau at Business Line, moderating the webinar, it had an eminent panel made of C S Sudheer, Founder & CEO, IndianMoney.com, Sudhakar Rao, Director-Branding, ICFAI Group, and Rajesh B, Founder & CEO, SmarterBiz.
Speaking of the current situation where educational institutions are leveraging technology, Rao said, there would be three phases of adoption. In the first phase, it was about identifying the technology tools required for conducting the classes. In phase II, they would use white label learning manual system and phase II is seeing an open learning management system.
Rao said Phase III is still on. He added that the future would see a blended learning method where institutions would use both online and classroom teaching to optimise the imparting of the education. He believes, “The smartest will survive, not the fittest. The smartest alone would be able to wade through troubled waters. Those who have inherited a legacy system cannot survive.”
The Rs 7.5 trillion sector which caters to 37 crore students may be in for an overhaul, going by the words of Rao. “Subscriptions to edutech services have risen 3X,” he said.
Sudheer, who has been offering financial education for nearly a decade, had some incisive views to share. At this extraordinary time, “people have realised how little they need to live”.  Also, he said people have realised the need to save money for the rainy day, a belief that’s come following the evaporating of the jobs and incomes overnight. He shared an insight on how people who had limited commitments have survived, while those with heavy commitments are unable to repay their loans.
He shared an interesting insight that though people were now earning less, they were saving more. IndianMoney.com that offers investor education now receives more enquiries on saving and investments..
Rajesh, while speaking of the current situation, said, “CoViD-19 will have an impact for 8-10 months.” But, he sees the logistics sector seeing a steep recovery. One development is that of the mainstreaming of the gig economy which has responded well to the crisis. The term has its origins in the sub-prime crisis of 2008 that saw many of those in the tech sector take to gig work. Now Karnataka, he said, has a policy for gig workers.
Among the sectors he sees surviving the crisis include e-commerce, computing, telcos, financial services and education.
The change in mindsets of the millennials is what he finds most striking. “About 30-40% of millennials want jobs, not careers. They have multiple skills and believe in self-learning. This is enabling gig as a prominent means.
The webinar brought to the fore that cross-learning, unlearning, relearning, pivoting at country and family level may be in. Since there’s the trend of the remote workspace, mobility-challenged workforce i.e. women will work remotely. This would lead to a better distribution of wealth.
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Business Unlock 1.0: How Marketers are redesigning their strategies

As the economy unlocks in controlled phases, businesses must now restructure their models, communication channels and messaging. CoViD-19 has brought about a change in how brands portray themselves to and engage with their customers, adding an aspect of sensitivity to the messages being sent out.

Chapter 4 of the ‘brand-comm Connect’ saw industry stalwarts debate and share their valuable insights on the topic ‘Business Unlock 1.0: How Marketers are Redesigning Their Strategies‘. Ramesh Jude Thomas, President and Chief Knowledge Officer, EQUiTOR Value Advisory Pvt. Ltd, was in conversation with Diptakirti Chaudhuri, Head of Marketing, Manipal Global Education Services, Shweta Berry, Head of Strategic Alliances – Industry & Academia, Marcom and CSR, Aeris Communications, Prasad Mane, Assistant Vice-President, Marketing, Bhartiya City Developers and Dr Gururaj H Kidiyoor, Professor & Chairperson – MSM Program, T. A. Pai Management Institute (TAPMI).

Quite a few insights emerged from the discussion.

Role of Leadership
The correct leadership will enable businesses to steer smoothly and steadily during the pandemic, towards sustainability, to prolong their business. On this, Dr Guru remarked, “Academic leadership is the pioneer in creation, dissemination and application of knowledge. Today, most institutes are able to create and disseminate knowledge through various digital tools and platforms. It’s creating the aspect of applicability that is a concern, and we see that outbound marketing activities have taken a huge hit. Internships are another area that have taken a hit. It is said that 10-15% of recruitment happens through internships, but are no longer possible. Fixing this requires strict innovation on how we can digitally ensure placements happen effectively.”

Role of Engagement
Prasad pointed out, “Today, it is important that we look at creating products that kindle curiosity amongst users. The industry and the customers need a differentiator in every product they are using, and in order to entice them, it is necessary to create curiosity for the product.”
Shwetha emphasised the need to have a customer-centric model, stating, “ Brands need to move from product-centric models to customer-centric models. If you don’t shift, it is impossible for brands to sustain in the changing environments. Adoption, agility, flexibility, keen listening and comprehending the needs of the customer will help in business continuity. Brands mustn’t dictate, but listen to customers.
Diptakirti added, “Marketing tools we had at the beginning of March 2020, were sufficient for the last 3 months. However, CoViD-19 has made us question the use of certain tools and their value while pushing us to innovate.”

Customer Relations
Speaking on the challenges faced in customer relations, Prasad said, “The situation has opened our eyes to the different methods of enticing customers, making us evaluate the avenues at hand, and how do they impact us.”
Shwetha added, “It’s important to understand how brands have evolved their communication and engagement with customers. Today, there is an added angle of safety, and the FMCG sector has been able to disrupt its customer relations. During the pandemic, they brought their products right to your doorsteps through various platforms. Technology is going to play a huge role in customer experience with contactless systems.”
Diptakirti expressed his thoughts on the on-going evolution of customer experience and its importance in sensitising the stakeholders to the change while allowing them to get used to the new changes that are happening.
The panel agreed that brands must recognise there will be a shift in customer preferences of consuming products and services. Further, the availability has played a major role in what the consumer prefers to buy, and hence brands must cater to ensuring product availability.

Collateral Damage
The panel also deliberated on how the pandemic would create casualties in the economy, with businesses shutting down, downscaling units and verticals, loss of jobs, just to name a few.
On the topic, Shwetha said, “There is a need for brands to collaborate with other brands, ensure that your company is debt-free. It is important that brands partner like-minded and equal peers, in order to sustain a healthy relationship. Acquisition is going to be a huge tool for bigger brands to help the younger or smaller brands survive.” Prasad spoke on the importance of changing business models to ensure brands survive the fallout. Players are collaborating with technology partners to enhance their business models and be relevant to a larger audience.

In conclusion, the panel agreed that companies will remodel their marketing practices to ensure they are relevant to their target audience.

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The Gen Z challenge

Each generation thinks it’s unique, including mine, and look where we are now! Let’s not deny that communicating effectively with any generation poses a challenge. Crucial to sorting facing up to challenge is the answer to the basic question “whom are we talking to”? Since we are talking to generation Z, we need to understand them, however we can! What we do know is that many of them belong to the latchkey generation, often living away from their doting grandparents. To them, multitasking is as simple as guzzling beer at a microbrewery. They have an attention span that might shame CEOs. They can’t read anything that is voluminous even if it is to save their lives. This generation is consumed by the visual medium. So what does that mean for those of us who are in communication?

Keep it simple, silly

Let’s remember that this generation doesn’t have time so brevity really has to be the soul of wit. Obtuse, complex statements won’t work. Be snappy in your communication. But remember the importance of strategy in communication. And what is strategy? Strategy in this case is what is being said. So what will be our messaging be? That’s critical. No less important will be our execution. Even more important is it for generation Z. They love snazzy executions that capture their fancy, engage them and they can share comfortably without a loss of face.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the challenge

We live in challenging times with a proliferation of media and a disinterested Gen Z. Let’s research our audience, gear ourselves up for the task at hand so that we can treat this as an opportunity and not as a challenge. I am sure we will be more than equal to the challenge in the present as we have been in the past. The key is professionalism.
How professional are we?

– Ramanujam Sridhar