Thank you for everything, 2020!

31 Dec,2020


By Avik Chattopadhyay


German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had said: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”



The last 12 months have been fast, unexpected, furious, and merciless.


They have also been full of introspection, unlearning, recalibration, and learning.


I am not entirely crestfallen that 2020 happened despite the disruption and disaster it brought upon us. I am not one of those who wishes the year away and wants to erase it from memory. One cannot just erase the destruction of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 or the trauma of our Partition in 1947. But if we, as humanity, come out of such events with a clearer mind and a stronger resolve, then they are helpful in the timeline of our evolution.


On the last day of 2020 I have certain positive takeaways as a brand practitioner.



The coming of age of “greater purpose”


For years, this term has been doing whispers in the world of brand management and marketing. It stayed in the background as times were generally good for business and introspection into the “why” of the brand and its business space was missing for most.



Those who did, definitely benefited from this disruption in behaviour and consumption. Those who had not, realised there was never a better time to ask oneself some fundamental questions on the ‘reason to exist’.



As Nietzsche had said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”



Aligning with larger causes and movements


The pandemic saw many significant social movements across the world. Incidents of strife, racism and authoritarianism also gave birth to causes. It was sure good to see a few brands clearly aligning themselves with such causes and movements. They consciously chose to stand for a certain belief and value system.



In India too, we have seen a couple of brands take up certain causes or beliefs beyond business and stand tall. But they found little support. Also, most brands chose to stay away from issues of national importance like inclusion, harmony, and diversity. I shall not take specific names. The purpose is to hold a mirror before us to get more to take a stand. There is no point living in a cocoon, turning away from harsh realities around us or simply wishing them away.



To again quote from Nietzsche: “There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.”



The power of storytelling


This is another crucial realisation to most brand managers and marketers that communication cannot be merely about product features and promotions but more about the life and times of the brand. It is an insult to the maturity of the Indian consumer that many categories still obsess with “best in class” and “first in class” rather than building affinity and aspiration by talking about the brand’s values and promise.



The movement of content consumption from the newspaper to the mobile phone has allowed brands to communicate more and better, beyond transactional elements. Video and audio have become critical media for telling one’s stories. And compelling stories are not bound by space and duration. Just a count of how many videos and tracks we loved and forwarded on social media platforms is a good indicator.



Process vis-à-vis Promise



The deep introspection that most of us have gone through has allowed us to understand that what we typically thought of as a value or promise is actually a process or medium.



Disruption is not a promise. Neither is innovation. Or digital for that matter. They are merely the means to an end. It is the end that needs to be clearly defined for that makes a brand distinct. The promise is the benefit or impact that the brand delivers to its consumer consistently over time.



The brands that had this clarity realigned their promise to the current relevance of lockdowns, reduced salaries, higher anxieties, and the need for security, convenience, and empathy. They modified their business processes accordingly. For those that believed that their process itself was the differentiator and promise, failed in the process.



To quote once again from Nietzsche: “There are two types of people in world, those who want to know and those who want to believe.”



Conversational Augmented Intelligence it will be


Call centres are dead. Chatbots are passe. Tomorrow’s engagement will depend on deep conversations with consumers using machines as intelligent interfaces. A 2020 joint study by IBM and O’Reilly Media predicts that the entire ‘backroom service’ industry will have to go through a massive overhaul in skills, empowerment, and enablers to deliver a more compelling brand experience.



The consumer tomorrow will not always be a purchaser of a product or service. He /she may be one who has consumer through experience rather than ownership. This evolution in consumer behaviour was evident but has been speeded up over the last 12 months. This will need recalibration of roles, measuring scales, skilling and development of new ‘tools’ of the trade.



For me the last 12 months have been mostly fulfilling. I have learnt to be more patient with life and impatient with the way I have peddled my trade of brand strategy and management. I have consciously unlearnt many rituals and processes in preparation of learning new ones. I have questioned the relevance and value I provide through my craft and challenged my own methods. If this pandemic had not happened and life would not have come to a standstill, I would never have done all this.



So, I thank 2020 for all it has brought before me, from the growing economic disparities, increased social strife, greater divisions on lines of faith to the shining examples of collaboration, co-creation, and co-existence.



As I step into 2021, I quote Nietzsche once again: “I still live, I still think: I still have to live, for I still have to think.”



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