How relevant are Brand differentiators when the new world is driven by the only filter of hygiene? This question popped up when I watched the recent Lux & Santoor ads that were focused on hygiene & not on beauty. Coming from brands that only stood for glamour & ageless skin made me ponder intensely on the importance of having a unique differentiator & the level of flexibility one should consider in the changing context.
To look for immediate answers, we should first calibrate the permanence of changing people’s expectations from different categories in this fluidic situation. Fashion for instance, is largely driven by outdoors but today more people are seeking comfortable options. Is this recent behavior likely to shape new expectations from the category in the future? More importantly it’s to think whether this is just an immediate need to be addressed or a long-term shift even after the danger has passed? It’s hard to believe that such a fundamental dislocation of our lives can pass without leaving a serious imprint on our future mindset. The shift from excitement in novel experiences to the fear in novel experiences is huge. The world is preparing to resume normalcy, but trauma of this life-threatening event is going to remain with us much longer than we expect. So, how do brands address the changing meaning of categories? Is the context also changing some of the marketing fundamentals?
COVID-19 has somersaulted our lives & for the first time Indians feel that Safety, Hygiene & Health are #1 priority for all their future actions, including brand associations. This is interesting to understand one of the key fundamentals in brand marketing around the points of difference & parity. The Points of difference (POD) give consumers good reasons to prefer a brand, since the key to winning is assumed to be differentiation and while it is important to establish a POD, it is equally important to nullify the competition by matching them on the points of parity (POP). And by this we are entering an era where safety, hygiene& health will not only be ‘must haves’ & simply nullify all competitions but will create a compelling differentiator. Brands will need to understand the form of protection that can be offered through its products & services, one that is in keeping with its larger stories. ‘Social distancing crown’ by Burger King is an attempt to help customers keep a safe distance from each other is an utterly fun way to wanting to have one without the guilt, a smart way of providing a layer of protection while keeping its brand values intact. And while usually a late entrant looks at making the competitor’s POD into a POP for the category and thereby eyeing the leadership position by introducing a new POD but in the current context, converting POP based on protection into a compelling POD can work as the most relevant story for a new brand launch.
So, does that mean that consumers are ready to discount their deep aspirations &desires of freedom, newness, exploration& luxury? Humans feel more drawn to situations that are restricted. Not been able to do as they wish is resulting in growing intensity of these human desires at an explosive rate. And as the restrictions lift, some may embrace everything that was denied before with a vengeance, others will wait a considerate duration of time to fulfil what they were missing. Brand strategists need to be finding compelling meaning of exciting experiences in the new pivot of safety, protection, hygiene & health. Maybe the new meaning of freedom is hidden in the new sense of hygienic living that may contribute to mental peace. Dove is one such example that is successfully differentiating in these different times by finding new meanings in the more relevant settings and avoiding any desperate changes. Well established brands need to hence understand the new meanings of such feelings resting under the very layer of contextual themes, thereby strengthening what it truly stands for.
In the post-Covid-19 world, the new lasting behavior & mindset are under construction. Sothen, whether the world continues with the austere way of living or naturally gets pulled back to the good old habits in the long run, the immediate spending behavior is going to put consumers into many decision dilemmas. And opening of economic activities will gradually bring back the supply, but brands will need to work a lot harder in generating demand as consumers will be pressed on spending & pressured to savings.
Authored by Mamtah Sabhrwal, Group Head – Account Planning, Isobar India