In an exclusive conversation with Storyboard18, Gaurav Sinha, head of marketing, Audi India, talks about the impact of the pandemic on the brand-customer relationship, key marketing trends and why micro-influencers play a critical role in the marketing mix of Audi India. Edited excerpts:
Q. What are your thoughts on the fast-evolving marketing ecosystem?
Marketing was a dynamic field and the pandemic has just highlighted how much it changes, evolves and adapts. What is important, for brands like ours is to adapt to the changing environment and to be sure of the core of the target audience base that we have. We just can’t react or adapt to the change in the environment; we need to be very clear as to where we are going. The media vehicle can differ, but the objective is laid out so marketing is an enabler. The modes of this enabler can differ, due to a pandemic or other disruptive events, but I always feel at least for a brand like ours, we don’t necessarily need to react quickly to these constant changes.
Q. How has the pandemic affected the equation between brands and customers?
Being in the luxury car industry, we were anyway much ahead of the curve—in terms of digitisation of the entire marketing process. We were already using AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) and reaching out to customers at their place of comfort (work or residence). They were experiencing our cars at their place of comfort rather than coming to the showrooms. The pandemic added more urgency to this process.
Q. What will be the defining trends of this year and how will they impact and shape the marketing landscape?
I believe a trend that has become much more pronounced is the unique personalised experience. Therefore, the challenge for us is to not deliver unique marketing experiences but to customise them. The need for experiential marketing as a strong pillar for the marketing of a luxury brand has become even bigger. The value system, aspirations and wants of our customers are different. As a luxury brand, we should be able to offer tailor-made solutions rather than one-size-fits-all marketing initiatives. For instance, we run a concierge service, so the engagement with that service is quite high compared with pre-pandemic times. We are seeing more trends towards customised marketing experiences rather than just vanilla advertisements put on digital and social media. The engagement of such marketing posts isn’t high.
Q. What are the key areas of concerns and challenges of luxury customers?
Luxury customers, especially in the post-pandemic age and with our entry into EVs (electric vehicles), are not looking at a car as a purchase or celebration of their lifestyle. It is no longer just an asset but an extension of themselves. Therefore, the brand and the product need to have the values which resonate with these individuals. Increasingly, in the luxury segment in India, we are seeing value-driven cohorts coming up more. A brand stance outside its product has become equally important. So the progressive mindset of the brand resonates better now. Having said that, India is a mix of customers spread across various geographic and SEC (socio-economic classification) profiles. While traditional luxury customers are still about the celebration of his/her success in life and buying something that is attached to a personal milestone, increasingly, we are also finding the purchase of these vehicles in the urban areas to be more value-driven. Most of these customers are self-made individuals. I’d like to call them the new ‘global progressive Indians’ who are exposed to the world environment.
Q. What are your thoughts on celebrity endorsements?
We have a long-standing relationship with (Indian cricketer) Virat Kohli. First of all, we don’t call this partnership a celebrity endorsement because we are not getting Kohli to endorse us. As a brand, we think we don’t need endorsement. We need a partnership with a like-minded individual who can show to people who don’t understand the brand Audi that this is the closest the brand Audi stands for.
Our relationship with Kohli is close to six years old now, even before he became the captain of the Indian cricket team. He was seen as someone who sets the bar high every year for himself. He is a progressive individual who stands up for various causes—he plays hard but plays fair. We use him effectively as his persona on social media for reach and experiential events.
Celebrity endorsements, in general, depend on the product category and the brand’s lifecycle at that point in time. If a brand is just entering a market and needs to stand out, then using a celebrity makes sense. Using celebrities for the sake of using them will not work. One cannot use a celebrity personality as the brand’s personality, it should be the other way around.
Q. Are influencers critical for a brand like Audi?
They are an important constituent of marketing. Unfortunately, this trend has been reduced to likes and comments that an influencer brings to the table. We think influencers truly mean ‘micro influencers’ who might not have millions of followers but are very good in their selected niche. It could be performing arts, music or painting. We work with such influencers in certain categories, some of them are industry veterans as well as heads of unicorns. We don’t use them for social media presence but leverage their influence in their core community.
Q. What are some important lessons that you've learned in the past few months?
It’s been a challenging phase for all of us. Therefore, you start treasuring the simple things in life or workday—they become more enjoyable and memorable than achieving a mega campaign. The last few months have taught me to enjoy the small wins more than the big ones. Enjoy and treasure everyday success a little more than milestones success.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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