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Marketing in the times of COVID19: Go digital or go bust

Brand Vani Digital marketing

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption in the way we do business and also our lives. But as businesses try to find their footing in the current chaos, everyone is trying to move towards a new ‘normal’. While many companies are struggling to keep themselves afloat, some have had to scale down their marketing strategies for the time being.

India has been in lockdown for nearly two months now. Naturally, businesses are suffering huge losses in revenue. According to a survey by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), up to 53% of businesses have reported negative impact due to Covid-19 and this number is only increasing. Even though the lockdown will eventually be relaxed and finally lifted, there is no denying that the pandemic would have caused a huge impact on how we do business.

In all probability, marketing for your business might have slowed down or even stopped. As social distancing becomes a norm, traditional marketing takes a hit. But, stopping marketing is not the answer. To remain relevant, marketing efforts to keep the audience engaged is necessary. Now is the time to reassess your marketing strategies and realign them to keep up with the times. And if there is one thing that doesn’t need to be in quarantine, that’s Digital Marketing.

Traditional Marketing might be inadequate

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Businesses that earlier thrived on walk-ins – for instance, clothing retail shops or even automobile retail shops – will now see a shift towards the online market. People might prefer using e-commerce websites to buy clothes. Even for bigger purchases like automobiles, people will turn to online research and inquiries until they finalize the decision to purchase. They will not directly walk-in into a showroom to enquire about the price and features like they would have done in the pre-Covid-19 times. Social distancing is the new norm.

Companies face a serious challenge as face-to-face marketing will take a huge hit. Relying on meeting customers in-person to drive sales, holding conferences and events to boost engagement, will all lose their effectiveness and even relevance in the larger scheme of things.

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Newspapers could be a thing of the past
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Traditional marketing methods such as print ads in newspapers and magazines have questionable efficacy during the current times. Newspaper sales are at an all-time low. A lot of people are switching to online news instead of having a printed newspaper physically delivered to them. Travel restrictions mean that people are no longer picking up magazines from stands at airports and railway stations. Similarly, billboards used by companies for advertising are hardly a good investment right now. With the roads empty and restrictions on moving, the billboards no longer provide the ability to be in ‘constant view’ as they once did.

A survey conducted by data intelligence company PredictHQ reveals that due to the impact of Covid-19, there was a 500% increase in marketing event cancellations across the world. B2B companies that relied on events and trade shows for networking are in for a rude shock as these avenues of traditional networking will see major roadblocks even in the post-lockdown situation.

The digital space holds the answer!

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The major difference between companies that are thriving during the pandemic and those facing significant losses or even total shutdown, is their ability to drive the operations through online channels or through ways where people need not be in the same place.

Companies who are ready to adapt to the change that is already taking shape will be the ones who will fare better than the ones who will rigidly stick to the old way of doing things. The ability to work online has not just helped people work remotely and keep their livelihoods but has also helped people live a little differently. For instance, that trip to the supermarket is no longer required when groceries can be ordered online. Even food delivery companies in India such as Swiggy and Zomato are letting customers order groceries online.

The pandemic is invariably going to cause a change in customer behavior. The dynamics of marketing and selling will see a rapid change. In the midst of this uncertainty, Digital Marketing will play an important role for businesses to bounce back.

Why Digital Marketing?

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Digital Marketing has been around for a while now and in recent years, it has become a very powerful marketing avenue. That’s probably being driven mainly by the growing internet penetration.

The number of internet users in India is steadily increasing. This economic times article cites a Kantar report that rural India will have over 304m active internet users by the end of this year. Considering that there currently are only 574m active users reported in the country, the rural number seems to be a phenomenal jump. This is something that marketers must turn their heads towards.

This trend can likely be attributed to the increased availability of vernacular content and content in the form of videos and the cheap nature of data available in India. The report also predicts that voice, video, and vernacular will drive higher engagement and usage frequency.

The promise that Digital Marketing holds

With the lockdown in progress, a lot of people are spending more time online. The consumers show a tendency towards consuming more of everything digital. Now is as good a time as any for companies to integrate Digital Marketing strategies in their business. In fact many companies are already doing that as this report by The Hindu Business Line suggests.

“A recent survey of 200 B2B marketers across sectors projected a significant diversion in ad spends”, The Hindu Business Line

It makes sense to invest more into this now, as digital marketing provides a much better penetration at an affordable cost. It also gives measurable results and allows for quick changes to marketing strategies making it a very flexible channel for marketing. Digital Marketing can be effectively utilized to strike a chord with the audience. There is a constant sense of fear all around us. A careful analysis of how the target group has been impacted by this fear and how they are dealing with it can help in an effective strategy.

As companies grapple with the economic disruption by the pandemic, they will look for budget cuts on marketing. Digital marketing provides a wider reach but it also has the potential for a more targeted reach so that it is more optimized. It allows for a great deal of customization, changes, and makes it easy to monitor. Even if companies are trying to cut down on expenditure on ads, for the time being, this trend is only short-term. In the long run, digital marketing holds the potential for immense growth.

Digital Marketing Campaigns that have worked

For companies who have maintained an active online presence and already tasted success through digital marketing, realigning strategies now is easier and quicker. Companies who have never explored this option until now might feel a little lost. An online presence needs nurturing to engage with the customers consistently.

But there are examples of successful digital marketing campaigns in India.

Take for instance this ad by Dabur Vatika which was released on YouTube.

Dabur Vatika, which is a haircare brand, broke all stereotypes with its online digital campaign #BraveAndBeautiful. It celebrated the essence of a woman cancer survivor who has lost her hair to cancer, but not her spirit. The campaign was lauded for its storytelling and it remains one of the most successful digital marketing campaigns. Interestingly, this was Dabur’s first stint with using a digital platform for marketing.

Or this ad campaign run by Vicks India which boldly ventured into difficult territory and came out a winner with an ad that struck a chord with the people.

Another successful online ad campaign remains the #TouchOfCare by Vicks India. It shared the heartwarming story of transgender activist Gauri Sawant and her adopted daughter. The campaign succeeded in bringing to the fore an awareness around the rights of the transgender community.

The top reason why digital marketing works is that it encourages two-way communication. Instead of a unidirectional bombardment of information, it enables the customers to have a say. Their opinions, preferences, choices, and feedback are heard.  

Strike the iron while is hot

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Digitizing your marketing and selling right now can have long-term benefits for you. With limitation on personal meetings and traditional marketing strategies, digital marketing can open a plethora of options for you to keep your customers engaged and interested. And of course, the groundwork done now will continue to benefit your business in the post-lockdown world.

Right now, with many companies choosing to cut down on their marketing efforts, competition is less. The cost of paid ads has gone down for some sectors due to the lesser competition. At the same time, websites in certain sectors such as medical supplies are seeing a growth in search ad clicks as well as conversions as shown in the graph below. Similar is the case for some FMCG products, entertainment media, etc.

Companies looking at using digital marketing techniques can do the following:

  • Start a blog to talk about what the company has to offer. Provide the audience with shareable, good quality content that can translate to brand awareness and brand loyalty.
  • Start a YouTube channel for your business. Video content is very popular among the audience. Creation of interesting, helpful, or inspiring content can be very beneficial to your brand.
  • You can use social media marketing to boost engagement and even drive sales. The number of users who actively use social media such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. is on the rise. These platforms are thus a great place to talk about your products or services and drive customer engagement.
  • If you have a website, optimizing it for the search engines is a good idea. If you don’t have one, you can easily use online resources available to build one or hire a professional.
  • If you have a list of email subscribers, now is the time to put the list to good use and connect with your audience.
  • You can also explore the options for Influencer marketing and Affiliate marketing.
  • Paid Google Ads, and Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns are also great options to drive traffic to your website.

There are a lot of options available in the digital marketing space. You just need to make the right choice based on who your target audience is and which of the strategies will work the best for you. More of this in a post later on.


The truth is nobody has a solid answer to how long the pandemic situation will exist. How businesses adapt themselves to the changing times and with it, the changing needs of the customers will be the deciding factor in which companies manage to hold their own and which ones keel under. The pandemic is going to change the way we do business. Let us be prepared for the change.

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Marketing in the times of COVID19: Go digital or go bust