You must shine in this quarantine

We (hopefully) cringe at the kind of things some celebs are saying and doing. Whether it is bathing in rose petals (Madonna), lounging by her pool (JLo), posting on TikTok (Raveena Tandon), dolling up and saying “You must shine in this quarantine” (Richa Chaddha) they are essentially living their lives just like usual. But the playbook has changed and the old cues are jarring. Contrast that with the reception being accorded to movie stars who are contributing cash to the cause.

Brands cannot act like divas either. We have to respect the new reality. Businesses and individuals have reverted to the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. We are all worried about meeting physiological needs – safety, security, food, water, shelter. Neil Patel put out a chart which shows that the only sites with growth in SEO traffic are in finance, food, healthcare and media. Every other category is declining. Like a lot.

Belonging, esteem, self-actualization – they’ll be back as soon as we’re feeling more secure. But right now we just want to feel safe.

Given all of this there is going to be quite a bit of disruption. We’ve never been through a downturn quite like this but some of the writing is quite visible on the wall. Firstly, companies will try to reduce fixed costs as much as possible. Recurring payments, retainers, flat fee licenses, employment contracts – there will be a lot of pressure to move them to a variable cost. What are some of the implications for marketing? Outsourcing will look really attractive to push fixed costs out. Events budgets will be reallocated to digital channels – webinars, online conferences, certification programs and workshops. Sports sponsorships will similarly be diverted to online eyeballs. There is already pressure to improve the quality of online content – when everyone is competing for the same eyeballs you cannot get away with mediocre content.

And that brings me to the biggest shift that digital drives – the death of the mediocre, the average, the good. Whenever something becomes high quality in a digital, portable format it creates a huge market for a few, the best, and kills off physical delivery by local not-so-good players. Movies did this to local drama troupes and dancers, radio to local musicians, online delivery to local shops, web-based training to neighbourhood tutors.

Now we will see a similar shift in events, an area of marketing that I fell in love with  20 years ago. The first trade show participation I helped manage was at Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York. This week it has been converted to a hospital. Even as the best producers pull in an audience of hundreds and thousands with innovative formats and content from the global best, local players who primarily delivered “opportunities to meet” will lose their audience and sponsors.

If you are working remotely and outsourcing the creation of digital content, you are free to source from the global best – this month (or more) is what is required for many to take the plunge of moving away from the friendly local creative shop. Y2K – the need to transition systems before the Year 2000 was a boon for the Indian IT industry. It was a one-time shock that spiked demand for offshore IT services as it was not possible to find a local player to get the work done as well or as cheaply. The COVID-19 shock will be that moment for remote delivery of services in spaces as diverse as education to entertainment to physical fitness to mental health.

Some of you have asked what to expect when we emerge from this pause. From previous recessions you can expect to see small luxuries (like lipstick), trade-downs, purchase deferment, smaller pack sizes including SaaS purchases, tighter cash flows all round. Many people and businesses will be at the Basic Needs level of the Maslow pyramid for at least a year. In the white collar universe you will also see far more digital adoption and comfort.

In my book – written in an earlier downturn – I talk about the value of owning a superlative. You’ve got to be the best at something, however small or niche the category. This mantra continues to hold true as in many sectors as we enter a truly borderless marketplace. If you can’t be the universal best, look at cultural nuances or languages that can give you an edge. For example, if you can’t be the best piano teacher in the world, how about best piano teacher for Bollywood songs, or best piano teacher in Hindi. You get the drift.

Most of us are working from home and entirely digital for the first time. What looked like a dream lifestyle a month ago is rapidly turning into a nightmare for many as people deal with housework, childcare and business meetings. Supriya Jain conducted research amongst 160+ executives to uncover what are their biggest challenges. Read to figure out what people like us really want in terms of support during this unusual time. The report also highlights the gender differences in this new normal.

If you would like to get some free advice for your business on anything I’ve touched upon in my newsletter, do email me and we can chat.


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