Leader's Talk: Santosh Nair, Head – Marketing communications & Strategy - Turf and Tarmac Media "Resurgence of off-line CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT"

‘That all-important Customer order has not yet come in? Please fix a meeting & fly down to the customer’s office to close the deal’, the Sales head would impatiently tell his Institutional sales manager.

Top brass of companies would fly the seas at the drop of a hat to visit a Region whose P&L has fallen to a 2-year low to motivate the team and get the graph head north.

Even order placements by distributors would see a surge when the sales team physically reached out to their locations to encourage them ramp up their orders to meet month-end targets.

For small businesses that bank a lot on personal relations, frequent meetings with channels/ customers are a must to be relevant and visible. ‘Payment is still due way beyond stipulated credit period? Let’s drive down to meet that OEM’s Finance head for a cup of tea to see if things are in order and get a commitment on payment date’

‘Sales not picking up in South region? Make a 1-week tour plan to fix the problem & return only after sales is back on track. Run a consumer activation campaign or a Retail Promo or something’

All this was a normal phenomenon during pre-pandemic times.

Sure, brands had to accelerate their digitization plans to bridge the gap in customer connect (and for that matter, the gap in all other interactions) created by the pandemic since March 2020. But before the pandemic, marketers for years believed that regular physical interaction between marketers, sales teams, retailers, distributors, customers, other stake holders was a non-negotiable, in order to garner buy-in on plans, sell more, sell faster, communicate better & be one-up on competition.

Now of course, all of that is being achieved (or at least being attempted partially) through digital interactions and e-meets. While all of us can pat each other’s backs proudly for adapting well to the changing times and in some of the initiatives, even exceeding expectations of speed in delivery, decades of old marketing wisdom tell us that human nature is to engage and interact with each other, experience, express, emote, share, feel, celebrate successes and stand together in adversity.

Businesses are surely on the recovery path, but how well or fast are the recoveries shaping up for the long run, especially the key affected sectors? Consumer sentiment is up, but brands need to reach out again for assurance and regain the shares/ grow the pie. Digital interaction will eventually but surely have to be augmented with the earlier physical interaction. Brands will need to carefully segregate what works best when implemented through digital media for communication, and which brand communication objectives need physical intervention by reaching out to stake-holders and customers for an enriching engagement.

Brands that drive marketing activity solely through their robust Digital marketing platforms created over the past years, and ignore physical customer involvement and engagement when required, might not be able to sustain relevance and recall in the long run in the face of competition. The more time it takes for this to happen, the higher the value that customer engagement will hold for brands to build and retain the emotional connect with customers. Imagine watching the Mahindra XUV700 launch & new-logo-reveal larger-than-life through zipping neon lights, sound effects and with the SUV physically emerging through a cloud of smoke, 40 ft in front of you! Higher impact and engagement here, though reach might be limited. And you have the audience’s full attention required for such a launch as no option of unmuting, switching off camera, pausing the launch, or any external distractions. And of course, the reach needs to be scaled up with live streaming & utilizing digital channels to showcase multiple video modules with frequency built in. Same goes with customers touch-feeling your products at a market promotional activity or retail counter or event on real-time basis, experiencing them, sampling them, taking test drives, interacting with others, sharing opinions, asking questions, giving feedback and most importantly knowing your brand representative by face, for a more fruitful long-term interaction.

Phygital marketing (a balanced mix of digital & physical/interactive marketing communications) is surely the way to go, as the role of Physical customer engagement can never be undermined.

*The Article is written by Santosh Nair, currently Head – Marketing communications & Strategy with Turf and Tarmac Media. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are his personal views