Time to throw out the marketing rule book

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on April 30, 2020

Amarketing masterclass by Yohan Sudheer in progress

What worked yesterday is not going to work tomorrow

As India is about to take its first tentative steps to lift lockdown, this is going to be an acid test for companies, especially start-ups. The forecasts are that consumer behaviour would be completely different, many will restrict their shopping, and people will show changed buying preferences for products and services.

From big companies to young start-ups, everyone will be forced to redefine their marketing. Bengaluru-based Fishhook, which provides marketing strategy consultancy as well as empowers start-ups by providing marketing education, is now engaged in ideating with its clients on navigating Covid-19.

A new coursebook

“Without doubt this is the biggest shift in the business world in our generation,” says Yohan Sudheer, co-founder, Fishhook. “However, the approach we’ve taken with the teams we’re working with is that, while we must be prudent and wise about all marketing-related spending, there is also an immense opportunity here to grow as a brand, leapfrog your competition and get a headstart once things start going back to normal,” he says. It might seem intuitive for many to reduce spends but, as Sudheer and his partner Shobith John point out, Kellogg’s decision to double ad spends during the Great Depression helped cement the cereal maker’s place as a category leader, even till today. “Our recommendation is to first throw out the rule book. Experiment aggressively, pivot quickly and hold things loosely. What worked yesterday isn’t going to work tomorrow,” says Sudheer. So how can companies do this?

Be human

“Test different messages, different touch points, even different offerings. Go back to your product team and test modifications of your offerings. Don’t try to sell the big fish, get your customers to take the first step with you. And most of all, keep it human. The brands that are winning today are the ones that are able to show a very human side, and the world is taking notice,” is Sudheer’s advice.

Agrees brand consultant Giraj Sharma of Behind the Moon. “I personally will opt to buy from companies that have not laid off any employee, for instance,” he says, pointing out that consumers are watching how brands behave during this period.

Be agile and know your audience

During these Covid-19 times, news is filtering in of several start-ups that have pivoted quickly to show their human face, to spot new opportunities, tweak their products or services and strategies. Take some of the start-ups that were part of class of 2020 from Techstars Bangalore Accelerator, which concluded its programme on Thursday with a virtual Demo Day.

One of the Techstars chosen start-up Lancify, which connects student freelancers with businesses, had worked with Fishhook. “We brainstormed with Lancify to come up with a programme that connected freshly laid off employees with businesses that can hire them on a project basis,” says Sudheer. The Lancify team, being a young and fast-moving group, were able to pull this off in less than a week, say the Fishhook founders.

Gowtham Sundaresan, co-founder at Lancify, also pointed out how the sessions with Fishhook helped them get their communication strategy right. Lancify has to communicate with two sets of audiences. Students to whom it has to sell the freelance lifestyle and help them upskill for it, as well as employers to point out how they would benefit by hiring student freelancers. “We realised the communication for a first-year student could not be same as that for a fourth-year student,” he explains.

Also, today everybody is trying to sell things to young people digitally and this is where the right tools and solutions matter. “Everyone gives ideas but it’s tough to get technical knowledge — which tools to use when, and at what price points are these available,” he says.

Incidentally, Fishhook has just launched a CovidStart up Kit, a curated list of discounts and free deals offered by companies like Microsoft, Zoho, Cisco, Hootsuite and Shutterstock to help start-ups cope with the current crisis.

(See Q&A, online, with Yohan Sudheer and Shobith John on growth challenges that start-ups face and details of the programmes for start-ups that Fishhook is doing)

Published on May 01, 2020

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