Marketing Luxury in the Times of COVID-19


One of the most affected industries by the emergence of COVID-19, how can luxury brands pivot their PR and marketing strategy post the pandemic? Will it be an evolution for good and for the good?

By: Srimoyi Bhattacharya, Founder & Deepika Prabhu, Partner, Peepul Consulting

Posted on: July 15, 2020

After many months of waiting and watching, both international and homegrown brands have rearranged inventory, assessed and re-forecasted their 2020 budgets for marketing and PR. As an example, most brands in the Peepul portfolio are now preparing for busy Quarters 3 and 4, thanks to e-commerce and return of intimate events/ occasions. 

No matter how agile you have been, the service industry, like retail or hospitality, has specifically been most affected, because their pillar is human interaction connected to a sentiment. And if that cannot happen, the need to introspect and reinvent the scope becomes urgent and inevitable. 

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In a business where customer sentiment and perceived exclusivity is the name of the game, how does one manage a new strategy to maintain brand value and equity? More importantly, how do brands create a virtuous circle that includes legacy, product, experience and retail bound by the thread of technology? 

The need of the hour is for luxury brands to go back to the drawing-board as they revisit their short-term and long-term PR and marketing strategies. Hence, a renewed attention to spotlighting classic pieces and attention on function and versatility will recalibrate the wheels of the marketing cycle. The joy a purchase infuses in the daily will be as important as value and aspiration, if not more. 

How can brands build relations with consumers who aren’t spending at a time like this? 

By being empathetic! 

The post-lockdown consumer mindset has evolved to become more cognisant and demanding of alternatives to existing service standards from brands. They don’t want to be sold a product. They want to be guided to it and given all possible information on why it is relevant to their lifestyle and how it may be purchased with the aid of technology. They are also more inquisitive and mindful of the contribution of their purchase(s) to the environment- this is a factor that no brand custodian can afford to ignore any longer. 

We also see that the media is changing the narrative for the consumer as well. Mental and physical well-being, community-building and supporting local businesses, conscious buying - we are all finally as a country gearing up to embrace the many layers of sustainability. 

The impetus on legacy, values, human capital through the lens of workmanship...brands have used the quiet time to deep-dive into their back-stories to be able to move forward. Brands who have done so in an authentic manner, and included their customers and followers in the journey, will certainly have a stronger share of heart! 

Now, more than ever, we are thankful for the power and reach of social media. At Peepul too, we are using our social media handles to delve deeper into our brands’ stories and spotlight the amazing entrepreneurs, founders and visionaries behind each of them. 

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It’s vastly important for brands to meet their consumer - existing and potential, halfway on the demand-supply spectrum. Social media gives all of us the perfect space to do so. For eg: Kama Ayurveda’s ‘Calm With Kama’ playlists take the mindfulness conversation beyond Ayurveda into the realm of sounds that soothe. Good Earth’s new collection STILL presents an aesthetic that celebrates the positive nuances of quietude – the time we have had to relax and reflect. 

Online v/s in store, does this crisis shift the see saw? And how does one deal with a broken supply chain? 

The break in the supply chain shares a massive opportunity to innovate point of sale! When ‘footfall’ is moot in light of social distancing and safety precautions, it is imperative to look at the route to market as not just a sales strategy, but also as the most important pillar of building and sustaining customer relations. 

While times like these underline the importance of e-retail, it also is a great starting point for conceptual thinking. NYFW was born at the height of World War II to give American fashion a much-needed impetus. Similarly, we see this crisis as an opportunity for retailers to shift resources from multiple physical shops to pop-ups/ experience pods/ VR retail that share an accessible invitation to a larger pool of audiences across geographies. 

In terms of PR strategy, how does one now pitch to fashion magazines? Since Brand Events won’t be a viable PR Tool for some time, what other ways can customers be engaged? 

We are being mindful to retrofit our brands into stories that the media are devising keeping in mind their readers. At a time when the world is battling survival, we have taken the focus away from consumption to education, engagement and knowledge-sharing by sharing access to brand spokespersons. 

Once again, leveraging social media has been crucial as we wait to see how events change format in the time of social distancing. 

From inviting followers to join AMPM’s Priyanka Modi on a tour of her home over IGTV to curating Zoom webinars with industry experts to share insights and outlook for students of Istituto Marangoni and GENES Lecoanet Hemant’s conversations on Instagram Live with celebrity stylists – consumers engagement is at an all-time high! These storytelling initiatives have helped in building appreciation not just for the product but also for the personality of the brand. An effort for which companies spent millions of marketing monies just a few years ago! 

Will there be a greater focus on sustainability when it comes to brands? 

Yes, and through all facets of Sustainability - environmental, cultural and economic. While the first steps towards this have already been underway, the post-lockdown era will see consumers wanting (or even demanding) to know more about how a product is made. 

While a consumer may buy less frequently, when they do buy it will be a well-thought investment taking into consideration purpose, function, longevity. As a result, what happens in a brand’s workshop will be an equally important narrative as what is picked up off the shelf. 

In light of this, we see communication tools evolving. A brand’s background note will now have to take the shape of a manifesto outlining its purpose and commitments. Labels on a garment will possibly evolve to give information beyond country of origin. Newsletters will evolve from being electronic pamphlets to content care-packages that a customer will look forward to receiving every fortnight. This will be the differentiator between good and great offerings in the direct-to-consumer world. Again, some brands have already been doing this beautifully. But, now, the need of the hour is for a unifying body in India to lay down processes and protocols to protect, encourage and develop our country’s rich crafts and cultural heritage - the roots of all homegrown luxury. 

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What has been the greatest takeaway from this crisis? 

The last few months have been a reiteration of our belief in the power of relationships. Human connection, in real-time or virtually, will never go out of style. Any brand that has recognized this and ‘talked’ to their stakeholders has set themselves up for implicit trust. The success and sustenance of a brand have been dependant on both agility and authentically upholding its values. These factors have helped brands that we work with build strong connections among their human capital – be it consumers or employees and service-providers. Technology will continue to evolve, but human connection and relationships will continue to direct the course of business for the foreseeable future. In a nutshell, do less, and do good for good. 



Srimoyi Bhattacharya Peepul PRSrimoyi Bhattacharya, Founder of Peepul Consulting was born and brought up in Paris, and has over 25 years of communications expertise. She is passionate about helping brands build their image, support their growth through the creation and execution of strategic and creative marketing / communications programs. Srimoyi worked in PR in Paris in corporate and new media for over 7 years before moving to the US in 2002. Prior to founding Peepul, Srimoyi headed communications and public affairs for Hampshire Hotels & Resorts, a hospitality group headed by the Chatwal family in New York. While she handled public affairs for the hospitality group, she helped with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to India, a press campaign for the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation for the HIV/AIDS Initiative, and numerous fundraisers. In April 2006, Srimoyi co-founded Peepul PR in New York. Today, Peepul Consulting has offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and manages a curated portfolio of brands like Tarun Tahiliani, Kama Ayurveda, Good Earth, Bumble India, Swarovski, Hidesign and Sotheby’s.

 

Deepika Prabhu, Peepul PrDeepika Prabhu Partner at Peepul Consulting began her career in PR and Communications 16 years ago and brings with her experience from across both sides of the fence – as a consultant publicist as well as an in-house communications manager. Over the years, she has planned and executed PR programmes across the hospitality, fashion and lifestyle, social media and corporate sectors. Deepika began her career with Le Royal Meridien Mumbai, followed with a four-year stint on the agency side, spear-heading and working on campaigns for Moët Hennessy India, Gucci, MySpace, Lindt Swiss Chocolates, Swarovski Elements, Accor Hospitality and Park Hyatt Resort & Spa to name a few. This was followed by an assignment at Moët Hennessy India as PR and Digital Manager for the company’s portfolio of champagnes, wines and spirits.

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