Brands that don’t adapt to market shifts will become irrelevant
By Atul Hegde
About a year back, I made the cardinal mistake of ordering a meal with a home delivery option from an app that was best in class when it comes to table reservations, especially at fine dining restaurants in my city. I just assumed that they would be equally good at getting food delivered from the same restaurant that they so efficiently got me reservations at. But it was nothing short of a disaster; they completely botched up a simple delivery. Today, due to a series of forced lockdowns, a major part of their business comes from food delivery, and they are mighty good at it.
The pandemic has turned consumer behaviour on its head, and the adoption curve for newer, better and relevant products is through the roof. It’s no longer a question of whether a brand should adapt to market shifts and consumer preferences; it’s now a matter of how fast can they adapt. If brands do not see this change and act accordingly, they will soon be irrelevant. The last 15 months or so are easily the fastest I have seen consumer habits as well as brand adoptions change. There is a tectonic shift happening and it’s fascinating to see how brands are rising to this challenge with aplomb. Categories that have been hit hardest are also the ones showing the nimblest responses.
The travel and hospitality industry — one of the worst hit sectors — has some great stories of product innovation that has kept brands relevant and alive even through plummeting sales. Emirates was the first to launch global Covid insurance for all its flyers. It did not stop there. The brand went from rolling out special PPE uniforms for the staff, celebrating a fully vaccinated flight crew, to looking at additional revenue streams with aggressive promotions on the purchase of miles at discounted rates. Brand Emirates has stayed relevant to its core consumer. Closer home, an old brand like Taj Hotels quickly realised that it had to push food delivery and launched its own food delivery app. Also true to its brand ethos, the Taj group was at the forefront of Covid relief operations, be it by way of providing meals or stay options for our frontline Covid warriors.
The auto industry which was hit with production challenges has also shown amazing tenacity to bounce back; and some segments have seen record sales. Luxury brands like BMW launched a contactless sales program that ensured minimum contact in the real world while buying your vehicle. Mercedes had a series of launches across all segments, and almost all of them powered digitally.
We also saw some great examples in the opportunity sectors — sectors that benefitted from fast-changing consumer habits, like digital payments and FMCG. The immunity boom has fuelled multiple innovations from old FMCG warhorses and also start-ups in this space. Brands like Dettol, Dabur and Unilever have all been launching new products and variants with amazing speed, and have found consumer success.
Digital payments have seen unbelievable consumer adoption: in 2020, India ranked No. 1 in real-time payment transactions. The UPI payments backbone has changed the way India transacts. You can now open bank accounts sitting at home, avail of all retail loans without any physical meetings, as all KYC is done online.
These times are like no other we have witnessed in our lifetime. It’s amazing to see how companies are keeping their brands alive with a combination of great product innovation, on-point brand messaging, and, above all, an unbelievable go-to-market speed. It’s truly a case of ‘only the fastest will survive’.
The author is co-founder, Rainmaker Ventures