It’s time to throw out the old book of communications and product launch


This post is done in collaboration with Grab.

Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler once said: “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has been about learning to be empathetic. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. At the start of the pandemic, many brands faltered as they struggled to communicate in a manner that was deemed authentic by consumers.

In a panel discussion hosted by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, in collaboration with GrabAds, on “Defining the new roles of consumer-centric marketing”, David Porter, vice-president of global media at Unilever, shared that in the early days of the pandemic, there were many brands stitching content together quickly to let their consumers know that they were there in their time of need.

As well-meaning as that was, in some instances, the move came across as “a little bit misguided, slightly tone deaf, and frankly, inauthentic”, Porter explained.

“I’m not saying it was intended that way, but during very sensitive times, people react more extremely to this stuff.”

Porter added that for Unilever, the past year was a good reminder on the importance of purpose.

“We made an early decision that if you had a brand that was part of the solution, then talk about it and show how you’re helping,” he said.

“And if you’re adjacent (maybe a brand that can entertain or introduce recipes) that’s OK to communicate too. But otherwise, it’s probably best to just keep quiet for a while. I think that strategy has paid off.”

Angela Lu, CEO and group chief growth officer of Yeo’s, added that while the advent of data and social listening across numerous channels can inform any brand on how to target consumers through their purchasing patterns, and evolving habits, what is ultimately really needed during this challenging time is for companies to simply be genuine and understand people’s struggles – and not just speak because they have the insights to allow them to.

Lu said that for her and her team, what was important was to communicate in a positive manner messages that could drive an emotional connection. She said:

Emotional connections play a very key part in how we communicate with the consumer.

Product innovation

Beyond communication, another area marketers struggled with was in getting face time with consumers for their newly launched products. During the session, through an interactive audience poll, 90% of the audience, constituting mostly of those in the marketing industry, shared they faced a challenge in launching new products.

Adding to the sentiments of the audience, Porter said: “I think the biggest challenge on launches and innovation generally is that it’s very hard to be innovative when you’re not face to face. You don’t get those serendipitous moments, and happy accidents that are part of the creative process.”

Nikhil Rao, senior director of Mondelēz, seconded the notion and shared that marketers are now forced to think of creative ways of launching new products. Marketers now have to be a lot more strategic rather than “spray and pray” it works. 

Focusing on strategic big bets such as Oreo Socola-Pie and Oreo Wafer is key. Localising brands, for example, the Cadbury Dairy Milk Pandan Coconut, also works well. 

Another area Mondelēz has found success in has been in strategic collaborations between big brands. For example, in Thailand, Mondelēz recently launched the limited edition Halls XS Red Bull, which Rao said, has breathed fresh life into the brand’s performance.

Following up on Rao’s point, Dave Yang, regional head of direct sales organisation at GrabAds, agreed that launching new products has proven to be a challenge across industries as product sampling has been curtailed with social distancing and heightened hygiene protocols in place.

“We actually saw this as an opportunity to create a full funnel marketing solution that was centred on sampling,” Yang explained.

But it wasn’t just the tried and tested methods of sampling most of us are familiar with, where consumers could just grab and dash without much of an information exchange with the sales person in-store. In Grab’s digitally refreshed version of sampling, a digital footprint is left behind for the marketer to ultimately better understand the consumer better – of course, all with their consent.

First, digital assets are used on Grab’s platforms for its merchant partners to create brand awareness. Served to potential target audiences, these ads allow interested consumers to click on the ad to opt-in to be given a sample. Grab then utilises its offline arms – its fleets – to get sampling in the hands of individuals. And to close the loop, re-targeting is done to those who have tried the new products.

For marketers who want to know how the product then fares, a customisable survey can also be sent to those who have tried the products, Yang explained.

“What’s really interesting, though, is now that we’ve started to have conversations around sampling with a number of brands, what we’ve seen is that our partners are not just using it for new products. It’s actually stalwart products that have been around for decades that are given an added push,” Yang said.

He added this could be because consumers are now more comfortable in the realm of digital, and with more time on their hands, more open to trying something new.