Retailers in India - like the rest of the world - are experiencing shockwaves from the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak, with brick and mortar stores closing and consumer sentiment plummeting. Unfortunately, brands don’t have a blueprint to navigate this situation which is both unpredictable and unprecedented.
What is clear is that marketers will have to act nimbly to frame a new response, as the Chinese experience shows. A BCG analysis on how Chinese companies responded through the COVID-19 crisis found that retailers who pivoted quickly by creatively driving sales online, were able to regain lost ground after store closures.
Looking beyond the current crisis, marketers in India have to think innovatively and plan ahead, because we may be heading into an extended future where social distancing becomes the new normal. The good news is, advertisers have an exciting canvas of tech-powered experiences online they can choose from, which make the path to purchase seamless for consumers. Brands in India also have a growing tribe to market to - the significant user base in our metros who favour shopping online.
By adapting their strategies to connect with consumers and their passions online, advertisers can future-proof their brands for the prolonged period ahead, when online buying could be a more preferred and perhaps the only option available.
Content and commerce: Help consumers find what they need, when they need it
Indians are adapting to a new way of life and working. We all need to be equipped to work productively from home, while keeping our kids occupied through the summer vacation -- definitely the tougher challenge! At a time like this, marketers must find ways to deliver experiences that are relevant and provide utility for consumers who are varyingly bored, busy or balancing conflicting priorities.
Shoppable content -- where editorial content bridges the gap between discovery & purchase -- can be a powerful way for brands to reach consumers through a format that feels intuitive, is useful and topical. Right now, we see users searching for news and information to stay productive (and sane!) as they work remotely. It is an opportunity for brands to reach consumers with content that can drive purchases that are helpful and timely for them. Editorially curated content and ideas to help users work more effectively from home and balance family can be accompanied by the apps and products that make this a more seamless transition. Shoppable content has been found to be so effective because it brings together context and convenience with information and inspiration, in a way that doesn’t feel forced for the consumer but is helpful in the moment.
There’s a synergy between content and commerce, which can come together effectively through experiential marketing, live events, games, video, immersive experiences and more - depending on how marketers explore the opportunity. When it was hit by store closures due to COVID-19, Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan live streamed sessions on Valentine’s Day to recommend products on e-commerce channels, leading to bumper sales. In the absence of physical store visits, commerce experiences that bring together value and utility can help consumers discover, explore and interact with your brand, and importantly for retailers, turn browsing into buying.
The ad formats that can ‘virtually’ replace a store visit
A friend of mine recently wanted to buy a second study table, now that his wife and he are both working from home. But they don’t want something “that juts out oddly” from the space they have earmarked. At a time when consumers can no longer visit a store to see a product physically, formats like Augmented Reality (AR) native ads can prove tremendously useful because they encourage exploration and allow the user to view the product in the environment it is meant for.
Being a 3D ad format that places simulated products in real-world environments, AR native ads make it easier for consumers to see a product from all angles at scale, vastly easing the purchase decision. (Your question is answered: This sofa will block the entrance!)
AR native ads are a win-win for consumers and brands alike. They eliminate expensive errors in judgement for a consumer, minimize returns and deliver results for brands. In the time of social distancing, AR native ads can also allow customers to test products on themselves, like cosmetics or accessories like sunglasses, jewellery and watches for instance, making browsing a catalog a fun experience from the safety of their homes. Ahead of the peak 'holiday proposal' season in the US -- typically in December, when nearly one-fifth of marriage proposals occur -- Retailer JC Penney partnered with Verizon Media on an AR mobile native ad campaign where brides could virtually try on engagement rings. Similar applications with virtual try on’s would make the journey easier for consumers through periods when greater caution is recommended in physical spaces.
Other immersive XR experiences like 360-degree video, could have multiple applications when a visit to a showroom or store is not immediately possible. Like viewing and evaluating the interior of a car you eventually plan to test drive, for instance.
Immersive experiences with native formats give customers a greater experience, because they open the door to interactive storytelling, proven to get audiences’ attention, so they engage with your message. Verizon Media research found 60% of consumers said innovative augmented reality (AR) ad formats led them to like the brand more -- now more than ever, building brand love should be a top priority!
In India, we now use our smartphone for much more than just researching brands and products. We use them to make purchases online and in real-time. Especially at a time like this, marketers need to capitalise on this evolving mobile behavior with effective ad solutions that make mobile moments shoppable. By delivering online experiences that are relevant, provide utility, are immersive and fun, brands can find new opportunities through this crisis, emerging stronger, one click at a time.
(The author is country manager, Verizon Media.)