Priming Customers for Post-Lockdown Market

06 May,2020

 

By Sanjeev Kotnala

 

The Switzerland Tourism commercial, ‘Dream Now- Travel Later’, with the gorgeous visuals keeps the destination in mind. It is doing an excellent job of priming the consumer for a post-lockdown market. It plays subconsciously and keeps Switzerland as a destination in the consideration set, just in case you plan to travel. Priming is an art and a necessity now. It is like working a dry handpump.

 

Priming The Pump.

Have you ever run a dry handpump without check-valves? The only way to make it work is to prime it. Fill the channel inside with water that you have kept for this purpose. Once the air- resistance, which is the cause for the crisis on hand, is taken out, the pump starts working.

The current market is no different. The brands and marketers ( The person pumping) wants to pull the customers ( water) through the channels when the trapped experiences and expectations ( air) is creating resistance.

Priming the market is the only way out.

Unfortunately, the pumps and the resistance faced are not the same types. The product and services straddle a broad spectrum of luxury, good to have, and essential goods and hence need different pumps and resistance.

 

Nascent Consumer Experience Defines Market Expectation.

The consumer is numb. There has been a never expected, never dreamt sudden disruption in his or her life. The consumer has moved from shock, ambiguity, fear to acceptability and adaptability to the situation.

Thinking that the consumer is now comfortable with the new life-co-ordinates and behaviour is a mistake. The lockdown is extended, opened or slowly relaxed (a most likely scenario) will not matter, as the mental scape has been deeply scarred. The degree depends upon the consumer’s experience during the lockdown period.

The consumer is a human being with far higher intellect than traditionally considered. They make irrational decisions and act on impulse. However, they tend to rationalise and being logical in approach. Their reactional behaviour is entirely shaped by their nascent observation, experience and expectation.

This lockdown has given them a chance to learn to differentiate between the real and unreal essentials of life. Redefining luxury and social interdependency.

Life has been a pressure cooker on fire. When lockdown opens, the pressure will define the reactions. The consumer will choose between Fly, freeze or fight the trigger to buy when the mind remains clouded in uncertainties and constraints. The insecurities like a second wave, cure, vaccine, possibility of infection, job, family, responsibility and expectations will influence buying more than the price, purpose and placement or the accessibility, affordability and availability.

No one knows how the market will act out. Ambi Parameswaran, in his tweet, said ‘many typologies will emerge in the next 8 weeks in trying to make sense of the consumer behaviour’. It all depends upon the relevant axis you chose to segment. And I try it based on their expected behaviour based on the degree of disruption in their lives and expectations.

 

Revolt.

This customer subset, for the first time, has been exposed to their vulnerabilities during the lockdown. They were always questioning and against whatever was expected of them by law, state, society or even family and friends. They live with a big ‘I’ and don’t really appreciate this virus that seems to be most secular and democratic. It does not discriminate in the selection of the victim. These people will want to reclaim their lifestyle. They are currently not the most pressured by psychologically most touched and irritated by the situation.

 

Re-size.

This subset of customer has a flexible approach towards life, dreams and ambitions. They are in shock. They are law-abiding, cautious and logical in approach. They are not offended by the selfish behaviour demonstrated of others. The society as a whole has not matched their expectation. Most of them have in-fact stepped out in some ways and contributed in the fight against coronavirus.

They look at short term plans. They know they may need to re-size their experience, expectations, dreams and ambitions at some state and they don’t want to be ill-prepared. They will get into their cocoon a bit, but the right trigger will get them in the market. They will hyper indulge in essentials and good to have product and services.

 

Re-scale.

A bit different than re-size, the re-scale are worried about the future and long-term impact. This subset has experienced scarcity and distancing from extended families during the lockdown. They have, in some ways, realised the new product-service-need-life matrix and are comfortable to live within constraints. They will re-stock essentials even at a higher cost. If you check, they will have un-used masks and sanitizers in their homes. They are not the ‘I’ centric type. They have followed isolation and quarantine request, and that is their contribution to the fight against coronavirus.

 

Revive.

Customers mindset that says, this is the one and the only life and hence make the best out of it. If that includes being cautious and taking precautions, so be it. They are the early adopters any process-product-service post lockdown. They in-fact will be celebrating the win; having survived the first wave of coronavirus. And they are the one who will define market success.

 

Priming The Market.

Priming as a process is done before the pump delivers water. Similarly, priming of the market and the consumers preferably should be done before the market opens. It will get the marketer the first advantage of capturing the Revive and Re-Scale behaviour in the re-world still grappling with the situation.

The Re-size audience will wait, as they have always waited for the information and makes a logical delayed decision and actions. The Revolt is a transient behaviour. There is no need to do anything, just lifting the lockdown works with them. One can ignore them.

 

The Messy Unattended Pump.

Remember, if the brand is an essential product category, the consumers have tested variants and competition. If the brand was non-essential, they have most likely ignored your existence.

Let’s see in my family. I am primarily a Netflix user. However, during the lockdown, I have experienced Hot-star and Amazon Prime. My primary Netflix bias may not get affected as entertainment is content dominated than the platform.

My daughter, a Maggi Hot and Chilli sauce fan, found that it was nowhere available. She decreased consumption to make the bottle last long instead of shifting loyalties. For the sauce of Rs 105, we not only paid INR 299 for Big-Basket membership but added items to cross the INR 600 barrier. All because Big-Basket app while ordering showed Maggi Sauce, it was available. It is different, Big-Basket delivered all items but Maggi sauce and credited my wallet for the gap. Now, we may shift to D-Mart that stayed connected and open 24 hours servicing our area.

In in the absence of our regular brand of Ghee, we ended up testing Amul, Anik and Gowardhan. Think we will be back to Dinshaw’s– as none of them came close to it on experience. However, in Milk, we tested full cream milk from a local dairy selling it lose and Tetra-pack Milk from Amul. Here we are in two minds to shift or continue with Mother-dairy in Mumbai.

The customers have aligned to the alignment of necessity, essentials and replacements. The essentials will also see a big fight in the market place. 

 

Trust & Dependability Still Important Priming Agent.

The customer in an extended lockdown has slowly realised the importance of things like social distancing, quality, service, hygiene, among other such factors. They are expected to continue to give due weightage to such factors. Hence, the brands must re-assure them at least in term of health aspects acr4oss manufacturing and delivery to quality aspect in product, functionality and service.

It is a negative eureka moment and feels so odd to hear an IVR customer service telling you that the representative number is switched off. All know it is a lockdown. The customer was just looking for assurance and a token for being in the queue for a future date service of his water cooler, whenever it will start. Such a negative takes a lot to future efforts to wipe the slate clean.

Compare that with your local AC mechanic, answering the phone and telling you, he will try to see what best he can do. You were just looking at that assurance and will not hold him guilty even if he was not able to do anything.

Or the large basket company telling you that all delivery slots are full. However, if you were to take an INR 299 membership, where the membership fee will be in the next three months, they can surely make that special delivery to you. Now, the company had a choice to say, we in this situation are disbanding the Loyalty – membership programme and will deliver on Fist-in-first-out basis. CMOs and CEOs will have a different take on this one. I would think that the second was a better choice. Suspend Loyalty and treat everyone equal right now.

 

Priming Tools.

Post lockdown or even now, the marketers must choose their SASHTRA and ASHTRA to fight the Mahabharat of the Markets. All these brands ( Market Yodha’s) and their Sarathi’s ( Brand custodian/ marketing/ agencies/ strategists) are sitting at the edge for this moment.

The brands, product and services that remained in connect and sync with the consumer, sailing in the same experience and empathising with them would know the topography a bit better. They will have a better chance to win than someone entering the dialogue after a gap.

Early advantage seekers will most likely go with sales and discounts to mop-up as much as early from the post-lockdown market. A good enough practice. Some brands have already started talking about pre-booking deals. You pay ‘X’ now and buy items worth ‘X+20-30%’ later. Few are banking on the loyal subscriber. There are going to be many versions of ‘lockdown discounts’ and ‘Freedom sale’.

Some brands will layer their communication with ‘Made in India’, ‘helping the country’, ‘anti-china’, ‘we are in it together’ and ‘the national pride’ etc. We will also hear about a percentage of sales going for migrant workers, and COVID-19 help will also be there. All this when being competitively priced with margin pressure. Such brands will survive but will always be under pressure.

However, the brands that will win will be the one focussing on enhanced quality, experience and service with a long-term perspective. It is better to re-evaluate the experience more than the pricing. And hence, communication that is a functional benefit oriented with some emotional payoff will work better. As for media, you want that instant build-up- so Newspaper definitely works best along with social media.

 

The Pre-Primed Pumps.

The brands that will outshine all others will be the brands that have during the lockdown demonstrated some integrated purpose. They are self-primed at this point in time. The audience most likely looks at them with pride and wants to be associated with them.

Remember- ‘Dream Now – Travel Later’ is as good as ‘Talk Now-Do Business Later’.

 

 

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