While we can reasonably assume that economic systems and markets are not going to end overnight as a result of this Covid19 outbreak, there is definitely going to be a huge set of changes over time. A lot of these changes have already been taking place including in Digital Marketing world, but this pause that the world is facing today is giving us the chance to stop, observe, and take stock.
Digital marketing is in its own way representative of the duality of constancy and change; it is at its core, still the same as marketing in the middle of the 20th century, and yet it is so different how the field has existed for decades. In these 2 posts, we shall be attempting to take a look at the world of digital marketing in the post-covid19 world and the possible changes to it in a world that stays inherently the same yet is substantially altered from its previous state.
The word du jour for so many new ideas that have shaped markets in the 21st century, disruption has become a reality for all of business today. Those that have embraced it have come out stronger, while countless others have had to lay down arms in the face of it. But while it has influenced individual companies and sectors so far, maybe the time has come for industry-wide disruption in how we seek to market things in the future.
Part I: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Several businesses, usually the biggest, most dominant players in their product lines have still stuck with traditional media and marketing to a large extent to this day. As much as large swathes of marketing budgets and engagement strategies have moved to digital spaces, there is a logic behind the conservatism with which big businesses have approached the area. This is definitely visible in the case of products that fulfil our most basic needs; from food to FMCG. Such products are still marketed largely through traditional media, as advances such as targeted advertising and SEO have been seen to be unnecessary for products that all of us will sooner or later need to buy; toothpaste and salt and cola and soap, the list goes on. These products also still rely heavily on traditional outlets for sales, being on the shelf at the local supermarket or kirana store is still the major method for most of these products to be bought and sold. There is also obviously a certain comfort with doing what we know, and a lot of these companies have approached their marketing with a similar mindset for all this while, and by and large, it has worked.
And yet, for that very reason, they are being challenged the most in how they approach their digital marketing in the post-covid19 world. Physical stores are non-starters in times of social distancing, and the online space has stepped up to provide for an alternative in times like these. Digital platforms are suddenly looking like the future even for these products now. And yet, making these changes will come with their own set of challenges for the conservative behemoths. At the end of the day, toothpaste is toothpaste, and a new product online that seeks to deliver dental care products straight to the consumer at home, with easy monthly refills can suddenly seem like a good alternative even to the most conservative of buyers in these times. The same can be said for other groups of products, which can be bundled together and sold as complementary needs on a cyclical basis- kitchen essentials, bathing supplies, and shaving kits are some that come to mind. There are already a host of new, creative brands looking to create their identities through this method, and in a world where digital services are moving to subscription based models, there is reason to believe that the same can happen with consumable, need based products as well.
This will be a challenge for the traditionalists, since they are at least some way behind the newer players, and the online space so far provides some sense of parity between old and new alike. People are also spending larger amounts of time on digital platforms, and there are a host of new ways of marketing products to consumers available right now, from better SEO, to targeted ads, to using social media influencers and sponsored content. Novel brand identities are being created, which with the added benefit of a home delivery based model of getting products straight into the hands of the consumer providing them with a chance to outcompete and possibly replace the traditional bigwigs in some sections of the market. It will be very interesting to see brands that still have a large reliance on traditional media like print ads and television, and observe how they choose to blend into this new market place.
Part II: The Merchants of Desire
While toothpaste and soap and salt are marketed and sold in one manner, jeans and cell phones and holidays have been steadily evolving to be sold in a different one. Desire based products face the challenge of convincing the consumer to spend their money on something over and above their needs; they need to operate at a higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy, and products like these have been slowly adapting to the changing digital landscape now for a few years, unlike the need-based traditionalists.
Social media and the power of online advertising is already a part of the marketing strategies of several brands in these spaces; they have been making the shift as consumers have moved away from traditional media to digital spaces to fulfil their needs for entertainment, work and communication.
Online sellers have seen the mushrooming of multiple brands in all these spaces, and with the evolution of better consumer data on desires and the ability to zoom in on specific consumers and target them. Several brands in technology, for instance, have been built up in exclusively online, and have shown the way for both how to convince people to purchase their products, as well as mastering the art of creating brand names and trust from scratch. Besides newer brands, the bigger players have also moved larger amounts of marketing into the digital space over the last decade as it has been comparatively easier for them to monetise their brand value for trust and convince a consumer to pay for a product without touching, seeing or handling the actual product.
There are still areas where buyers face challenges; returns and servicing, especially for technology and consumer durables is still a place where many consumers justifiably have doubts, especially in cases of large financial outlays, and it is reasonable to expect a greater emphasis on these areas in the future. In a world where more and more of the market moves to a digital space, there is still a gap that remains in the physical space and brands, both new and old, will need to strengthen not just the quality of these services, but possibly make them core parts of their digital marketing strategies as they move forward. Consumer behaviour and addressing consumer needs, like forever, will continue to remain at the core of digital marketing for these businesses, even as how they address these changes.
Everything changes, and yet nothing does. Consumers will continue to spend their money on both needs and desires as will digital marketing in the post-Covid19 world, but the ways and means to market and sell these products, will in all likelihood see a lot of flux.
In the second part, we will be seeking to map out some of these evolutions, and the possible directions that these changes will take as a response to the basic restructuring of digital marketing in the post-covid19 era.