Why brands need to stop thinking about people as customers
At a time when people around the world are grappling with the spread of the novel coronavirus – brands play a crucial role when it comes to communicating. From creating awareness to showing empathy – are some of the ways brands can remain relevant. Amitabh Pande, Marketing Head, IKEA India, talks about how brands can remain pertinent in the time of Covid-19. (Edited excerpts)
On the marketing strategy brands should follow to remain relevant
Marketing strategy is another buzz word isn’t it. Any strategy for us is about two key things – first defining where you want to be, what the objectives are, what you’re trying to achieve as a brand with your customers in their everyday lives, and with your co-workers within the organisation. And second, then arriving at how we will get there, what are the things we need to do to achieve our objectives.
We think many times, where we go wrong, is not doing the first step properly and jumping straight to the second step. And that’s why questions like ‘what should brands do during Covid times’ get an exaggerated place in the conversation. The real question to ask is ‘what would your brand like to achieve in the world at any time’. If that’s clear, then the strategy during Covid time or non Covid time, flows from there.
Every brand has its own purpose. And that’s the purpose that should guide choosing the strategy during any time, including Covid time. Is it easy? No! But that’s why we’re marketers, right? For us at IKEA, our purpose is to create a better everyday life for the many people, through providing solutions for their everyday life at home. This is what we translate to ‘Make Every day Brighter’ in India. And whatever the situation is we look for answers to stay true to this, as much as possible. Sometimes the answers are easy. Sometimes it’s not. During Covid time, as people are spending most of their time at home, our ‘Home is full of possibilities’ campaign was a small attempt in staying true to this.
On the dos and don’ts brands need to follow when communicating with consumers.
May just ‘do’ one thing – stop thinking of them as consumers. We know we’ve all grown up in the marketing world with that term. And guess it worked for a really long time. But, increasingly, we need to connect as brands with them as humans. Consumption is one of the things that we do as a person, but it’s not what defines us. Consumption may be 60% of the economy, but it’s definitely not 60% of who we are. This is especially true in the last few years, which has only got magnified by the Covid crisis. We’ve all had a great long spell ‘consumed’ by the seduction of buying more, eating more, drinking more, wanting more. And that is what is now into question. So maybe we need to think of people as holistic human beings, not narrowly as consumers.
Once we do this, the rest follows. Because then as brands, our mind-set changes from ‘how do I get consumers to buy my products’ to ‘what do the people need during this time, and can my brand deliver to that.. and if so, how.’
Again, is this easy? No. But, is this necessary? Absolutely.
For one thing, it means we have to spend a lot more time ‘listening’ – to people and to the world outside, and less time ‘talking’ to ourselves, in meeting rooms and board rooms!
On the periodicity of the conversation.
Again, following the same stream of thought, we should be guided by what people want – how much and how little. At Ikea, listening to the people, we learnt that many of them were looking for ideas and solutions of how to make the most of their time at home. Given our purpose, this is something that lies at the core of our brand promise. And that’s why we increased our conversation significantly. We are sharing ideas for different aspects of life at home almost every other day, on our social media handles (#IKEALifeathome), because that’s what we learnt was relevant from us. But, say if you’re an automobile brand, may be you don’t need to be in the people’s lives every day, right now.
Apart from periodicity, the other aspect is ‘where you want to have the conversation, as a brand’. Because people are at home with a significant increase in the time they are spending on TV and online, for us at IKEA, those became the obvious places to have our conversations. But again, say as an automobile brand, maybe you need to have the conversation in places where people may be thinking of maintaining or servicing their locked down cars.
On how to maintain trust with consumers.
Building trust with people, as brands, is the same thing as building trust with people, as people in our daily lives. When we think of all the people in our lives we trust, and don’t trust, what is it that differentiates them. There is only one word here. “Authenticity”. We trust people who are authentic and don’t trust people who are not.
It’s the same with brands. People are smart. They can very easily ‘feel’ authenticity, whether they are able to express it or not.
Authenticity is not something you can fake. It’s not something you can intellectualise. It’s something you can feel. And that’s why trust is an emotional thing. You either trust someone or not.
I feel building trust, especially during these times, needs us as marketers, to ask just 2 simple questions – Who I am as a brand (being authentic to ourselves). And what do people need in their lives right now (being authentic to them). If you want, you can make this into a 2×2 grid, and make it seem very strategic, if that’s your thing. But simply put, it’s the match of these two answers that is the key to building trust. Don’t pretend to be someone we’re not. And don’t try to exploit the current situation to sell what people may not really want.
On looking after employees as they are also representatives of the brand.
This is perhaps the most important thing for us as a brand. Our co-workers are our brand. How we behave with our co-workers during times of crisis speaks volumes about us as a brand. And this is perhaps where the current crisis will have the most long term impact. People will remember companies that treated their employees well and those that didn’t. And that will build or blemish the brand as we move on from the current situation to the next reality.
This also links back to the ‘authenticity’ point. As brands, how we behave externally and internally defines how authentic we are. If our external brand is not in sync with our internal brand, we are not authentic. We can see the fault lines appear. And sooner or later, it will show, and make or break the brand.
On communicating with consumers post Covid-19.
Like I had mentioned earlier, we are not fortune-tellers, we are marketers. And post COVID-19 (if there is any such thing), will need us to follow the same principles as outlined. Understand the reality that exists then, and respond to solving the needs of the people that exist then, by being true to our purpose as a brand. COVID-19 has been a huge disruption in our world. And like any disruption, some things will change, and some things will stay the same. All we have to do as brands, is be agile, understand that, and respond to it, in a humble and authentic way.