Pandemic has created new consumer trends

Kuala Lumpur, 29 March 2020- GroupM hosted a virtual roundtable on Business Unusual – A Look at Life After Covid-19 to share key learnings from their clients working across critical business verticals on how they are currently navigating businesses in such unusual times.

Moderated by m/Six Malaysia MD Sheila Shanmugam, the panellists comprised leaders in industry such as CIMB CMO Adam Wee Abdullah, Pos Malaysia VP of marketing Schrene Goh, Firefly Malaysia Airlines Group CEO Philip See, unifi VP and head of marketing Lai Shu Wei as well as GroupM Malaysia CEO Chanchal Chakrabarty and m/Six APAC CEO Kevin Rooney.

The panellists shared their perspective on how this unprecedented pandemic has impacted and will continue to impact their organisations and their respective industry at large.

Ninety-seven viewers tuned in, comprising groupM talents and clients.

The first question was directed to Chanchal and Rooney on how GroupM is helping its clients in this unprecedented time. What are the changes that are taking place in the market place and trends that might stay post Covid-19 from a local and regional perspective?

Chanchal shared how Covid-19 has changed the way that businesses look at operations, clients and on a more human level, talents. Collaboration between clients and agencies become even more critical to ride through these uncertain times.

“Media consumption has obviously changed given the fact that everyone is at home with in-home consumption having gone up. The biggest decline in media can be seen in media channels consumed out of home, for example all types of outdoor and radio. However, the RMO also comes with a rise in the use of media channels which was previously declining like TV. Digital and e-commerce are experiencing the biggest boom, from a social content perspective as well as with more consumers shifting their purchasing behaviour more to online. Another area which might continue to enjoy growth post pandemic is ewallets, as consumers get used to that method of payment. One aspect of consumer behaviour that will continue after Covid-19 is online grocery shopping as consumers have begun to enjoy the convenience. Brand switching is likely to stay as a consumer behaviour as consumers try out alternative brands compared to their preferred choices if it is not made available online or via delivery.

“Moving forward what will be important between brands and consumers is whether or not brands are providing authentic experiences and connections.”

Rooney shared the need for balancing between a business focus and a talent focus – ensuring that while we maintain productivity, we also look at wellness and keeping talents engaged.

“Across the region our GroupM teams are also working on forecasting reports, where there is a deflation in cost of media as investment declines. But then equally, when things get better, there is likely to be hyperinflation as clients reinvest in media and exhaust their annual budgets. One of the places to look at for learning is China, as they went through the curve first and are recovering faster. For other markets like India where workers have been dispersed during the shutdown, it will probably take months or longer for some clients to restart production and see sales coming in to warrant returning to previous levels of advertising investment.”

Two trends Rooney sees continuing for a while are a drop in the rate of consumer spending and rate of unemployment going up.

“The culture of savings will continue for a while as consumers facing uncertainty will want to ensure that they have a comfortable level of secure savings. The brands that will win in this recovery are the ones that focus on brand building in the near term and are top of mind as the end of this.”

From the perspective of clients, Rooney said: “Things that we are focusing on right now are, working very closely with clients to manage the level of investments in media. We are looking not just at the short term sales, but the long term protection of the brands.”

Covid-19 has caused economic and humanitarian challenges globally and this has highlighted a lot of weaknesses in the system, be it in the government, public or the private sector. In terms of our state of readiness in managing a crisis of this magnitude, we would like to ask our panelists, how they are coping and sustaining their business.

Pos Malaysia is currently ramping up its activities due to the fact that it is providing essential services, said Goh.

“Since the pandemic started, Pos Malaysia has seen a shift in trends. Pos Malaysia saw a decline in sales by almost half due to consumers buying only essentials and adjusting to the new way of life. However, in the second phase of the MCO, courier services have doubled, with an increase in larger ticket items. Also, services like Pos Online and Pos Laju SendParcel have seen tremendous increase in take up, with more consumers paying bills and online sellers fulfilling their shipping needs via online parcel delivery platform, which they previously used to do in the post offices.”

Lai shared: “When the MCO first started, we were focusing on existing customers to ensure that their services were seamless and always up. We placed the safety of our customers and employees as the key priority and worked on fixing customer pain points. This situation has also forced us to be very agile and creative in the way we attend to customers. We want to stay focused on being faithful to customers’ needs and so we are finding creative ways to find new solutions, that we later formalise and become new processes. I have seen more innovation in the past three weeks than I have seen in the past one year.

“From a marketing viewpoint, while marketing plans are changing, the importance and role of communication has become more critical than ever before. What has changed is the way we communicate and the choice of mediums used,” said Lai, stressing that communication clarity and education for customers and employees are more important now than it has ever been.

With Covid-19 impacting over 190 countries, so much is being said about the new normal, and it appears that we are at the cusp of a new era, a new world order. How does this new normal impact the airline category?

The airline category is probably one of the most severely hit, according to See.

“The airline industry right now is in a very critical state as there is almost zero demand and the focus should be on cost containment and cash management. There is no real clear view of what the new normal will look like. The corporate market is expected to continue to drop in the short term as people get used to working digitally. We expect the frequency of travelling to drop significantly which will raise the question of loyalty and frequent flyer programmes. Looking at what happened in China, we are looking at the domestic market, so we anticipate an increased uptake in domestic travel as alternatives for international travel will be limited. From a consumer perspective, we expect a high amount of automation, and product ancillaries that allow social distancing and space within the cabin. We also see international travel becoming more seasonal, which means we will have to build a more dynamic business model to address fixed costs. That’s our sense of what the new normal would look like in our industry.

“In terms of recovery to pre-Covid-19 levels, it will be much longer than the four quarters. The shape of recovery will be ‘V’ immediately when the travel ban is lifted across borders but only for a short period of time. Soon after, a W-shape recovery is expected.”

Moving forward, how do you see your marketing plans change?

Goh: “From a logistics perspective, there are a lot of ongoing marketing activities that Pos Malaysia will not reduce. What does change however are the messaging and diversion to online touchpoints. Being an essential service, there is a lot assurance that needs to happen with the consumers about service continuity and alternative solution during MCO.”

One advice that Goh offered is to have a social listening tool, as that will be critical in understanding the constant change in consumer’s needs and concerns during this challenging time to provide relevant product offering with better customer experience.

In conclusion, the core theme centred around this very interesting and insightful discussion was that while life has certainly changed due to the pandemic, businesses need to be agile and respond quickly to the consumers’ new needs and habits. Businesses need to relook at their business model and be creative and innovative in the way they engage and communicate with their consumers.

“With every crisis, there is an opportunity. For the communication industry, this crisis gives us an immense opportunity to work with our partners to innovate and find different ways on how to come back stronger after Covid-19. Finding the new normal for our businesses will be very critical.”

-The Star