#SocialThrowback2020: When FMCG Sector was as brave & innovative as Self Made Madam C.J. Walker

The pandemic pushed the FMCG Sector to accelerate efforts in product innovation and marketing like never before, here's a recap.

Jagruti Verma
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FMCG Sector marketing 2020

The pandemic pushed the FMCG Sector to accelerate efforts in product innovation and marketing like never before; we draw parallels and lessons with help of Netflix's take on Madam C.J. Walker's life.

With restrictions on movement, a lot of tweaks had to be made in the way products are created and disseminated in the country. People were home through the day, the factor making a serious dent in everyday needs, evolving them into bare minimum essentials. The FMCG Sector had to evolve its marketing strategy to ensure people felt the need to keep buying into experiences they can enjoy at home, and helping run the economy. Going against the odds, like Madam C.J. Walker in Netflix's Self Made, the industry continued to strive.

Here are a few FMCG trends that stood out:

  • With a sudden demand for sanitisers, several non-healthcare brands stepped in to help with the production and maintain supply. It was a collective mass effort to keep innovating as per the current needs of people.
  • As the #VocalForLocal wave grew in popularity, several brands with Indian roots took to social media to highlight their origins with pride.
  • Since people were home, marketing efforts also had to reflect the scenario. Here, influencers played a key role in communication as they could create conversations that felt more inherently authentic.
  • New products were launched, ranging from Butterscotch Haldi Milk to Chyawanprash ice creams, in sync with consumer needs of a healthy lifestyle.

Brands seemed ready to brave it all to continue doing what they had joined the industry to do. As Madam C.J. Walker said: "I came here to do business."

"Let's talk about hair."

With a set of consumers who couldn't go out, several usual marketing narratives and content hooks were out of the scope for FMCG sector brands. They had to adapt their communication and portray their products as essential items even if the person was stuck at home.

They had to get personal in their marketing strategy and talk about things that mattered to their target audience. Much like the way Madam Walker talked about hair with her potential clientele.

Alternate consumption case scenarios and uses of the product became popular content pegs during this time. Brands couldn't tell consumers to apply the cream before stepping out for a special occasion. So, they spoke about how the cream can be used to make a face pack.

FMCG sector food brands concentrated on simple DIY recipes that can be created with their products. To add value and credibility to the process, they roped in celebrity chefs to create these recipes on screen. These videos were mostly shot in their personal kitchens, adding reliability to the mix.

Another key aspect was to reach consumers with products. So, brands concentrated on highlighting their distribution channels, with a focus on how people don't have to step out to be able to buy these products. E-commerce and tie-ups with product delivery brands were promoted.

"I want to open my own factory."

While much was changing on the communication front, brands had to work around product innovation to ensure they were relevant in the constantly changing times. This involved setting up new verticals and upgrading production channels. Entrepreneurial instincts with a vision of the future were key to the process. It was much like the way Madam Walker had expressed her desire to open her own factory and step up her business.

Quite a few brands, which weren't involved in the production of sanitisation products earlier came up with new ranges. This was done to meet the growing demands, consumer needs and to stay relevant as a responsible business in times of a crisis.

While conversations around Dalgona coffee were an example of brands trying to join trending conversations, introducing a range of mug cake offerings became an attempt at product innovation that were a result of the needs of consumers, as reflected on social media.

"You don't just plant a seed and expect fruit the next day."

As consumers were dealing with the various facets of a pandemic, they couldn't be asked to buy products, least of all directly. So the brands had to create deeper narratives and invest in the future. "You don't plant a seed and expect fruit the next day," a Madam Walker approved plan!

One way was to collate stories of consumers and how they were leading their lives under lockdown. Taking the personal road helped the brands develop narratives that were relatable as well as aspirational in a practical way. These content pieces focussed on familial relationships.

While the time was tough for all, it was also one of those moments when people got the chance to reflect on their life and take decisions that were life-altering. This thus became a content peg for brands to create narratives around, with dollops of hope and positivity for the future.

Memes around work from home were perhaps the most shared content pieces by brands. They were able. to connect with a large group of people with these creatives. Also, being shareable, they were a good way for brands to join conversations, organically. Products were the hero of such creatives, along with brand endorsers and influencers.

Several content creatives by brands tapped on the quintessential traits of familial relationships. This became a relevant peg for easy relatability for people were either spending a lot of time with their families or were away and missing their loved ones.

Marketing has always been about pivoting as per the needs and requirements of audiences and consumers but the pandemic brought with it unprecedented challenges. Thus, the speed with which FMCG brands, especially, had to change their communication was too quick. They had to get up close and personal on digital platforms.

These efforts were also a reflection of their resilience and are bound to affect the way these brands function, in terms of marketing and communication, in times to come. As Madam Walker said, "We are looking at the future right here."

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