The new normals in a world where Covid-19, unfortunately, is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly, the way we live our life.
In a world post-lockdown where the rules of the game are set to change, or rather have already changed, the way forward for the real estate is also entering an unknown road.
The nation-wide lockdown is slowly being lifted across orange and green zones and life is slowly crawling back to a new-normalcy. Businesses and brands are now are making their way back into the business; planning their communication plans for a new world post the covid-19 lockdown.
In this story of Medianews4u’s new brand series, Back to Business, we spoke to Ankur Parmar, CMO, Mahindra Happinest to understand how is the real estate brand from the mighty Mahindra group planning to combat Covid-19 and its impact.
How are you coping with the impact of Covid-19 on Mahindra Happinest? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
As with other sectors, Real Estate has witnessed a slowdown due to the Covid-19 situation in India. However, in recent weeks we have been seeing a resurgence of interest. The lockdown has resulted in a marked shift in consumer preference towards virtual meetings over physical site visits.
At Mahindra Happinest, we had a high level of technology enablement in our sales process even prior to the pandemic and were thus able to switch to a virtual product experience almost overnight. For brands, customer perception is reinforced during unprecedented times such as the current pandemic. Buyer journeys and expectations are changing. We understand that our customers might be facing trying times and have rolled out initiatives like deferred demands for booked customers and a ‘free look period’ that allows intending home buyers to alter their purchase decision within a certain period, without any financial loss.
Our Marketing team is all hands on deck, preparing to serve changing consumer needs that are both stated and unstated. Some of our focus areas right now include new product development and marketing communications for future launches.
The quest for a solution to a particular crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models. What sort of innovation has the Covid-19 pandemic brought to your brand?
Innovation has always been a way of life for us, long before the present crisis. During the launch of Mahindra Happinest in Kalyan last year, for example, we involved customers in co-creating their preferred amenities in select common areas within the project via an industry-first initiative called ‘MySeries’. This initiative will also serve as a revenue-generating stream for the society. This was a digital-first launch wherein all bookings were made online, thus reinforcing emerging homebuyer preference for online interactions.
The ongoing pandemic has resulted in shifting consumer needs and consumption patterns across categories. Some of these changes are here to stay and will permanently transform business operations. Shifts and trends specific to real estate will need to be extensively thought through well in advance, given the long cycle of ‘manufacturing’ and ‘usage’ of a home and the fact that changes once implemented are very difficult to reverse. While the pandemic has accelerated category-level innovation in technology enhancement in the sales process, product innovation related to work from home, fitness corners within homes, and the inclusion of retail and health amenities can become the new normal in residential projects. We are closely observing the changing dynamics while looking out for trends and opportunities that will be worthy enough to make a real difference to our consumers.
While some parts of the country have become Covid-19 free, cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still in a lockdown situation. How are you planning to resume business across cities that are not ‘in the red’?
We have restarted operations in Chennai and MMR (virtual), and in our NRI markets (specifically GCC), and are opening others in a phased manner. Independent of cities being ‘in the red’ or not, social distancing is the new normal and appears here to stay for a while. We are operating with limited staff in a phased manner as mandated by the government while offering a virtual product experience as the default mode and allowing site visits in a scheduled manner, to avoid gathering at site. We will reopen sites in cities as and when it is permissible to do so, while ensuring strict adherence to all regulatory guidelines, including those pertaining to social distancing, sanitization, and health.
What will your communication strategy be post the relaxation of the lockdown? What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
Homeownership is aspirational in India and that is not likely to change in the near future. In fact, on the contrary, the pandemic has made homeownership in the affordable segment more critical than ever before, as families have experienced the challenges of prolonged confinement in compromised conditions. However, it will take some time to allay lingering concerns regarding finances and the way forward in uncertain times. Customers will naturally gravitate towards trusted brands with a good track record that offers a differentiated product and value proposition in line with their changing needs. Intense bursts of communication are typically timed with project launches, which we have currently deferred to Q2 when we will take a considered call basis market dynamics.
How did you keep up employee morale during this lockdown period? On a personal note, what kept you positive?
It was important to understand that it would take time to adjust to a ‘new normal’ and facilitating this change was critical. We realized early on that there would be a mix of employees with and without their ecosystems, locked in their homes. Our HR team has been intuitive, empathetic, and resourceful during the lockdown in facilitating skill development workshops, cross-functional sessions, and other initiatives to enhance personal and professional capabilities during this time. Regular virtual catch-ups are par for the course and drive a culture of real-time connectedness and collaboration. Also, each function has taken on workstreams over and above their regular jobs, utilizing this time for quality thinking to align strategies and actions for the future.
Personally, what kept me going was ‘no travel time’ in Mumbai and structure work schedules and daily crises and ad hoc meetings. It really gave me quality time to think on the way forward along with precious family time.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
These are uncertain times for India’s real estate industry, and we continue to be cautious while steering away from knee-jerk reactions or impulsive decisions. However, ‘no action’ is definitely not a solution and hence we are alive to opportunities. The prime focus is to use this time to be prepared so that go-to-market can be turned around almost overnight. I believe a first-mover will benefit from the accumulated consumer demand in the affordable homes segment and business partners (brokers) are keenly awaiting normalcy. Talking about the share of this pie, that will be driven by the sheer strength of the proposition.