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What will the world look like #aftercorona? An expert's perspective

What will the world look like #aftercorona? An expert's perspective

The Covid-19 crisis has affected each and every one of us personally - whether it’s via the strict lockdown or via the changes we’ve had to make within the business model. Some companies have had to take drastic steps, such as reducing operations, while others have had to pivot their businesses completely - but almost all of them have communicated outwards about the impact of the coronavirus.

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But what’s the future of communication and marketing? I was lucky enough to speak with Vanshika Mehta, brand and communications expert, who gives us a sneak peak of what the future of communications could look like.

Just off the bat, how are you doing during this lockdown period?

Vanshika : Doing good. Taking it a day at a time and ensuring I am taking care of not just physical health but mental too. I’ve been spending time not just working, but also reading up a lot on brand and comms - preparing myself for the post corona world or World 2.0. It’s going to definitely be a changed world!

What has been the single, biggest change for you post lockdown, as a communications professional?

Vanshika: As a communications professional, I’ve been part of multiple changes post lockdown. A lot of the change is positive since more and more brands are focused on making their communications more empathetic and customer centric. That comes in deliverables such as website rewrites and drip email template changes. Projects that are effort intensive, but high ROI are being given priority.

Additionally, I’m also helping people with personal branding on LinkedIn. It’s interesting to see how important personal branding has become through a crisis. When I’m not doing all of this, I’m undertaking educational projects and conducting webinars.

It’s good to see that people are thinking much more about customer experience. They are really taking full advantage of the lockdown to become more empathetic and customer-centric and focused.

Businesses have realized that in order to be prepared for all of the competition post COVID, they need to put their customers first and reach them wherever they exist.

According to you, what are the top three things brands and companies should be focusing on at the moment?

Vanshika: It’s tough to narrow this down to just three things, but here goes:

  • Their work family should be their top priority. If you’re hiring, make sure that communicating job security is your focus. Don’t overhire at this point, that would be the worst decision. Additionally, current employees shouldn’t feel that their jobs will be on the line once the crisis is over.
  • Brands should think of how they can integrate with other brands and provide enhanced services for their customer base. For instance, a meal delivery kit partnering with a keto dietitian would be a great solution right now when people are struggling to find ingredients and cannot hop from store to store for their special dietary needs. This sort of cross-branding builds and strengthens community, which is what this entire period is about. Another great collaboration is Disney-Hotstar which now brings a whole host of kids movies and shows to the fore like Chhota Bhim, etc.
  • Innovation should be at a peak right now.- it’s an area of focus right now because people suddenly have a lot of time and scope to add value. Whether it’s testing products, conducting surveys or organizing virtual events - there’s something out there that almost every type of business can try. Even influencers who don't usually have time have it now, so now is the time for that collab that’s been on the back burner all year. Innovation can also help you pivot your business - businesses that are relatively dead can find something else to do - the key is to think corona forward. A great example of this is Zomato’s no touch payment system through their app which is now 100% cashless and virtual - this feature was already in the works but the COVID crisis accelerated its launch. Or another example is Xeno’s all new series of podcasts.

On the other hand, what are some of the things companies should definitely NOT be doing now?

Vanshika: This crisis is a time of learning. And we should learn from our own mistakes, but also those of others. Here are some things that brands should avoid at all costs:

  • Asynchronous communication strategy- Brands should be consistent in the messages they communicate per channel. For instance, multi-channel messaging should be managed by one person or team. Internal communication needs to be linked with any external agency or partner you work with so as to avoid any miscommunication.
  • Ignoring customer sentiment- You need to tap into your customer base, see what your customers want to hear about and communicate accordingly. For instance, I received a customer acquisition type email from a well-known retail brand which totally missed the mark. Another example I see is that of travel websites sending emails about extending validity of flight tickets, encouraging people to purchase them though every single thing about travel is uncertain right now. Being relevant is really important and you lose credibility by communicating in this manner.
  • Upfront costs- Brands should make it easier for people to use their products - pricing can be switched up or a subscription model or an EMI. This means people don't have to put out a bulk amount at one go and you end up getting some recurring revenue every month which is never a bad thing. Even as a consultant, I’m moving to this model myself - my goal is to make it easy for my clients to work with me, not the opposite. Look at Netflix, it’s a huge success story based on just this - there is no upfront cost.

Be human, everyone is struggling and therefore flexibility is the need of the hour.

Can you tell me about some homegrown brands that have managed to get this right?

Vanshika: There are a bunch of brands doing good work on this front. Here are just some examples that I can recollect:

1. Coworking Spaces:

WeWork India- Embassy Group

WeWork India works as a franchise model and is more or less a separate entity from the global WeWork corporation. They’ve released a video saying that their spaces are empty and they miss people, which plays on my heart strings. As some one who frequents coworking spaces, this makes me really want to go to WeWork as soon as I am able to.

Awfis

Another campaign spearheaded by coworking space Awfis is the Meet us halfway campaign they’ve recently come up with, which focuses on talking about safety measures and protection before people get back to the grind.

2. Online Services

Ixigo

Ixigo is using nostalgia to ensure their consumer base hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to move around freely. They’ve crafted a very simple, yet poignant video which brings together all the familiar sounds of travel - flight announcements, boarding calls et all. It’s a very simple concept but I find it really powerful and something which wins brand love in the long run.

Dunzo

Dunzo is raising awareness about their delivery partners, they’re focused on safety and pay tribute to their delivery partners with their #EverdaySuperheroes campaign- this shows empathy and a human side to the business. The fact that they’re acknowledging the very base of their pyramid is huge. They’ve also changed their logo, incorporating a facemask which is vital for their delivery partners right now.

UrbanCompany

UrbanCompany has chimed in with a simple tweak to their logo in their app, so every time people open it up, they see it on their phone screens. It’s a small tweak, but probably serves as a reminder to thousands of people on a daily basis.

3. NGOs

GiveIndia

This brand has worked with a number of stars to put together a concert to raise funds for frontline workers. They were able to rope in a number of influencers to promote this such as Kusha Kapila.

What are the main takeaways, according to you, for other brands?

Brands need to change their approach to business in many ways. Here are some key points in my opinion:

  • Customer first - product second. Brands need to remember that their communication shouldn’t be focused on selling, but on winning trust and loyalty. Customers take the front seat. They are to be put in the center of any product/feature developments and upgrades.
  • Pivot Retention strategy: It’s time to go back to the playbook - the age old strategy of discounts is not the way forward. Brands need to think of new ways to retain customers and it needs to be value oriented. They need to right now focus on brand and trust. Trust that the business will run as normal post-corona too. For example, Netcore has published a blog on 8 post-COVID E-Commerce strategies, they’ve got some wonderful points in regards to how brands should make sense of the new normal.
  • Expand to omnichannel communication. Today your audience is on more channels than ever - TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Podcasts are just as essential as SMS, email, push notification and in app notifications. If you haven’t already focused on being present at every touchpoint, do it now. You don’t need to have the exact same message on every channel, but you do need to be present, if you can.
  • For communication, less is more. For communication professionals, there will be a shift in their goals - you shouldn’t try to create 2/3 blogs a week, it should be 1 blog and 4 days of outreach every week. People have more time now and are spending time on several apps but time per app has gone down. So if you do a video on TikTok, make sure to use it on Instagram as well as YouTube. Creation is not the biggest game, it’s distribution now.

How do you think the COVID crisis will shape the future of the comms industry?

Communication is key during any crisis and this particular crisis is going to have a lasting impact. Here are some things I see in the making now:

  • People are more goal oriented, rather than task oriented now. The impact of communication going to customers will take precedence over the sheer volume of it.

  • People will focus more on community and less on product. People and UGC will become as much a part of the brand as its content strategy. At this time, there’s a limited amount of content they can put out so brands need UGC for credibility and to show that their brand isn't dead. A great example of this is Sleepy Owl coffee - they’ve asked people to download a stencil of their logo and fill it in with colours. It’s well known that coloring is therapeutic and the brand is doing their bit to ease stress at this moment.

  • Brands will start communicating and focusing on things that work for them. Let me explain this - if a particular brand has 5 products, out of which 2 form their core business, they will start focusing on these two products only. This in turn makes customer experience more streamlined. They will also demonstrate that they are taking their consumers’ opinion into account while making decisions.
  • What are some tips you have for brands right now to help them with their comms strategy post Covid?

    Vanshika: At the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to say that communication is going to completely change.

    • People should be more cautious about multi-channel messaging being uniform. What goes on Instagram should be aligned with your press releases or your Google ads. All content should be aligned and integrated.

    • Go back and rewrite the strategy - communications professionals need to be agile for sure, but the “figure out as you go” approach won’t work. It’s time to invest in rewriting your playbook, because the world will change post corona. It’s important to think from the consumer’s point of view and think about what customers would like to hear one month from now. Think ahead, don’t play it by ear. For instance, for the first 20 days of COVID-19 everyone was talking about masks and sanitizers, but people really don’t want to hear about this anymore. Think more about what you would like to see as a consumer a month or two later and communicate accordingly.

    • In case your brand has changed strategy/pivoted, you need to reposition yourself and this means end to end - it’s important to focus not just on product but also on your messaging. The new offerings will not simply trickle down to your comms department.

    • Pro tip: Use your brand as a case study of how you adapted to corona. It’s a good idea to journal and document your journey and publish it in say, 6 months. Communication is reactive right now. By documenting your journey and releasing a brand story or case study about how you powered through corona would really make you stand out. Moreover it requires minimal effort - you simply have to make small notes to document any changes you make and how it’s impacted your business. Then, put all the notes together and make a report on how you sustained yourself through this. You won’t be sorry!