Anirban Mukhuti, head of marketing at construction materials major Saint-Gobain Gyproc, offers a magisterial assessment of the evolving marketing landscape as a fallout of Covid-19 pandemic.
This interview is a part of Sourcing Hardware’s #MarketingLeadershipSeries, wherein our editors check-in on select CMOs from the Building Products and Home Improvement (BPHI) industry, to understand how they are reimagining the marketing domain in these unprecedented times.
How do you see the marketing domain evolving during the Covid-19 pandemic?
In my view, the Covid-19 pandemic can be divided into two distinct phases. In the first phase, the world went into lockdown mode. There was a great degree of uncertainty, fear and anxiety in the minds of people as news of infection spreading rapidly and its associated perils took the world by surprise. In the second phase things settled down a bit as people accepted Covid-19 as the new reality and started responding to the pandemic situation with pragmatism and optimism.
During the first phase, customers were mostly in survival mode, and with the country in lockdown the primary motivation was to get access to essential goods and services. For the first time in their lives, many people started working from home. Stuck at home, consumers started consuming a lot of media – both TV and digital, thereby opening up opportunities for brands to engage with them. Health and safety concerns were foremost in the minds of customers and brands which addressed the same grabbed their attention. In the B2B space, most of the influencer engagement shifted overnight from face-to-face, physical interaction to digital platforms. The discerning customer was also keeping an eye on brands which were authentic and were not opportunistic in those trying times. Community initiatives, genuine intent and empathy to mitigate this crisis did not go unnoticed.
With the unlocking of the country, the second phase witnessed customers trying to regain greater control of their lives. The mindset was ‘how can I be a little more indulgent while maintaining my safety?’ Customers started exploring more categories in the online space – it is estimated that e-commerce saw 11% of first-time buyers, while one-out-of-six existing customers purchased new categories. Brands which offer great value along with convenience while ensuring the safety of customers will continue to be the winners.
How is the role CMOs in value creation evolving in these unprecedented times?
I feel that the value creation agenda remains unchanged irrespective of the business landscape. Customers pay a premium for perceived value, and hence, it is the role of marketing to continue driving this agenda.
However, in unprecedented times, what the customer perceives as value might change. Generallyspeaking, in times of recession, customers tend to be conservative with their spends. The tendency is to gravitate towards value-for-money purchases. ‘Value’ does not necessarily mean cheap –brands need to be creative in bringing their value alive, help customers with their decisions, and in turn, make them feel good.
Brands which closely track customer data points are quick enough to spot the change in preferences, and offer value through bundling or unbundling of products or services along with flexible payment options. In essence, difficult times call for change in tactics, and focus should be to address the immediate needs of the customer at optimal price points. An example is that work-from-home has resulted in the need for workstations and furniture suited for homes. While some customers are buying furniture, others are renting keeping in mind the temporary nature of the phenomenon. Both the models are offering value to customers in respective segments, at price points at which they want to play.
How can CMOs maximise the impact of their marketing activities for driving business outcomes?
Over the years, the role of the CMO has expanded beyond targeted campaigns and focused customer activations. CMOs generally get the best view of customers, have a deeper understanding of the factors driving category adoption, and have insights on the dynamics of micro-markets. All these parameters allow them to plan the product-market-channel matrix effectively.
Almost every successful organisation recognises that it is in the customer-experience business. Data science and modern marketing tools nowadays help CMOs in understanding customer journeys in great detail, and the relevant data-points can be smartly leveraged to design a superlative customer experience through varied touchpoints. The customer acquisition, triggering repeat purchase, cross-sell or up-sell options, can all fall within the ambit of a good marketer, which in turn generate revenue for the organisation.
CMOs are instrumental in creating a customer experience vision, and the need to drive a shared aspiration across functions like finance, supply chain and manufacturing to deliver the same. Marketing leaders also need to facilitate the journey of the customer from a functional to an emotional plane; only then there will be true brand loyalty.
Do CMOs need to work more closely now with CFOs in order to deliver higher ROI?
I think that irrespective of the business scenario, CMOs and CFOs should complement each other. As per a survey by Ernst and Young across 300 marketing and finance leaders, 83% stated that their company’s marketing approach would be more effective if marketing and finance were more closely aligned.
Any category or brand creation requires investments. So, the CMOs must be able to not only foresee the big picture but communicate the vision effectively to key stakeholders in the organisation. Unlike valuation-driven businesses, our business model is revenue driven with a clear focus on profitability. So, a strong business case would be ‘growing a category or winning higher share needs, to be followed up with strong intent and implementation on the ground’. The CMOs and CFOs should reach a common ground for ROI expectations, as proper alignment of qualitative as well as quantitative metrics is always a win-win for the organisation. Driving a broader holistic customer engagement and growth agenda in close coordination with finance ensures that the CFOs’ contribution is more strategic, and not restricted to project or campaign-based tactical approach.
How can marketing create lasting engagement and craft memorable experiences for customers and end-users?
In a category like false ceilings, most of the customers do their research online. The targeted marketing communication at the top of the funnel handholds the customer in their journey, from awareness to consideration. Customers get options to choose from a vast bank of designs suited for each type of room in their home. The execution of intricate designs can happen either through our home solutions team or contractor partners. As a brand leader, we continuously invest in training the contractor partner fraternity to upgrade their technical skills along with the softer aspects of communication.
This, in turn, results in good quality execution and satisfying customer experience. It is possible because we have mapped the entire journey of the customer from awareness to implementation, identified all touchpoints, and designed necessary interventions at each leg of the journey for superior customer experience.
What are the key considerations for creating narratives in marketing communication?
Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek has said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
Every company needs a story to tell the world what represents the essence of its brand.Human beings are programmed to listen to stories, and good stories stick. A narrative can help position the brand in the minds of the customer while elements like products, stores, customer service bring alive the brand promise. Apple’s Think Different campaign narrative not only defined its target audience –rebels, misfits – but also set the course for pioneering products in the category.
At Gyproc, while creating any communication we always put the customers at the focal point and build our narrative around them basis our insights. A storyline which is relevant, relatable and which successfully triggers the emotions generally resonates well with customers.
What trends are emerging in the digital marketing domain as afallout of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, customers started spending inordinately long hours on the Internet. This was on account of restrictions in movement due to lockdown and the work-from-home phenomenon.Extended usage of the Internet resulted in new habit formation and provided brands with an opportunity to engage with them. From a home-décor category perspective, there was a surge in traffic, which implied that customers were considering their options carefully though they may not go for immediate spends.
When customers are in consideration and investigation mode, brands must present them with the right content, which can empower and aid them towards a decision. VR and AR driven visualisation technologies can go a long way in category salience as customers can experience the décor elements sitting at home. Some of the elements of offline engagement, which is critical for any home improvement exercise, can be carefully shifted to digital mode. The convenience part can successfully drive conversions.
Digital marketing, and especially social media, allows a brand to start a dialogue with their customers. In many cases, the first interaction of the brand with a customer is through content. Customers are currently on the lookout for brands which are authentic, have empathy and are genuinely helping them tide over this crisis. The credibility of the brand goes up significantly when customers themselves start endorsing the brands or products. Hence going forward, user-generated content will see an upward shift vis-a-vis branded content.
Gypsum plasterboard penetration in India is still low, and category adoption of false ceilings as well as drywalls is still at a nascent stage. Hence, as a brand, Gyproc India has always focused on customer testimonials, and we have observed that most of them garner excellent engagement.
The third trend which I observe is around video content consumption which is at an all-time high. However, lesser attention spans and the deluge of content demands the creation of snackable video content specifically curated for social media consumption. They can be a mix of informational, casual, inspirational and promotional videos, and if done well can be great conversation starters which the brand can then leverage.