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BY Srabana Lahiri

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What’s top of mind for the CMOs of leading brands, navigating their way through the post-COVID landscape? Upskilling and adapting to new technology, it turns out, with a majority of 19 out of 30 CMOs we approached – i.e., 63% - giving it a vote of 10/10 as part of a broad survey of leading marketers conducted to find out how they see themselves taking on the challenges of the post-COVID world. The pandemic has brought in a rapid digital transformation of businesses, that was in slow mode earlier, and it is up to the CMO to move with it in real time, by learning and getting used to new technology. If this was somewhere on the horizon even earlier, the respondents of IMPACT’s CMO survey have actually come out and said it loud and clear.

The task before CMOs is also to make the consumer buy their brands; but how big a fear is the limited buying power of the consumer? Very big, it appears, going by the results of the survey. Two respondents gave this survey point a clear 10/10 rating to voice their fear, while an overwhelming majority of the CMOs – 22 (73.3%) out of 30 – have rated it between 7-9, presenting it as a major concern.

Marketers have also shown cautious optimism about the return of advertising spends on TV and Print to pre-COVID levels in the next few months. While no one gave a rating of 10/10 to this survey point, 20 out of 30 CMOs (66.67%) have overall rated it between 7-9 on a scale of 1 to 10.


We approached CMOs of 30 leading brands with a survey designed to understand their priorities in terms of keeping the brand relevant, advertising spends, work-life balance and tackling the digital fast-forward. We gave them 10 key survey points and asked them to rate each on a scale of 1 to 10. Here are the survey points:

  1. Upskilling and learning, adapting to new technology is vital for the new age marketer.
  2. A big fear for marketers will be the low spending power of consumers post the lockdown.
  3. Brands can weather the current conditions by creating relevant content.
  4. Brands will be seen as more human after the pandemic.
  5. Cost and time to turn around projects will reduce by more than 50%.
  6. There will be a clear shift in the client-agency relationship.
  7. Print and TV advertising will regain their share of ad pie in a few months.
  8. Non-essential, premium and luxury brands would need to re-invent themselves.
  9. Work from home or travel only when required will become the new normal.
  10. People will give more time to themselves and their families, ensure a better work-life balance.

Finally, we tabulated and analysed the CMOs’ ratings to come up with the survey results, presented here.

(The marketers’ inputs were compiled by Neeta Nair,
Dipali Banka, Christina Moniz, Eularie Saldanha, Anjana Naskar, Misbaah Mansuri and Michelle Noronha)

Upskilling and learning, adapting to new technology is vital for the new age marketer

An overwhelming 63% of the CMOs polled, i.e, 19 out of the 30, believe upskilling, especially adapting to new technology, is vital for the new age marketer, navigating his or her way in the post-COVID environment – they have rated it 10 on 10. Another 23%, i.e., seven more CMOs, have given it a rating of 9. As transactions have moved to the virtual space, and social distancing has mandated newer methods to allow people to experience brands, marketers have to rely on technology in a big way, be it to decode data, use artificial intelligence to simulate experiences and drive efficiencies in marketing, deploy chatbots to interact with consumers, etc. They are evidently on a mission to go to market with more knowledge.

A big fear for marketers will be low spending power of consumers post the lockdown

Marketers are indeed worried. Though only two of the CMOs surveyed have given voice to their fear with a 10/10 rating to this survey point, an overwhelming majority of the respondents – 22 (73.3%) out of 30 – have rated it as a major concern. Seven (23.33%) CMOs have rated it 9, 9 (30%) have rated it 8 and 6 (20%) have rated it 7. The opportunity for the CMO lies in identifying the new demands of the post-lockdown economy and catering to them, mainly providing low contact, digital/phygital solutions and treating the customer with care and concern.

Brands can weather the current conditions by creating relevant content

Eight CMOs out of 30 surveyed – i.e., 26.6% - have reiterated the role of creating relevant content around their brands in marketing, by giving it top rating of 10/10. Five CMOs (16.6%) have given it a rating of 9, while nine of the respondents (30%) have given it a rating of 8. In a situation where advertising has slowed down and stores aren’t open for people to try and test brands, creating the right engaging content can help marketers gain leads and customers. Content that connects to what’s on people’s minds and provides them useful information, for instance a DIY video relevant to a search, or interesting story-telling, is obviously on the marketer’s mind.

Brands will be seen as more human after the pandemic

While 70% of the CMOs surveyed give a fairly high rating to the humanisation of brands post the pandemic, just four out of the 30 respondents – i.e, 13% - gave it a 10/10. Eight CMOs (26.67%) rated it at 7 while another eight (26.67%) rated it at 8, and a set of five CMOs (16.67%) rated it at 9 – together they make up 70.1%. With lockdown affecting sales and consumers suffering high stress on account of the spreading virus and impacted finances, brands have to assume a more nuanced approach to marketing, making themselves more relatable – at times funny, at times empathetic; providing names and faces, telling real stories, creating communities and so on, to reach the consumer.

Cost and time to turn around projects will reduce by more than 50%

Not a single respondent to this survey point rated it 10/10 – they don’t think cost and time to turn around projects, that had gone down considerably during the pandemic, will remain the same once the COVID-19 phase passes. We see mixed responses from CMOs here – with different sets of marketers (three each or 10%) rating it 2, 3, 4 and 6, while 7 of those surveyed (23.3%) - rated it 5, and another 7 (23.3%) rated it 8. Shot-at-home ads and virtual meetings may have saved the day during lockdown, but the post-COVID scenario is set to turn real.

There will be a clear shift in the client-agency relationship

Only two of the CMOs surveyed (6.6%) have given a 10/10 rating to a clear shift in the client-agency relationship, while 5 respondents (16.67%) have rated it 9 and another 3 (10%) have rated it 8. A good 30% of CMOs overall have low expectations of any change – 3 (10%) rated it 1, another 3 (10%) rated it 3 while 3 (10%) more of the CMOs rated it 4. Both media and creative agencies have, in fact, responded to the crisis situation by standing solidly behind their clients, and this is clearly why the relationships remain intact. Where change is foreseen, it could either be a deeper relationship forged by carrying the crisis together, or a process-driven shift, made sharper by learnings from the COVID-19 phase.

Print and TV advertising will regain their share of ad pie in a few months

Here, the respondents of the survey have exercised cautious optimism by not giving a clear rating of 10/10 to the return of Print and TV advertising to pre-COVID levels, but keeping their spirits high all the same. As many as 20 out of 30 CMOs (66.67%) have overall rated it high – 5 (16.67%) rated it 9, 8 (26.67%) rated it 8 and 7 (23.33%) rated it 7, predicting the comeback of TV and Print advertising. Industry reports already indicate the beginning of a slow recovery, holding up the optimism of the CMOs. It’s the spenders themselves talking here!

Non-essential, premium and luxury brands would need to re-invent themselves

Seven out of 30 (23.33%) CMOs polled for this survey gave a 10/10 rating to the need for non-essential, premium and luxury brands to reinvent themselves to be relevant to the cash-strapped consumer. Four (13.33%) of the respondents rated it 9, 5 (16.67%) rated it 8 while 6 (20%) rated it 7. A few respondents, however, do not think such a change is necessary – one CMO gave it the lowest rating of 1, while two others rated it at 3. We have already seen some luxury brands churn out entry level daily use products such as masks and sanitisers, and also engaging consumers in online conversation. Perhaps they can look at people used to buying only essentials for months, and persuade them to give in to the luxury of a fancy purchase.

Work from home or travel only when required will become the new normal

Only 3 out of 30 – i.e, 10% - of the CMOs polled believe work from home or travel only when required will absolutely become the new normal, and rated it 10/10, while eight (26.6 %) of the respondents have given it a weightage of 7 out of 10 in the survey. With international travel still on halt and domestic travel allowed with restrictions in place, even as the lockdown continues and infected cases abound, it is interesting to see that some CMOs still believe travel and working out of an office are part of their job in the near future.

People will give more time to themselves and their families, ensure a better work-life balance

Nine out of 30 - a total of 30% of the CMOs who responded to the survey voted for a better work-life balance, giving it a rating of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, while only 1 CMO gave it top priority, i.e, a rating of 10 out of 10. A good number of the respondents kept their expectations muted, with nearly half of them rating it low priority (6.67% gave it a rating of 3, 6.67% gave it a rating of 4, 13.33% gave it a rating of 5 and 20% gave it a rating of 6 on a scale of 1 to 10). The pressure on CMOs to perform in the post-COVID scenario, after a period of business at a standstill, is perhaps responsible for this.


Here is what some CMOs who are part of this survey had to say

Sumit Mathur
Director, Marketing, Kellogg South Asia

‘We have real-time solutions’
As an organization, we live by the purpose of ‘Nourishing India’s Potential’. We have demonstrated it in several ways. We would continue to let the consumers know that we are here to partner them in their daily triumphs and especially in times like these where we will continue to offer them real-time solutions to their problems through our wide range of products.

Abhik Sanyal
Head- Consumer Marketing, DSP Investment Managers

‘Don’t take impulsive decisions’
Stick to the basics, remain true to your investment plan if you have one or introspect and thoughtfully build a plan for yourself. Importantly, remain calm. Such times make everyone very conscious of money decisions and when it comes to investing, remaining rational at all times is key to good outcomes, so don’t take impulsive or emotional decisions.

Abhishek Gupta
CMO, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance

‘There’s life after COVID-19’
We want to assure our customers that their protection needs are safeguarded, with our policies covering COVID-19. While the times are challenging now, it is critical not to lose sight of the fact that there is life after COVID-19. For now, we must do our part in helping the community at large by staying home and following government advisory on hygiene and social distancing.

Deepa Krishnan
Head Marketing, Digital, Loyalty, PR, Tata Starbucks

‘We will stay connected’
We will always remain committed to the safety of our partners, consumers and the community we serve. We will continue to stay closely connected with our customers in meaningful ways. While the Starbucks Experience may look different temporarily as we navigate this dynamic situation for each community and each store, we are confident that by taking care of our people we will emerge stronger and more united.

MVS Murthy
Head Marketing, Digital & Corporate Communication, Tata Asset Management Limited

‘Trust us to be unfazed’
We are part of a group that is over 150 years old; if ever our consumers needed ratification of who will see this through, then measure us by the number of years. Trust us to be unfazed in crisis and give you tailwind in better times.

Ravindra Sharma
Chief of Brand & Corporate Communications, SBI Life Insurance

‘We shall overcome’
SBI Life has unveiled the emotive #WeCanWeWill anthem that reiterates the power of collective unity and solidarity to fight the spread of COVID-19. It is a clarion call to rally the nation in the face of current challenges, we want to remind everyone that as a nation we need to stay together, as with our collective will power #WeCanWeWill overcome the biggest of challenges.

Sagar Kochhar
Chief Marketing Officer, Rebel Foods

‘Do good to mankind’
A lot is already getting communicated across social channels, but what matters is how well we follow those best practices. We should try and contribute in making the lives of people who are in trouble - immigrants, stranded , etc - better by whatever we can do. We have started a ‘FoodforGood’ initiative and I would urge everyone to join us or any other similar initiative and do good to mankind.

Santosh Iyer
Vice President - Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz India

‘Three Pointed Stars promise’
Our message is simple - your safety and health is of utmost importance to us and you should follow all precautions and social distancing to flatten the curve. We are advising our consumers to stay at home, and take care of themselves. We have also assured them that their Three Pointed Stars will be taken care of as we have specific service measures rolled out to support our customers.

Sapna Desai
Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing, ManipalCigna Health Insurance

‘Health insurance a must’
While healthy habits do play an important role in keeping certain ailments at bay, there are some unforeseen situations like the recent outbreak of COVID-19 that can still occur and will require hospitalization, despite all the pro-active efforts taken to be healthy. Therefore, along with healthy habits, health insurance is equally essential to safeguard long-term financial goals, enjoy lifetime access to quality healthcare, and to live a healthier life.

Venkatesh Parthasarathy
VP Marketing, Lotte India

‘Positive pause moments’
Consumers today are facing significant strain - physical, emotional and financial. They feel vulnerable right now. Lotte Chocopie seeks to help them find and connect to meaningful, positive pause moments - that will help tide over the negativity around.Consumers today are facing significant strain - physical, emotional and financial. They feel vulnerable right now. Lotte Chocopie seeks to help them find and connect to meaningful, positive pause moments - that will help tide over the negativity around.

Uma Talreja
CCA, CMO and CCO, Shoppers Stop

‘We’ll walk hand in hand’
The world as we know it will come to an end, but there will be a new world in which our relationships will allow us to retain our roots and who we are. Shoppers Stop values the relationships it has with every consumer and will walk this new normal with them hand in hand.

Vivek Srivatsa
Head - Marketing, Passenger Vehicle
Business Unit (PVBU), Tata Motors

‘Ensuring safety first’
Historically, we have always believed in letting our customers experience driving our cars and SUVs in the outdoors. This philosophy has been the backbone of our brand’s identity since time immemorial. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has led us to make decisions that primarily ensure the safety of our employees and customers.

A S Sundaresan
Joint MD & CEO, JSW Paints

‘Feel positive and active’
JSW Paints urges consumers to Think Beautiful - to be thoughtful as they come out and take steps to make their homes and neighbourhood clean and safe. We will encourage them to feel positive and active - spend and do more as that will be important for us as a nation to bounce back.

Uttam Malani
Executive Director, Centuary Mattresses

‘Just #SleepOnIt’
Centuary Mattresses would like to appeal to everyone ‘not to panic’ as we will surely overcome the situation. In the past also, we were hit by many challenges – economical, environmental, pandemics, wars, invasion, etc., which we had overcome sooner or later. Just #SleepOnIt and we will counter the virus by maintaining social distance, staying at home, keep ourselves healthy, and engage in #SleepTimeStories.


Nadia Chauhan
Joint Managing Director and CMO, Parle Agro

‘Be more aggressive’
While summer is the peak season for beverage brands, the current situation presents itself as a huge challenge for majority of the companies to execute large scale advertising. Thus a 360-degree brand campaign is one thing to avoid in the current scenario as it will not serve the desired purpose due to ongoing restrictions in mobility. Nonetheless, we are keeping our brands accessible and available to all our consumers by focusing on e-commerce. Now is the time to gear up plans and be more aggressive on e-commerce platforms.

Abhinav Iyer
GM-Marketing & Strategy, Muthoot Finance

‘We’ll only emerge stronger’
Like we can expect, most brands are raring to go… but they must avoid any form of knee-jerk reaction at the moment and instead, use this time to prepare well by trying to incorporate learnings across products, processes and promotions. Most importantly, believe that even this will pass and we shall only emerge stronger from this experience.

Anjana Ghosh
Director of Marketing and Business Development, Bisleri

‘This is also an opportunity’
Brands will have to learn new lessons from this crisis, anticipate needs and change the ways they service their consumers. Every crisis comes with its fair share of opportunities. It gives you a chance to get out of your comfort zone and paves the path for innovation. This crisis has no doubt been one the most difficult phases but it is also an opportunity for people to take more risks, focus on how you can help, and lead with a meaningful purpose to embrace the post-COVID-19 world.

Moksh Chopra
CMO, KFC India

‘Solace in human interaction’
As businesses reopen, we anticipate consumers to evolve from this off-premise approach to seeking a safe experience with some sort of a human connection. Consumers will likely seek solace in human interaction for a reassurance of normalcy and security, especially after the prolonged periods of lockdown and lack of socializing. Which means a transition into contactless dining – and we are already looking at changes in our restaurant design and processes to enable this.

Deba Ghoshal
Vice President - Marketing & Key Accounts, Voltas

‘Your stores need to be alive’
Last-mile connectivity with the consumer is most critical. No matter how strong your brand equity, your channel and your stores need to be alive.

Elizabeth Venkataraman
Joint President - Consumer, Commercial & Wealth Marketing, Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd

‘Digital-first agile approach’
Never has the human connection been as important as in these times of physical distancing. Brands need to adopt a digital-first agile marketing strategy that delivers a more human-like experience and consistently engage with the evolving customer to develop deeper relationships and sustain consumer confidence.

Naveen Anand
Senior Director, Regional Marketing, Oriflame South Asia

‘Important to own business’
Beauty products are usually in demand all year long, so our sector will see a bit of a lull for this period but will soon recover. For the industry overall, the importance of owning one’s own business without making any capital investment will increase. People will also pay more attention and money on their overall wellness and preventive healthcare. Hence the dietary supplement industry will only grow from here on.

Nipun Marya
Director-Brand Strategy, Vivo India

‘Provide new solutions’
The biggest impact of this pandemic has been the increased consciousness about health and well-being. This paradigm shift in consumer behaviour will need innovative retail solutions. Businesses will now have to focus more on meeting the evolved needs of the transformed consumer. A close understanding of consumer needs and enabling them with solutions that cater to the ‘new’ need will be imperative for companies to succeed in the post COVID era.

Parag Desai
Executive Director, Wagh Bakri Tea Group

‘Have a Plan B, C and D’
We are now more focussed on e-commerce channels than ever before. We have put a hold on all our national campaigns. We are not really focusing on the post-COVID-19 time because our priority is to reach as many consumers as we can in this situation through online channels. The entire pandemic has forced us to re-look at our lifestyle and really respect nature. We have to have a Plan B, C and D for all possible eventualities and disasters. That’s our big learning from this.

Peeyush Bachlaus
AVP-Marketing, Kansai Nerolac Paints Ltd

‘Consumers will be cautious’
Consumers are going to be selective and cautious while making choices. Categories which are discretionary in nature will undergo scrutiny. Demand for paints is expected to rise, considering people have had the chance to stay home for a longer period and evaluate their home and décor needs. Further, people are likely to become hygiene conscious, hence specific paint solutions that will address this trait are likely to witness an increase in demand.

Prasun Kumar
Marketing Head, Magicbricks

‘Empathise with consumers’
Consumers will become far more discerning and are likely to do deeper research and analysis, seek meaningful content, before they make a purchase decision. One can avoid doing hard-sell currently. Brands must empathise with consumers and reassure them, hand hold them through their decision-making and simplify the path to purchase.

Samyukta Ganesh Iyer
Marketing Head, Baskin Robbins India

‘Create positive content’
Do what is fundamentally correct. Develop an entrepreneurial spirit to conserve cash. Create strong content pegged on hope and positivity. Consumer loyalties will shift. Say, if quality and hygiene were No.3 in their criteria for brand selection, it will now move up to No.1, making brands that adhere to the highest safety standards as the brand of choice.

Sandeep Juneja
VP Sales & Marketing, DHL Express

‘Get off the selling horses’
What a brand must realize is that a health crisis is not a marketing opportunity. And we need to get off our selling horses and sincerely embrace empathy. Be Genuine. Being in touch with your customers is more important than ever. Keep your communications short, help your customers pick out relevant & important key points, & always stand in the customer’s shoes while communicating. A creative, which has very happy emotional tone would be more likely to get the attention and motive conversions.

Satish NS
Senior Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Haier India

‘Marketers must evolve’
With more customers on the digital bandwagon, we’re revisiting our approaches and making them more tech-savvy. To provide a 360-degree experience, we’re uploading product manuals, price comparisons, enabling use of Haier’s revolutionary self-cleaning technologies, demo videos of our appliances and detailing the features of our innovative appliances onto the digital world. The consumers for every sector will remain the same, but the patterns of consumption, for the product and marketing effort, will change. And that’s where marketers also need to evolve.

Shantiswarup Panda
CMO, Lifestyle Business, Raymond Limited

‘Be engaged with consumers’
As normalcy returns, consumers are waiting to spend on discretionary categories as much as they can, just to feel good and break the monotony of long isolation at home. So for my brands and industry, it is critical to engage with consumers meaningfully and get them to use the brand when the right time comes.

Zameer Kochar
VP - Marketing & Member Engagement,
InterMiles (Jet Privilege)

‘Call for collaboration’
For brands to navigate the present, evolving situation, it is important that they are fluid and agile in their approach. The need of the hour is to build cross-functional collaboration between various business verticals to find creative, quick solutions for addressing consumer needs that are relevant, meaningful as well as engaging keeping the current situation in mind.

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