Creativity, Purpose & Collaboration In Covid Times

The pandemic has altered the way we live. Marketers have been up for this challenge and braved it well through these 3 ways

The last 15 months have been hyperactive for the business and marketing community. We have seen a lot of doing, but we have also seen a lot of quick thinking. Throughout the pandemic, the CMOs and their teams have been extremely busy trying to identify the challenges people face and then finding innovative ways to use any and every way in which their brand can solve them.

We have seen some very good examples of creative and innovative thinking to solve business and marketing challenges. We have seen a rapid increase in the application of data science and AI in marketing to deliver insights and innovative solutions. Tata Motors deployed an AI Voice bot to launch their premium hatchback, Altroz, and helped people get the showroom experience while locked down in their homes. Similarly, high ticket value brands such as Tanishq and Raymond have also replicated the customer experience through a Phygital model.

During the Covid times, we can broadly categorise the challenges that brands faced into three buckets…

Brands that became hyper-relevant

These would be the health and hygiene, packaged foods, Google, social media, and OTT entertainment. These CMOs and their teams went into hyper-activity as they had to respond fast to stay hyper-connected to their customers and make their products available. Some brands here were Lifebuoy, Domex, Nature Protect (which was in fact launched during the pandemic) in the Household category. Britannia, Amul, Knorr, Kissan, Dabur, Tata Tea and many more in the Foods category. Google became more relevant as people searched to make sense of the pandemic and looked for ways to make online payments, video calls etc. CMOs had to be super agile. Finding new claims that were Covid relevant and creating content to educate. Lifebuoy launched a massive global behaviour change campaign, “H for Handwashing”. Amul created a lot of content to inspire home-cooks. Some brands even launched new products during this time- like Saffola Oodles (oat-based noodles filling the gap to feed kids nutritious snacks while they are homebound 24X7)

Brands with reduced relevance

These would be apparel, beauty and make up, automotive, travel, tourism and hospitality. Here again, CMOs moved with agility to innovate and offer variants/extensions with better relevance. Almost every apparel brand extended to leisure wear and masks. Detergent brands innovated with sanitizer variant, while product sales of prestige beauty and makeup declined a respective 55% and 75% relative to 2019’s numbers, eye cosmetics—which, of course, are visible above the mask line—saw sales rise 150%, while nail products were up fully 218%.

Brands that suddenly became unjustified or unaffordable

With so many livelihoods lost and the prospects not exactly looking very bright, how do you keep your consumer from either slipping into a lower tier price brand or into unbranded/proxy usage? Here, strategies such as value packs and small packs, higher order benefits etc. are being used to improve the value perception. Brands with strong equity would generally hold on to the consumer. So, the learning here is to continue to invest behind equity-building initiatives.

Here are 3 of my key learnings picked up from work and interactions right through these difficult 15 months.

1) Rise of innovation and creativity in marketing and business. This is not unique to Covid. We know that historically, some of the best innovations have taken place during times of crisis, war or pandemic. In case you had not heard, Sir Isaac Newton came up with his theory of gravity and Shakespeare wrote King Lear during times of plague. When our lives and our world undergo drastic changes, our minds change, too—often opening a new level of our own creative potential. Also, the rules we created are now changing, and therefore forced to think differently. There is enough evidence to say that creativity and innovation soar in times of crisis. There is a scientific term for this process: post-traumatic growth. The term was coined in the ‘90s by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, University of North Carolina psychologists, who were studying cases of individuals who experienced profound transformation as they coped with challenging life circumstances.

2) Brands that have a strong brand purpose were much better in being able to synch their tactical moves to the overall brand narrative… Lifebuoy was a brand born out of a health crisis in 1894 owing to the Plague and Cholera. So, saving lives is at the very heart of the brand. Everything Lifebuoy did in 2020 and 2021 is to fulfil its purpose of saving lives. It ran a huge-behaviour change campaigns to tell people to wash hands and wear masks. Similarly, Google’s purpose is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Again, Google was guided by this purpose when it helped people make sense and keep track of the pandemic and helping them deal with it by pulling resources from the internet.

3) CMOs need to look at opportunities where they can feed off the strengths of other organisations and build business synergies. Successful businesses must cultivate and build on strong collaborations and extraordinary partnerships. During the pandemic, we have seen companies work with partners in new ways to achieve extraordinary impact. There are many examples around us. There is one that I was a part of - Kaam Wapasi. It was a collaborative initiative to help connect migrant workers to prospective employers using a simple tech platform. Zee TV, Airtel, Axis Bank and Radio City came together with Lowe Lintas to build and promote this platform. All partners believed in the cause and brought together their unique strengths to play.

The pandemic has altered the way we live. Marketers have been up for this challenge and braved it well. Creative thinking during a crisis, brand purpose and a keen eye for collaborations and partnerships, are 3 pillars that will help businesses stay on top of the game!

The author is Virat Tandon – Group CEO, MullenLowe Lintas Group

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