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Brand bounce-back: HDFC Bank’s CMO wants to help consumers be positive

In this column, The Drum asks marketers across categories to share their experience of combating the Covid-19 crisis, how they tweaked their go-to-market strategies and the lessons picked along the way.

This week Ravi Santhanam, chief marketing officer, HDFC Bank, shares his learnings and the plans for the festive season, even as the leading private sector Indian bank gets ready to help “people to be positive and live life as normal even as they learn to live with the pandemic”.

Brand Journey last few months

Early in the pandemic period, the bank strategy was all about communicating its solidarity with the customers and assuring them of being there with them during unprecedented times. The objective then was to get the brand to act for the benefit of the customers and society, shares Ravi Santhanam, CMO, HDFC Bank. This was achieved through a host of initiatives.

Nuts and bolts

  • For its customers, HDFC Bank removed minimum balance requirement, charges for cash withdrawal from ATMs etc.
  • From the societal benefit point of view, the brand did a marketing innovation by launching #SafetyGrid campaign – it put its logo grid on the ground in front of essentials stores like grocery and medical stores to ensure that people practice social distancing.
  • The brand created a song of hope and positivity with the famous music composer A R Rahman to boost the morale of Indians.
  • There was a focus on safety and digital ways of banking in all its social media engagements.

Banking amid the pandemic

Since the last three months, as the consumption has started picking up again, the bank pivoted again and started communicating relevant products and services to its customers. Shares Santhanam, “Consumption was up primarily in the needs arising out of work from home (electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones), work for home (washing machines, vacuum cleaners, ACs, dishwashers) and safe commute (entry-level cars and two-wheelers).” In addition, business segments started slowly reviving and were looking for loans to support the re-start of their businesses. The strategy evolved accordingly.

Getting festive-ready

The next phase is the festive season which typically sees a higher consumption trend in many categories. There is an expected spike in categories such as apparel, jewellery, TVs, mobiles and vehicles. The bank thus got all geared up and has launched more than 1000+ offers through its ‘Festive Treats 2.0’ campaign.

  • The festive campaign is looking at covering a wide range of categories including online as well as offline / in-store offers and is backed by tie-ups with large brands / OEMs such as Apple, Samsung, Benelli, Suzuki, Hero, Hyundai, Mahindra, Audi etc.
  • There is a huge outreach lined up to cover tier two and three markets with over 2000 hyperlocal offers.
  • The idea is to make it easy for our customers and ensure that all is possible even in the current situation, says Santhanam. “Consumers are now learning to live with the pandemic, and we believe it is time for people to be positive and live life as normal. We look forward to playing an active role in doing this and help get the economy back on a growth trajectory,” he adds.

Brand campaign

Emerging playbook

While the bank’s marketing playbook stays firmly entrenched in its brand purpose of ‘existing to help every Indian make better money choices, today and tomorrow’, the pandemic did lead to pivoting the strategy on some aspects.

  • Social media strategy: The bank changed course on its social media strategy to focus more on safety, positivity and morale of its customers in the first quarter of the year. As things become normal, it is now slowly shifting back to its pillars of knowledge and financial need fulfilment in the current situation.
  • Increased digital focus: There has been an enhanced focus on digital – “be it launching new digital platforms, creating digital ecosystems to make seamless customer journeys possible or be it educating customers on how to use digital to stay safe while managing all their money needs,” explains Santhanam.

The big marketing learnings during Covid-19

  • Stay connected with the consumer in a relevant manner during the tough times and the customer will stay with you during the good times.
  • Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing - continuously engage and act for the benefit of the customers.

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