The raging attack of COVID 19 pandemic has shattered the lives of millions across the world and the only region that seems to have survived its wrath is the Antarctic region. Experts say we are looking at the biggest disaster since World War 2. The impact of the disaster is compounded in India, due to the huge problems being faced by the millions of migrant population, now struggling to return to places of origin. After the partition of India, this is quite certainly one of the largest mass migration movements the Indian subcontinent has ever seen. The poor migrant population isn’t the only section of people suffering. The hospitalisation of the UK PM, Boris Johnson, has made news all over the world. No one, it seems, is safe.
Combating global disasters of this magnitude requires a radical change. We have to hit the reset button. There has to be a radical change in the way we function – as countries, as communities and businesses, and as individuals. Hitting the reset button is about new beginnings. It’s about looking at the situation with a fresh perspective, one that allows you to evaluate situations objectively, in the way we live life and do business.
In the fight against the virus, the east has shown the way. Countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China have performed well in their roles in containing and reducing the spread of the pandemic. In fact, restaurants and eating establishments in Japan and Hong Kong stay open as people are showing exemplary self restraint in maintaining social distance at public places.
In terms of our functioning as a society, one of the biggest impacts we see is the game changing impact of technology. Prayers, parties, work meetings, school lessons, college classes, musical and theatrical events are all being done virtually, using digital media and tools. The rates of growth of the app economy is shooting up at unprecedented levels as the entire world tries to do almost all communications and transactions via digital platforms and mobile applications.
The entertainment industry has suffered huge setbacks. In many cases production has stopped completely. However, the industry is fighting back with innovative approaches, launching movies on streaming apps like Amazon Prime Video, Zee5, Hotstar and Netflix. The formats of entertainment too are changing with a sharp increase of byte size movies and serials which are being shot and produced at highly economical rates. Production houses have already planned national and global premieres on streaming apps for many movies and tv shows, keeping in view the changes of patterns of content consumption. Movie stars, production houses and entertainment companies are coming together to make home produced, self shot videos and sharing it via social media platforms and messaging apps.
WhatsApp, Hangouts, Zoom, Telegram, Skype and several other interpersonal instant messaging and video calling applications are experiencing dizzyingly high rates of growth and usage and are being used for work and socialisation. Interestingly, they are also becoming the preferred media for receiving, consuming and sharing news as the media rushes to bolster readership of print publications by circulating e-newspapers and e-magazines. Brands quick to spot this rapidly growing trend have been interacting with customers on these messaging apps, sending them news, updates and value added freebies.
Agile brands which have caught on to the new ‘virtual’ normal have also been quick to create various virtual touch points with customers. A popular soft drink brand is offering highly customised brand emojis that customers can use and integrate in their messaging. Another soft drink brand has created a global musical event where famous musicians come together to create a virtual musical event. Similarly, some hotel brands and destinations are being innovative and are creating music mixtapes which makes customers feel that the customer is actually at the destination. They are providing a virtual vacation experience for customers and sharing it with them using podcasts on Spotify and informing customers via social media.
Large retail chains too have incurred tremendous losses. Many of them are also considering higher levels of innovation like – unmanned retail services, and autonomous transport systems. Traditionally, sectors like retail and hospitality have always stressed on the ‘human service quality’ aspect. However, the new thinking emerging seems to be along the lines of ‘providing quality service’ with a lesser human interface. While many may feel that this is too extreme, it could possibly be the new reality that is emerging.
Innovative companies are also repurposing existing capacities to create new lines of business. There are several automotive industry firms repurposing their production lines to make ventilators, masks and other electronic medical equipment. They are doing this to sustain their production staff and equipment and also to contribute towards the fight of the pandemic. Several alcohol industry manufacturers are making sanitizers as this product has seen unprecedented demand and is one of the primary weapons in defeating COVID 19.
Communication professionals too need to be a part of this change and understand the new dynamics of their businesses. We need to create campaigns based on the new realities and insights of the situation today. In India, hospitality and travel companies have offered free or reduced hotel room prices for doctors and other medical professionals and have also crafted brief communication campaigns around them.
My teams at Consocia Advisory and I, are now continually advising clients on how to create agile, relevant and impactful programs of stakeholder management, advocacy, and communications in this changed environment, helping them emerge stronger from this crisis. We share advice on creating stringent SOPs, and help them draft strategic notes and white papers, so that they are able to achieve their business objectives. We are encouraging our clients to create new business paths so that they are able to overcome their business challenges. We are also helping them craft new stories by using a combination of traditional and new age media. These are the ways brands will display agile and innovative thinking, and hit the reset button, which is the key to fighting the COVID 19 war.
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