March and April usually are critical times for businesses because traditionally organizations have their sales closing during this time. However, this year, everything has been turned on its head due to the unprecedented spread of theand the resulting lockdown.
While a few states are slowly easing restrictions and shops are opening up again, it will take a long time for things to get back to normal. Retail might take an even longer time to bounce back.
However, with the gradual relaxation of lockdown norms, organizations are slowly limping back to normalcy and devising ways of ensuring that there is business continuity without endangering any of the stakeholders involved.
We recently caught with Sunil Narula, Vice President, Marketing, Panasonic Life Solutions India, who spoke to us about all that the brand has been doing to stay relevant during the month of the lockdown. He also tells us how the brand has been communicating with its influencer community that includes electricians, architects, specifiers and helping them upgrade their skills during the lockdown period. Moreover, the brand has been doing everything that it can do to ensure that its employees and stakeholders are taken care of. At a time when there are job and salary cuts everywhere, Panasonic Life Solutions India has made sure that there are no retrenchment, that they pay not only their employees regularly but also that their vendors are paid on time.
Q) As the country has been in a lockdown for more than a month now, how have you been tackling this unprecedented event as an organization?
March is a very critical month for us because thats when we have our annual sales closing. Because of the sudden lockdown, our top-line and bottom-line got impacted as our dependence on the month of March is traditionally high. Whereas, a lot of our sales depends on the demand received in the last 10 days of the month. Our sales in April were zero, because of the lockdown and all physical stores, markets were shut, and there was no financial activity. However, around April 28 and 29, when the lockdown was meekly relaxed, we started observing a slight movement in the market and things are limping back to normalcy.
Panasonic Life Solutions has strongholds in Tier II and Tier IV markets and these regions havent experienced the impact as compared to the metros and Tier I markets. With the business continuity in the smaller markets, this has further resulted into restructuring of the business at some level. We are witnessing sales and movement in markets like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Karnataka etc. Besides this, we have seen resumption in sales of Indoor Air Quality products like fans amidst the on-going summer season in contrast to the Air conditioner or a cooler. Reopening of hardware retailers selling fans has slowly contributed to the sales.
Q) For consumer-facing brands, it's critical to stay connected with your audience. How have you done that during the lockdown?
Amidst the current global situation, consumer sentiments are of utmost importance. It has become a fundamental aspect of the marketing communications team to stay connected with relevance.
Connecting via social media platforms with our consumers is an ongoing effort, however, our focus also has been to engage with our electrician community and channel partners who are influencers to us. We have conducted 35-40 training sessions talking about our varied products to ensure that our stakeholders, namely electricians, distributors and dealers, are adequately trained and their skills are upgraded. We havent tapped mainstream mediums like television or print media to communicate since the lockdown announcement but we are highly active on social media. Apart from our trade business, a big portion of our business comes from construction and renovation. Besides this, our consultants, architects and others have been constantly engaging with us via platforms like e-mails and LinkedIn as well.
Q) What are the mediums you have used over the past few weeks? Have you moved marketing monies from other mediums to digital? Do you think as a brand you'll continue to be digital heavy in terms of marketing even after the lockdown is lifted?
We have reduced our dependence on conventional marketing media, our ATL spends have been considerably reduced for this year. We are evaluating various media for marketing this year, this would include leveraging the digital, social and e-comm channels. The way consumers would consume the content would change and with this our strategy of reaching them.
Apart from this, we are also looking at influencer programs. Our main influencers are electricians, architects, specifiers etc. We are also planning and running targeted marketing programs for them in both online and offline space.
We would develop the skills of our electrician community with an ACE (anchor certified electricians program), alongside also educate them on our products. This way we would reach the masses across the country.
Q) As a marketer, what has your priority been during this crisis situation?
Covid-19 has impacted the economy majorly so far, the uncertainty of normalcy looks at a distance. We are concerned regarding the safety and well-being of our employees, stakeholders, dealers and distributors. At Panasonic Life Solutions, customer centricity has been pivotal and over the years we have built robust trust amongst them. We have stayed connected with our consumers, stakeholders, employees and distributors via digital and social media platforms as constant communication is the key. This will not only revive the customer relation but will also boost their morale in staying together in this. In times of crises, it is imperative for people to get right, credible information, especially with fake news and information rampantly spreading on social media. It has become increasingly important to communicate the accurate information that affects the company and employees during a crisis period transparently and in a timely manner.
Q) What have your key learnings from these past few weeks been?
Consumers are looking for trust in these challenging times and they would not experiment even if they must pay a premium. The consumers would not experiment in such a time and want to go with trusted partners and brands.
It should be noted that in this Covid era, social distancing being the key, production costs are due to rise of at least 30-40% across segments and industries. While time will say how much of the increased costs can be absorbed by the companies and industries themselves by bringing in some efficiencies, but the end consumer would need to pay more in times to come.
Q) You are present in a segment that might not have been very relevant during the lockdown as these are products the purchase of which can be pushed. However, how have you made your communication relevant to the consumer, to continue to stay in their minds?
You are correct, the purchase of our category products can be pushed, but if you look at it another way, switches and switchgear can burnout and need replacement, lights can blow out and the fans might also need replacement during the summer season, and thats when these products become essential.
Wherever the lockdown has relaxed, we started seeing sale of our products across verticals, which testifies our assumption above. Furthermore, we have also been active on social media and through mailers, webinars and virtual events to reach out to our focused group.
Q) Do you believe effective communication strategies during a time of crisis can help cement a brand's place in a consumer's life?
Yes, it is vital to have effective and transparent communication strategies in place during times like these in order to ensure smooth and consistent communication at all levels and different stakeholders.At Panasonic Life Solutions, we are consistent in practicing and following empathetic communication with our consumers in order to add value and assure them security in crisis situations.
As a one of the leading market players, we are monitoring market trends, consumer behavioral patterns which are important in driving relevant conversations with the consumers. During this lockdown, we have witnessed that most consumers engage via social media platforms to communicate their concerns and queries. We have rapidly adapted to this change by channelizing our resources through digital and social marketing mediums. The digital space has been dominant and we are actively involved in staying connected with our customers.
Q) Did brand purpose become more important for you as a brand during these last few weeks?
Both Anchor and Panasonic are brands that have always stood for the community, people and the nation. In the last few weeks, the purpose has come to the forefront even more. We have stood by all our employees, vendors, suppliers and dealer / distributor community.
Our MD has very clearly spelt out that there would be no retrenchment, we have been paying all our employees regularly. Apart from this, all our vendors have been paid on time and additionally, we have offered enhanced credit terms to all our dealers/distributors/partners community.
Q) What will your strategy be towards bouncing back once the situation starts getting to normal?
There will be umpteen numbers of challenges in terms of market stability and on the financial front post the COVID-19 era. We will aggressively prioritize our focus on the safety of our employees and their families. Post resuming offices, we will observe and take precautions before opening up our workplaces, including proper sanitization of our work spaces, maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. For some of our offices, we might continue to work from home even after the lockdown is over, and only ask the employees to come in when its necessary.
Also, along with our employees, it is necessary to take care of our channels of distribution. We have a strong network of nearly 3,600 dealers and distributors across the country, and they are an essential part of our business. We will do our best to support them, though supplies and logistics is a major concern at the moment.
As a brand, we want to ensure that all our channel partners are adequately taken care of in terms of cash flow and supply of goods. We have ensured that the suppliers get their payments despite the lockdown, and have arranged for soft copies of documents which are required to facilitate international shipping. In addition to this, we have got additional permissions to ensure that our warehouses can operate.
Reference: Business Insider India