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Clearing up my desk, as the year winds down to a close, I came across this old issue of The Economist dated Feb.1, 2020.
Clearly, no one knew how bad it would get. What started off as a problem in remote Wuhan, became a global pandemic. And the lockdown, which was supposed to be for three weeks, just kept getting extended.
While it is easy to believe that the pandemic has been ‘unprecedented’ (yes, one of the most-used words of 2020) in many respects it hasn’t. In a sense, it hasn’t been the matchstick that has lit new fires, but more an accelerant that has been poured over already burning small fires and made them into raging, fast-spreading ones. Read fires as trends. So, the trends were already there, the pandemic acted as the accelerant and made these trends mainstream.
The small fires were already burning. Global economies, including India’s, were facing headwinds even in 2019. The process of de-globalization had already started with Brexit as its flagbearer. The America – China trade war had begun… In our everyday work life, technology was available to us to use, to allow us to video-conference rather than catch a flight. We were just not using enough of it. Zoom was available even before the pandemic.
Interestingly, in December 2019, Zoom had 10 million daily participants on their platform. By April 2020, in just four months the number had reached 300 million!! I believe, the pandemic compressed two years of tech adoption into two weeks! Accelerant, not a matchstick.
Hey, in fact, the virus itself is not really something new. We have had sufficient warnings of what upheaval a virus can cause. Remember the Bovine Flu, the Swine Flu and the more recent Bird Flu (SARS epidemic)? The difference, this time, is scale. A pandemic instead of a local epidemic.
“Even before the pandemic, there was a move towards consolidation as clients were realizing the issues around working with multiple partners. With the added emphasis on ROI and the need to stretch the marketing rupee, consolidation gained impetus during this time.”
Thus, the trends in Marketing, Advertising, and Media of the last 9 months are not really new. They just became bigger, more noticeable, as the pandemic, acting as an accelerant, was poured over them.
The impetus to digital at the cost of traditional media
The trend towards digital, and away from traditional media had started a few years ago. This was clearly accelerated during the worst months of the pandemic and the resultant lockdown. The spending on digital sustained while traditional media spends contracted sharply.
The worst is behind us. And we have learned some invaluable lessons.
For me, however, all media is important in India. The share of traditional media may reduce but its importance will sustain. I say this because I believe that India is not one but made up of many Indias with varied media habits and usage. So, while spends on digital, mobile, and OTT will increase, newspapers and television will continue to perform an important role in India in the foreseeable future.
Consolidation of clients Marketing spends
Almost all our clients had embarked on their digital transformation journeys. The pandemic acted as a reminder to fast-track the transformation. It was astonishing that some of our clients had less than 5% of their revenues coming through e-commerce. With the lockdown in place, there was a renewed interest to develop this stream.
“The trend towards digital, and away from traditional media had started a few years ago. This was clearly accelerated during the worst months of the pandemic and the resultant lockdown.”
There was also greater attention focussed on data, technology, and marketing automation. Even before the pandemic, there was a move towards consolidation as clients were realizing the issues around working with multiple partners. With the added emphasis on ROI and the need to stretch the marketing rupee, consolidation gained impetus during this time.
We were often called in to pitch for these opportunities by our existing clients who wanted us to handle more of their brands and marketing tasks. Wunderman Thompson, with its capabilities across data, technology, e-commerce, marketing automation and digital was well placed to deliver to our existing clients’ expectations.
‘Creativity in times of a pandemic’
This could very well be the title of how we needed to function during this period. We had to, quickly, find new ways of working and to find innovative solutions for our clients’.
Working from home required a new mindset. And I can speak for our group companies, the speed, the adaptability, the innovation and sheer resourcefulness our people showed during this period has been amazing. My favorite line, even before the pandemic, was ‘Geography is History’ – a line borrowed from an erstwhile launch campaign of a satellite phone.
I have been encouraging our people to work across cities and not let their talent be limited to where they lived. With geography made totally redundant through video conferencing, collaboration increased. We had, now, the best talent working where required irrespective of their location. We were more efficient and turnaround times were faster. I am really proud of how our people rose to the occasion and produced such remarkable output.
Looking to 2021
The worst is behind us. And we have learned some invaluable lessons. We are looking at a growth of 15-20% in 2021. The first quarter may be slow as many of our clients’ financial years end in March (besides the base effect as the lockdown started only on March 25) last year but the momentum will pick up from April.
A large part of this growth will come from the new revenue streams we develop by picking up a larger share of our client’s marketing spends as they consolidate with fewer partners.
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