The auto sector, which was literally shut between April and May is gradually opening up as restrictions are being lifted. Tarun Jha, Head of Marketing and Product, ŠKODA AUTO India tells us how they maintained a dialogue with their customers through the lockdown, launched three cars and altered their communication strategy to reach the customer effectively
Q] Now that the markets and offices have gradually opened up, what are some of the key focus area for companies in terms of marketing strategies going forward?
We have to keep things simple as marketers because we understand that sentiment is an important part of marketing and right now the sentiment is not normal. We as marketers have to focus on one – visibility.
Because obviously that is one of the key tasks of any marketer – to keep the brand, products and offers visible to customers. The second thing we have to focus on is reassurance to the customer and at many levels. Reassurance that we’re taking necessary safety precautions at every step and that we are there to help you.
Now, this helps because in our business, it’s not only sales that is important, the after sales part is equally important. And the third area which we are focusing on is accessibility at different levels. Am I accessible as a brand in terms of information that the customer needs? Am I accessible if the customer wants to get in touch with us?
Am I accessible as a brand if a customer needs me for after sales? Am I accessible to the customer online if the customer needs to ask something or see something? Am I accessible if the customer wants to pay online? So, accessibility also becomes very important as part of brand marketing strategy at this point of time.
ABOUT THE BRAND
ŠKODA AUTO India has been operating in India since November 2001 as a subsidiary of ŠKODA AUTO a. s. Czech Republic. The company has four models on sale in India – ŠKODA Superb, ŠKODA Octavia, ŠKODA Rapid and ŠKODA Kodiaq. It has a network of 63 sales and 61 service outlets across the country.
Creative Agency: Publicis Communication
Media Agency: PHD
Digital Agency: Liquid India
PR Agency: Ketchum Sampark
Social Media/ Digital creative agency: Liquid India
Q] What are some of the key initiatives that ŠKODA India took during this period, how did you ensure that your conversations with customers were on?
In February, at the Auto Expo we showcased some of our new cars and started the online booking with the Octavia RS 245 to start with. So we had the backend ready and when the lockdown started we offered this facility of online booking across our entire portfolio. Secondly, we did a virtual launch of three cars.
Now these launches were planned already for April-May because the cars were ready and we had announced them at the Auto Expo. It was a fairly successful launch because of the kind of interest we generated around the new cars. The third thing we kicked off was an online virtual demo.
This is a contactless demo where the customer can book a demo from his home on a device. Apart from that we maintained visibility and information across all possible media which the customers have access to. All our facilities were sanitized and opened up for customers. Along with that we have launched and are in the process of launching a lot of service products when it comes to warranty service packages, etc.
Q] As a brand, what was your stand through this pandemic? There is a thin line in keeping the conversation going and not sounding offensive during a sensitive time like the pandemic. How and where did you balance the sensitivities around the virus and consumer worries?
Yes, it’s a very thin line.
If the brand overreaches and says something which is inappropriate it can fall flat on your face. In initial days of the lockdown, all our communication was on safety, staying at home and staying safe.
Then when the cars were being launched virtually, then our communication shifted to facilitating online booking and virtual demos for the customers. We also did a lot of work in terms of programmes for doctors and health workers in the field. But ur tone was of careful optimism. We tried not to overreach or say anything that would sound jarring at that point of time.
Q] How did you use content marketing to keep up your conversations with customers? What were the key points that you kept in mind all along?
Our content was extremely topical. Relevance was very important. We tied up with a series on television called “Mast Maharashtra”. This was because a lot of people were taking road trips and driving to places and staying at holiday homes for couple of weeks as things opened up.
Q] During such a time, brands get involved with national social cause initiatives. How does the company continue to roll out purpose-driven campaigns that add more value and meaning to consumers?
In our case, we carefully separate our CSR activities from marketing communications. We have two plants, one in Aurangabad and the other in Chakan, in Pune. We do a lot of CSR in that area with our local communities. But that is something that we do not use for our marketing.
CSR is meant for the local community and you wouldn’t see that as a reflection in our advertising. Marketing communications has a different purpose. Here I’m talking to my prospects and the communication is focused towards them. We consciously and deliberately try not to blend the two.
Q] Did you alter your media budgets during this lockdown period? How much did you cut down on traditional media and how much was allotted to new media or other initiatives?
In the months of April and May, there was hardly any Print, Outdoor or Activation. Obviously everything was shut. So that was completely stopped. Our entire focus was on Digital and TV at the time. As things are opening up, Print is coming back. Digital still remains quite important. We will start activation when things become a little more normal.
Q] What are some of the key consumer changes that you foresee in the auto sector post the pandemic lockdown?
Currently there is a lot of uncertainty and of course, spending is more need based. However, people have slowly and steadily started to realize that this is not going away in a hurry. So the abstinence that we observed in the first couple of months is slowly fading away.
People are indulging themselves with certain things they like, to whatever extent they can. In terms of auto specifically, April and May were shut but we’ve seen a change now in that sentiment. People have started booking cars, test-driving cars and also buying cars.
Of course, it is not at the same level as pre COVID, but month on month we are seeing this gradual change moving upwards. The practical segments so to say are bouncing back quicker. The luxury category would take perhaps another few weeks to come back to the pre COVID levels.
Q] In February, ŠKODA unveiled the Vision IN compact SUV in the country in a bid to challenge established players, the launch of which is planned later this year. What is your view on the overall SUV category and how do you plan to establish the ŠKODA brand in this segment?
SUV is the fastest growing segment in most parts of the world, especially the developing part of the world. Globally we have started a massive SUV initiative which we call SUV offensive. We have a nice portfolio of SUVs in Europe, we have Kodiaq, Karoq and Kamiq.
For India we have the India 2.0 SUV vision IN which will be launched soon. We are also in the process of launching the ENYAQ iV, Škoda’s first electric SUV in Europe. So, SUV Offensive is our global strategy and India is very much part of that. And we are working towards that, because SUVs are here to stay and we will be part of
Tarun Jha, Head of Marketing and Product, ŠKODA AUTO India has been with the brand since 2008, including three years in Europe, as an International Marketing Consultant. Jha started his career in advertising and has worked with agencies like Mudra Communications and Ogilvy. He moved into a marketing role in consumer durables and electronics and has been in the automotive business for the last 15 years.
Always maintain a dialogue with existing and prospective customers