It has been six months since India went under lockdown but the country is now opening up slowly. The recent outbreak of the COVID – 19 has caused a tectonic shift in most people’s lives. With the lockdown, media spaces shrinking which has led to a rising appetite for owned media platforms. To connect with audience, various organizations have tried different methods to reach out to them and make them a part of their story.
Direct Communication is one of the trend and strategy to engage directly with audiences and influencers. This approach enables consumers (and potential users) the possibility of connecting with the brand, experiencing the product or service, and – in particular – being a part of the brand’s story moving forward. This method has been adapted by various brands and organizations across the globe where they believe that every company should operate like a media company. This direct engagement is not a replacement but represents a complementary approach to traditional communications based on paid or earned media. It helps them to understand brand value, its impact and their consumers in this transforming period.
In order to engage with the audience directly, Godrej is pioneering direct communications in India through its owned media platforms L’Affaire, Vikroli Cucina, Design Deko, etc.
Sujit Patil, VP & Head Corporate Brand and Communications Godrej Industries Limited & Associate Companies drives corporate and brand public relations and is responsible for building and sustaining the group’s reputation across diverse stakeholders. Sujit spoke to us on this initiative.
What made you start this initiative?
A research few years back showed that the affinity towards for brand Godrej amongst Millennials and youngsters could be much better. Various research studies also depicted the dwindling trust in advertising and sponsored content, more so among the millennial audiences. So as a part of the overall Masterbrand strategy to address this issue, we felt that a meaningful experiential engagement of our brands with influencers and key opinion leaders (KOLs) was key. The three pillars of our owned media platform strategy are – content creation, experiential engagement and building a community of advocates for the brand Godrej.
We began with the food space as seven of Godrej businesses have a significant share of the kitchen (Interio kitchens, appliances’, Real Good Chicken, Cartini Knives, Protekt hand wash etc.). The runaway success of ‘Vikhroli Cucina’ as a platform to engage with KOLs in the food space encouraged us to launch ‘L’Affaire’ which is our owned media property that enables brands and businesses in the lifestyle space to meaningfully engage with audiences in an experiential manner. The third platform was Design Dekko. Again on the same principles, this is for building a community of designers and architects.
These properties are growing well and we expect our traction with the young audiences’ gets better, authentic content is generated for the participating brands and we are able to build a very good and positive digital safety net for Masterbrand Godrej in the social space.
What has been the traction for this initiative?
All three platforms have built a strong community of followers and have stood out in terms of creating experiences for the target audience. Since the customer experience and brand ethos are the core of owned media platforms, it pushes brands to create Relevancy among its target consumers to drive Engagement using interesting Content which eventually leads to Community building through Experience.The authentic content that gets created is used as a constant fuel for the social media handles of the participating brands.
The season 4 of Godrej L’Affaire reached 63 million accounts and created an impression of over 143 million. There were 50 brands that engaged on ground with over 1300 influencers, celebrities, HNIs from the genres of fashion, food, travel, beauty, wellness, entertainment, and design. These are genres in which most of our brands play.
Vikhroli Cucina has established itself a successful owned media platform in the food genre. In fact, its Food Trends Report is now a compendium of biggest trends in the food space curated by over 100 top chefs and culinary experts of India. Similarly, Design Dekko has built a strong community of over 24,000 architecture and interior design professionals and enthusiasts through its online platform.
The overall admiration scores of Godrej Masterbrand has seen a significant positive shift.
During this crisis how did you personally stay positive and how did you motivate your team?
Personally, I am a hard core optimist. Also, there has been a solid support from my family, friends and the strong network of industry professionals. The pandemic has been unprecedented but I guess it has taught me to look at things differently, value relations and be more empathetic. A combination of all these and the constant conversations with friends and team members has certainly helped me stay positive. Godrej, as an organization took early steps in terms of support to employees during the pandemic. Technological infrastructure and policies have been absolutely conducive to working from home. Regular leadership interaction and a shared sense of purpose to #EmergeStronger has been a great motivator for all. Our regular team calls, interactions, sharing and just being there for each other has been very useful. Apart from some exciting work in the digital space, trust, understanding and empathy amongst the team has been at the highest level.
L’Affaire also started a series on Lockdown Travel, your thoughts?
A lot of new dimensions emerged on the communications front. We started the L’Affaire Saturday night live music series during the initial phase of the lockdown. This was basically started to keep our followers engaged by giving them a good dose of happiness and positivity during the uncertain times. It still continues every Saturday and due to a good traction for the Masterbrand, we added Wilderness Wednesdays, Travel Tuesdays and now Writers Wednesdays. These are Instagram lives with accomplished talents who have been a part of our own media properties. The conversations are absolutely delightful, engaging, value adding and entertaining. The opportunity to integrate brand messages has been immense and touchwood, these lives are going strong event after four months, week after week. We aim to continue these lives by adding the other elements of lifestyle viz. Wellness, health, Hygiene, food etc. and integrate our brands in a very subtle but meaningful manner.
In the new normal, how do you think communication from brands and clients evolve?
The only thing constant is change. The industry is undergoing a huge cultural and behavioral change. The ‘R’ in PR today represents Reality, Resolution, and Reputation. It’s incumbent on brands to not just communicate reality (facts) to press but to the public at large. To show resolution against opportunistic ‘cause-washing’ and determination towards giving back to the society. To focus on building reputation and authentically living up to it. Thus, communication will simply be about ABC (Authentic Brand Connect). Brands will look at building closer ties through experiences and engaging content with the audience. In fact, the skew will be towards building more direct channels with the target audience offering bi-directional engagement opportunities. The trust in earned and owned media will witness an increase. Therefore, brands which have utilized the lockdown time to re-assess, introspect, and adapt their communication strategy have an edge over others.
Way forward when it comes to PR communication?
PR will transcend the traditionally rigid boundaries of earned, owned, or paid media and will be about utilizing moments to create real-time experiences. Data will help PR professionals to make informed decisions after evaluating situations and data. In marketing, Data is the new Oil. In PR, data is the new soil. You need to understand data, nurture it and sow the right seeds to get the right results.
AI will become instrumental in experimenting with content and headlines, and even guestimate the result of the pitch! However, this will never replace human intervention; just the role of a PR professional will evolve.
Your valuable advice to young millennials joining the PR industry
The world of PR evolves far swiftly than academics. Therefore, having a practical understanding of the function is equally critical. Utilize your initial years – and more importantly the internship—to learn from mentors.
On the functional front, understand great PR ideas with no business benefit are passé!Be real brand journalists – Good stories could be told only by identifying, researching and developing those stories. The era of spin doctors is over and frowned upon. This is the era of PPR – Professional and Perceptive Raconteurs. Learn the art of telling a story in an engaging way in real-time. However, be mindful of vulturistic and extractive tendencies.
On the behavioral front, own up – It’s no longer about who did what. It is about what was the impact. Be proactive, transparent, and remember culture eats strategy for breakfast. Therefore, your attitude precedes behavior and performance.