The communication strategy for brands right now, in three words should be: HELP, DON’T SELL

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During a crisis situation like the one we are facing right now due to the outbreak of Covid-19, it becomes extremely important for brands to align their communication with the current situation. So when a cultural moment shifts as dramatically as it has in the face of COVID-19, it’s important that brands address the issue with tact, empathy, and mindful marketing. The outbreak of covid-19 is bound to make some significant and everlasting change in the way brands communicate with their consumers and its stakeholders.

Columbia Pacific Communities (CPC) is India’s largest and most experienced senior living community operator with close to 1600 residential units under management in 5 cities and 9 locations across south India. As the pioneers in this category it is committed to reimagining the concept of senior living in India and create world-class practices that exceed these expectations of all our stakeholders.

Keeping the current situation mind, the brand took an opportunity to spread positivity with its novel #TheLivingRoom initiative, a series of FB live talk show with eminent personalities across industries.The brand purpose of Columbia Pacific Communities is to champion the cause of positive ageing and shatter age-related stereotypes.

The initiative, #TheLivingRoom, a series of 40-min Facebook Live sessions gave seniors access to interact with some of the finest minds in our country on social media. These include stalwarts, experts, professionals, popular personalities. As part of the series, Columbia Pacific Communities has roped in comedian Anuvab Pal, medical expert Dr. Mahesh Mylarappa, cricket commentator Charu Sharma, actor, filmmaker and activist Nandita Das, motivational speaker and the author of ‘My Life I Decide’ Rinku Swahney. The forthcoming sessions will feature, actor Prakash Belavadi; Ad guru Prahlad Kakkar, and veteran actor Kabir Bedi.

MediaNews4U spoke to Piali Dasgupta, VP- Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities on this initiative and how they have strategized ideas to keep senior citizens in a positive mindset during these tiring times. Dasgupta is a sharp creative thinker and ideator, and she believes in striking the right balance between the yin and yang of Marketing.

COVID19 has seen a lot of changes including anxiety etc, what should the communication strategy of brands be?

One cannot stress enough on the importance of being hyper-aware, hypersensitive and having your ear to the ground at this point, more than ever before. Brands that undermine the gravity of the situation or try to exploit it with sale/offer/discount communication will undoubtedly come across as cloth-eared and tone-deaf and will lose audience confidence rapidly.

I still see certain retailers running “Lockdown Sale” and “Lockdown offer” at a time when the world is combatting a pandemic, this smacks of really poor communication strategy.

The idea is to ensure that communication is in line with the crisis at hand, while not going dark during this time. Coca Cola, for instance has completely changed the way their Twitter feed looks. It is now dedicated to experts and partners sharing helpful information regarding COVID.

You can build a very meaningful relationship with your customers by giving them content that is beneficial to them or serves a purpose. At Columbia Pacific Communities, we launched a campaign called #PositiveLockdown which helped create an activity calendar of sorts for seniors to ensure they stay engaged and productive and look at the lockdown period positively. We also launched FB chat show to bring experts and luminaries to the living rooms of our seniors through social media. So the communication strategy for brands right now, in three words should be: HELP, DON’T SELL.

You have conceptualised #TheLivingRoom, what was the strategy behind this communication?

It was more an intent and less a strategy, to be honest.

The aged are among the most vulnerable sections of the population as far as COVID-19 is concerned. Hence it’s not only important for them to stay home to stay safe, but also ensure that they are positively engaged while they spend their time indoors. That is how the idea of The Living Room was born. It is a series of virtual talk shows and sessions with luminaries and experts, in order to engage senior citizens meaningfully during the lockdown. These talk shows are being hosted through the live video streaming feature of Facebook, FB Live. We are using technology and the power of social media to bring people closer at a time when social distancing is the order of the day. We are very grateful to all the luminaries and experts including actor-director Nandita Das, cricket commentator Charu Sharma and that have partnered with us in a bid to give our seniors something to look forward to while they are locked down.

Communication especially voice of the brand is more important now, your take on this?

Voice of a brand has always been very important, not just during these trying times. The brand tonality, tone of voice of a brand is one of the most crucial elements of a brand’s personality. It defines how the brand behaves and appears to the world. Particularly in times of crisis, brands have to be very careful and almost paranoid about how they sound. For example, your brand could have a funny/slapstick tone of voice. But during a crisis situation, you have to ensure that you don’t sound frivolous or silly and would perhaps even need to tone your brand of humour done without losing your core. This is challenging no doubt, but is the need of the hour.

The voice of a brand can make or break it. So there’s merit in investing time and energy and getting it right during extraordinary times such as this.

Post COVID 19 what are the positive things are you envisaging?

Whether it’s Bisleri giving away free water bottles to those working in the frontlines, or Parle-G distributing biscuits and Crocs distributing footwear to nurses across Asia and USA or Swiggy raising funds to feed daily wage workers, brands have taken their social responsibility more seriously in the face of this crisis. I do feel that brands and also human beings will be more conscientious, ethical and eco-conscious in the post COVID world. Yes, there will be pressure of sales post the slump, but companies and brands will find ways to innovate and reduce carbon footprint, wastage and practice fair trade. It is the need of the hour, and it’s time that organisations big and small realise that each one of them has a responsibility towards mother earth.

Additionally, whether it’s F&B, retail, FMCG, hospitality and airlines, they are likely to increase efficiency and be inventive and creative with reduced resources.

Will brand communication, strategies change post COVID 19?

Well, I do not see a drastic shift in how brands would communicate. Once the lockdown is lifted, there will be pressure to make up for the lost time and chase revenue goals for the quarter. So, sooner than later, brands would go back to product pitches and offer/sales led communication.

Having said that, brands with a sound communication strategy will be more mindful in the manner in which they communicate. They will choose their words carefully and be more sensitive towards how they design their communication in the post COVID world. This is what will become a key differentiator in gaining audience trust back.

Brands that focus on safety and contact-free customer experience will be the winners in the post COVID world.

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