Opinion: Why marketers need a new rulebook for Indian consumers in 2021?

Nikhil Rungta Verizon Media

Nikhil Rungta, Verizon Media explains how marketers need to connect with Indian consumers in the New Normal with, perhaps, a new rulebook, owing to some major changes in the core DNA of consumer behavior.

Indian consumers took a leap in 2020. Digirupted by the pandemic, they developed new digital habits at a breathtaking pace. Now with their expectations altered, consumers are showing no signs of returning to pre-pandemic habits. A recent Accenture Consumer Pulse survey found that 90% of Indian consumers have made permanent changes in how they live, work, shop, and are entertained. 

As we exit 2020, marketers will need a new rulebook to keep pace with how consumers have evolved. Four shifts stand out that will have lasting implications for how brands connect with consumers in 2021. 

Connecting with Dramatically Digital Consumers in an Omnichannel World

Streaming had a moment, e-commerce had a year! Brands have to reimagine solutions for post-pandemic consumers who inhabit an omnichannel world – think solutions that take advantage of the rise of streaming, or the shift from linear to digital, for example. Mid-year research by Resulticks found that marketers in India ranked the lack of an omnichannel marketing strategy as one of the two biggest challenges they face.

Yet, omnichannel has never been more important given the accelerated shifts in how digitally-forward Indians now shop, transact, and consume media. The e-commerce experience, for instance, is transforming to become multiformat.

We are seeing brands elevate the experience with more Augmented Reality (AR) enabled commerce. Richer forms of interactive video have the potential to restore the fun of pre-COVID shopping experiences where consumers won’t just be able to watch shoppable programming but to do with friends in a co-shopping experience.

Marketers can no longer afford to think in silos but have to look at an agile, unified solution that is truly omnichannel: from mobile to connected TV, from AR immersive experiences to out of the home to point of purchase.

The good news is, it is possible to hit every part of the funnel and track campaigns with the right unified solution from a trusted partner — telling a complete story, for instance, by seamlessly connecting CTV, OOH, and a mobile campaign. With Indians crisscrossing channels, platforms, devices, and screens, a full-funnel omnichannel approach will help brands connect the dots better, to drive better results, and maximize outcomes. 

The Rise of New Identity Solutions for a Cookie-less Future

With exponentially more consumers online in India, awareness of data privacy continues to rise. We now know this: consumers are not averse to sharing data, and our research overwhelmingly shows they value advantages like personalized ads. But what they do want is for brands to respect their data, using it ethically. This will be the holy grail to increasing consumer trust and loyalty. The privacy conversation grew more nuanced this year as the cookie crumbled. The end of third-party cookies and other tracking mechanisms has propelled marketers and publishers to find alternative identity solutions.

The rise of ‘unified identity solutions’ will create a path forward through products that responsibly handle first-party data and put consumers front and center. Such solutions led by major industry players will help brands effectively engage with audiences, respect their privacy preferences, while still delivering relevant advertising, and maintaining monetization.

In the near future, brands will have to rely on partners that have built an identity graph powered by a diversity of owned, consent-based, cross-channel, first-party data.

By doing so marketers will be well placed to benefit from alternative identity, targeting, and measurement solutions, to engage meaningfully with consumers. 

Futures Made of Virtual Realities

A major trend that emerged during the pandemic was the consumers’ demand for differentiated content and unique experiences. This played out in the form of virtualized events – all the way from immersive fashion shows to concerts, red carpet, and sporting events. For digital marketers, Extended Reality (XR) experiences provided a way to meet new consumer passions while seamlessly bridging the physical and digital divide.

AR-enabled with just a smartphone especially widened access to such experiences. AR mobile native ads, for example, mimicked the utility and relevance of in-store shopping, helping consumers virtually try on, mix and match clothes, makeup, and even jewelry to see a product in 3D from every angle. In categories like home decor, where consumers have traditionally relied on an on-site product experience, AR proved an effective alternative. It helped shoppers visualize furniture in their home environments at the right scale, helping them avoid expensive mistakes and nudging them from browsing to buying. For brands, it was a win-win, with the interactive quality of AR ads leading to high conversion rates.

Given how fun, useful, and relevant such experiences have been in 2020, I see an enduring shift in how consumers will continue to test, try or evaluate products virtually, before buying online or at a physical store.

Supercharged by the pandemic, immersive experiences will continue to scale for new use cases far beyond 2020, amplified with possibilities that could range from gamification to social, interactive experiences.

Immunity marketing: Advertising for good

This year has shown that there is no substitute for a strong immune system, which applies to brands too. Looking ahead, marketers will have to strategically rely on ‘immunity marketing’ to strengthen their relationship with consumers who have changed irrevocably. Consumers now hold their brands to a higher purpose. Besides ‘value’ and ‘quality’, a sizable 30% of Indian consumers said that they tried brands that were purpose-driven and supported local businesses since the start of the pandemic, a new McKinsey survey has revealed. 

In a post-COVID world, brands will have to increase their ‘Share of Empathy’ over ‘Share of Voice’ to build trust and loyalty.

Indian consumers are looking to engage with brands that are transparent, responsible, and accountable. To meet their expectations, brands in turn will have to rely on ad-tech solutions with integrity – from transparency in measurement and insights to accountability across ad experiences. With fake news and offensive content spiraling, brand safety has never been more important and will remain a major factor for marketers. 

2020 was a year of big shifts for consumers and marketers alike. By reimagining how they reach and serve customers who have evolved, marketers now have new opportunities to provide value, stay relevant and stand out. It is time to hit the reset button. 

This article piece is authored by Nikhil Rungta, Country Manager, India, Verizon Media