The World is facing an unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. Many countries including India have declared lockdown, which has enforced a majority of people to stay at home. In such times, what brands should or should not do to keep the customer interest uninterrupted? People are replying on the Internet and social media to fight their boredom and fear of the virus.
In case of specific crisis, like Nestle faced the problem with Maggi, the strategies are brand specific. However, Corona spread is an external global crisis that is widely covered in global media in a real-time basis. This has led to exponential increase of fear mongering fake news, some of which targeted toward specific brands. When the Indian government announced first steps about the virus, #BoycottHUL was trending, because Unilever has increased the prices of its soaps due to increase in the cost of raw material. It was just a case of bad timing! Since then the social media is abuzz with daily trends of boycott or calling names for lack of donation, including celebrities (e.g., Shahrukh, Amir, and Salman etc.) and companies like Reliance, Adani, and Patanjali. The content is filled with mix of emotions – happiness, anger, fear, and disgust. To tackle this unparallel challenge, brands should follow a simple process of LAC model: Listen, Act, and Communicate.
Social media listening is the first step, which most of the brands regularly do as part of their digital marketing strategy. Brands collect information and do a sentiment analysis to understand the emotions hidden in those tweets or Facebook posts. Sentiment analysis reflects what consumers are feeling about that brand. A careful filtering of the information should reveal consumer’s expectations and challenges from the brand. For example, a lot of information about Corona strongly advocate the need for regularly washing hands, maintaining hygiene, and avoiding touch with others. Consumers, who are stuck at home may run out of grocery or food supplies and like to order food from outside. How a brand like Swiggy should address these concerns? It is not just online app, what about daily newspapers, which go through many hands before reaching the consumer’s doors?
The next step is to act on the information collected in the listening process. So, Swiggy can go through the checklist provided by competent authority (like World Health Organisation or Indian Health Ministry) on do’s and don’t during lockdown. Swiggy has already trained their staff and offers ‘no contact’ delivery to alienate consumers’ concerns. The largest English daily, The Times of India has also taken steps to ensure that the newspaper reached people regularly despite the circulation of fake news about contamination of corona via newspapers. Some brands, like Dabur, ITC, Godrej, and Dettol have slashed the prices of sanitizers as per Government directives (e.g., from Rs 75 to Rs. 25).
Brands should find innovative ways to act on the information to ease the pains of consumers. For example, consumers are spending more time on watching TV. Now, if there is a problem with TV, what can be done, as there is no possibility of going to service center. Samsung and other brands have introduced the DIY concept using WhatsApp to help customers to diagnose and potentially fix the issue themselves, which Indian consumers rarely do as they rely more on repairing guy.
The third step is the communication to consumers. For example, Swiggy is using emails and app to stress its no-contact delivery option and steps it has taken to ensure proper delivery by its staff. The Times of India is running print campaign which talks about specific chemical (inks) used which reduces the probability of contamination as well as asking readers to trust print instead of online sources which are burdened with fake news. A critical aspect of communication is to gather free media and support from consumers. For example, brands are not bloating about slashing the price or donating money for the cause, it is the users who are spreading the positive deeds. A firm must resist the temptation to chest thumping which can severely backfire. Many people are dying globally and there is a general atmosphere of fear and mistrust (partially the WhatsApp university is to be blamed for fake news). Consumers are showing signs of distrust and skepticism toward any communication. In such scenario, content must be created to show feelings of concerns towards the severe spread. Brands should reflect that they care for their consumers in these testing times. For example, Lifebuoy, in its recent TVC, clearly says that people should wash their hands using Lifebuoy or any other soap. That’s the key! We are all in this together and should work together to emerge victorious.
(The author is an assistant professor – marketing, Indian Institute of Management Ranchi.)
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