Nothing has Changed, and Nothing will Change for Marketers

23 Dec,2020


By Sanjeev Kotnala


There I have said it! Am I being out of sync with reality? Or just being provocative to grab your attention? Everyone across the world is busy discussing the impact of Covid-19. Pundits have sliced, spliced and dissected the truth. The old way, it seems, is no longer relevant. Brands worth their loyalties, and brands seeking to be loyal, are all busy realigning to ‘The New Normal.’ The new AD to an older BC. But something in me refuses to accede. Yes, I insist, nothing has changed for the marketer.


The world continues to rotate

Births and deaths continue. The nature of elections and protests haven’t changed. There seems to be no end to discrimination based on race, gender, color, caste, religion, or geography. Stockmarkets remain entirely unpredictable. RCB and our irascible Kohli persist in failing at the IPL. Arnab continues to dominate as the accused, plaintiff, and judge. E-commerce platforms and startups continue to sell a dollar for 50 cents. We continue mixing politics and religion with relish. The doomsayers and the devoted continue their daily clash. And to the utter glee of all marketers behind the scenes- perception remains a better influencer than reality. Consumers, of course, stay illogical, irrational, and completely mesmerized. We remain uncertain about the most certain thing in life- death and are sure about every other uncertainty.


So, well, if nothing has changed, then nothing has changed.


But, isn’t change the only constant?

Ok, I am not for a moment saying Covid hasn’t affected us. We all know things have indeed taken a turn. For better or worse, only time will tell. But, here’s my point- For marketers and whatever it is that they are selling us, change has always been the only constant. Change is natural. Sometimes it is a slow erosion of culture and values, and occasionally a violent wave completely transforms everything instantly. Covid hit our collective conscience like a sudden earthquake, with aftershocks continuing to reverberate around us.

Yes, things have changed. We have realised that men of means can actually accomplish household chores, even cook and babysit. We are painfully aware of the workload of a homemaker. We are suddenly conscious of shielding our coughs and sneezes and maintaining a polite distance in a queue. We are teaching ourselves things that should have been the norm in the first place. From sniggering at someone wearing a pollution mask, we are now picking up facemasks that match our shirts and shoes.


We are reluctantly acknowledging the power and the curse of social media. We have learned the difference between a friend on Facebook versus the real deal who you can trust. To recognise the essential from the feel-good. Covid has given us all pause for thought. A lifestyle based on overt materialism is being questioned. And as a result, insights that were once leveraged by products and services are undergoing a transformation.


Marketers are expected to be ever vigilant and evolve with changes. It is their job to adapt. The changes are just an occupational hazard. So that is why I insist, nothing has changed for the marketer.


It is merely time to rehaul the template

If you upped your key season by unleashing a Sale with front-loaded spots on TV and activation solutions tailored to find the approval of your boss’s wife, it probably didn’t work this time around. Your pre-Covid consumer insights maybe failed to pack the same punch. And even if all your post-evals forced you to look for excuses, Covid has indeed seeded a nagging doubt. Deep in the pit of your stomach, you know there is a broken template that needs to be repaired or replaced. Maybe forever.


But the fundamental drivers of consumerism remain true. No one is ever satisfied with what life serves them. And all consumers continue to believe that they deserve a better life. They also believe that life is, in many ways, biased. And when we marketers take a hard look at it, we know that essentially the task remains intact. It is only the template that is broken. And changing a template to accommodate a changing scenario has always been the only reason for good marketers to exist. So, again, nothing has changed for the real marketer.


Every day is a New Day

We have moved through stops and spurts and have come a long way in a brief period. From branding as a differentiator, to the 4Ps of marketing, perception management, and then preference creation, to USP, to visual dominance to now, purpose-driven brands, we have come a long way. We will slowly find a new solution for this highly fragile market, where information updates continue to overwrite everything every minute.


For a marketer, life changes when the consumer changes. Experimenting, learning, and moving in tandem with society are what keep the home fires burning. The landscape of marketing is littered with broken templates. Every time technology takes a leap, every time a new medium takes center stage, every time the latest pop phenomenon breaks a record, your template too takes a shattering blow. This year it was the turn of a biological virus to introduce a twist in the plot, but with the same results—just another day in your marketing life. So, let me repeat, nothing has changed for the marketer.


Freeze, melt, or mold a new path.

How we react is a question of the mindset we have. While brands were busy holding back and cutting short their dreams, Amul boldly launched new products and gained media-weight efficiencies. McDonald’s, Volkswagen, Burger King, Adidas, Fevicol, and The Hindu empathised with their audience, reflecting in their communication. Tanishq tried to be corrective by defining inclusiveness across religious boundaries, leading to outrage in some quarters. But they were at least trying. Lifebuoy and Dettol took full home-ground advantage with their soap and handwash brands. The fact is, every brand is fully aware that their templates have been irretrievably broken. If you are not busy finding your new template for the new normal, then you are a victim of the virus. So, I say again, nothing has changed for the marketer.


It is time for Re-WORLD.

Yes, marketers need to Re-WORLD. To Re-SEARCH inward and outward. Re-EVALUATE options and maybe Re-DEFINE and Re-PURPOSE for current and future consumers.


The ecosystem will keep evolving, and we must make the best of the situation, better than the competition, or what the audience expects. Every marketer is in the game till the experience-expectation gap is positive.


Marketers are expected to be agile in addressing every Probortunity (Problem or opportunity) with an open mind. To watch what can be exploited and leveraged. Like, Centre fresh – primarily a mouth freshener, keeping itself alive through the romance of a class struggle.


UnAcademy talks of ‘Aur kya sheeka,’ and Amazon says the ‘show must go on’. The marketers better watch these two along with the Facebook story of a small-town milk center. They would suddenly agree with me; neither their roles and responsibilities nor accountability has changed. The process and the approaches remain valid; only the template is broken.


Nothing has Changed for the Marketers

The marketers must not forget that this is the time for them to remain faithful to the process, the SOP, the art and science of marketing- the results will follow. How simple it is to say, Chai Peeni Thi AA Gaya. Nothing has changed. Marketing, Yeh Toh Aapna hi game hai.




Excerpts from my talk ‘NOTHING IS CHANGED FOR THE MARKETERS’ to Amity University, Uttar Pradesh.  However, it was my Bengaluru-based dear friend, Peter Suresh; a media research analyst turned content writer, and an ex-colleague from Dainik Bhaskar, who gave it the Tint, Hue and Colour, and curated the jumbled thoughts to make them presentable . Thank you, Peter


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