(Part I of a two-part series. Read Part II here.)
As the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe, small businesses in India faced a double whammy. Businesses of all shapes and sizes already suffering from the downward trending economy were now hit by a series of lockdowns which, according to many, have been ill-planned.
Business owners were given very little time to plan the temporary closing down of their operations, and this resulted in major losses. The central government handed over the responsibility of implementation and management of lockdowns to state governments; consequently, lockdowns became more regional and more erratic. Now, on the brink of August 2020, the numbers of Covid-19 cases are high and growing fast, and for the small businessperson, it has become impossible to predict future lockdowns in the remaining months of 2020.
In such a situation, the first thing any businessperson would do is approach the costs. Downsizing of staff seems like an eventuality, but it is never the first option. The first cost centre that usually receives the chopping axe is the marketing expense.
No businesspersons in their right minds will chop off sales budgets, especially after four months of lockdown, and hence marketing is where the austerity will hit first. Every advertising agency on the planet will advise against this and it is obvious why, but this pandemic is epic in its size and effect, and businesses across India would not be in a position to take up this advice. Yet, they would have to innovate and find ways to cut back marketing expenses without hurting the sales.
As a marketing and brand management guy, I am used to spinning things positively. This is not one of those times. I truly believe that this pandemic has given Indian business owners and marketeers a unique opportunity to identify redundancies in their pre-pandemic marketing strategies and weed out the inefficiencies that were driving up marketing costs and efforts needlessly.
Listening to the stories of some of my fellow entrepreneurs who attended my course on Low Budget Marketing helped me identify four major areas where business owners need to focus in order to achieve this herculean task.
One young entrepreneur I spoke to was worried about planning. He runs an event management business, one of the worst affected sectors. Businesses in his industry were operational till one fine day they were simply told to shut down.
Planning is an essential component of any business and no one would be able to function without it, even (and especially) during a lockdown. However, the key learning here is to not plan for long. In the current scenario, even a quarter i.e. 3 months can be considered as long-term duration. Plan for a month and if your business allows flexibility, plan for a week.
Short term planning allows you to set easy-to-execute goals. This gives your business processes the adaptability required currently. Short term planning also allows you to look at micro-marketing campaigns that last for a few days. Planning such small-scale campaigns allows you to identify areas where spending is recommended but not essential.
One example of this is distributing pamphlets. We all know what we do with pamphlets we receive at an exhibition, on traffic signals or through our newspapers and yet many businesses still spend on this highly unreliable and difficult-to-measure campaigning tool. Now, when your customer is scared to physically touch anything that could possibly be a health risk, you need to ask yourself how useful this obsolete tool really is.
Another business owner I spoke to runs a small restaurant which was quite popular locally, always jampacked during dinner time. He was at a complete loss and could not figure out why his regular clients would not order from him through popular online food delivery platforms that were still operational. A quick chat with him made me realise that like many businesses in India, he was completely oblivious to the advantage of data driven marketing.
Data driven marketing is considered to be useful for (mostly) online businesses. However, numbers and metrics matter to offline businesses too. Now that all businesses are forced to have an online footprint one way or the other, offline businesses can also track and obtain some of the metrics for introspecting their understanding of their customers.
Data collection and analysis is not a popular exercise among Indians in general. We love to follow our gut and we strongly believe in wisdom handed down through the generations. The only problem is – your gastronomical tuning fork and the wisdom of your seniors and elders is at a loss when no one alive and functional in the business world today has faced anything like a pandemic of this scale before.
Everyone loves to quip that data is the ‘new oil’, but do we really give data its day in our own businesses? The answer to it is, almost always, a no.
Data collection is science and you can collect reasonably credible user data without ruining the user experience. One very intelligent entrepreneur once told me of her practice of sending small notes in the lunchboxes she used to deliver to her customers at their offices. She got this idea from the movie The Lunch Box. These notes were very funny, and through them, she found out their birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events in their life. She told me about a customer who once called her delightedly when she, upon their promotion, had sent two gulabjamuns and a congratulatory note with the regular lunchbox. Instead of disturbing the user experience, her data collection method actually enhanced it.
There are many ways in which you can approach this pandemic; giving up need not be one of them. There are some specific mistakes that a marketer needs to avoid while cutting down marketing costs. I will write about them in the next part of this read with some more exciting and inspiring examples I come across during my Low Budget Marketing course.
If you are intrigued by these ideas and would like to share your point of view, please comment below the article. We are all in this together and your little suggestion can help someone save their dream.
Amogh Oak is a marketing and brand management specialist and an entrepreneur.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.