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How brands are navigating the new normal

Marketing in the times of Covid-19: DLF Limited

How brands are navigating the new normal
  • In our latest interview series, we talk to brands to understand how they are coping with the new normal and their strategies towards navigating these difficult times.
  • In today's interview, Karan Kumar, CMO, DLF Limited tells us about the impact on the real estate market and how the brand has been navigating these difficult times.
  • He also talks to us about the brand's marketing strategies and the steps it has been taking to reassure all stakeholders during these adverse times.
The ongoing Coronavirus outbreak and the resulting lockdown has led to consumer sentiments hitting an all time low. While a lot of segments have come to a complete standstill, even real estate is bearing the brunt. Recent surveys and reports around the sector have revealed that both residential and commercial real estate will be hit adversely.

The real estate sector is expected to witness low demand and might even find it difficult to launch new projects or finish ongoing projects. Experts believe that the sector will continue to see a slowdown even after the lockdown is called off.
While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her latest speech offered some relief to the sector when she said the COVID-19 disruption would be treated as force majeure under Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act provisions, it will still take the sector to come out of the slump. As a part of the Atma Nirbhar Bharat mission, the FM also announced that registration and project completion timelines would be extended by six months.

We recently caught up with Karan Kumar, CMO, DLF Limited to understand how the lockdown has impacted the brand as well as the overall real estate industry.
Edited excerpts:

Q) The Covid 19 lockdown has been challenging for most sectors. For real estate, what are the challenges and how are you working around these difficulties?

Like for any sector, the biggest challenge right now is to try and comprehend the revised consumer expectations from the category and for every enterprise to evaluate how well they are tooled to meet them. These expectations will fundamentally impact product design and processes that govern its presentation and sale. Specific to our category, we need to understand increased physical distancing will impact design of new homes, offices and malls. Another aspect is the incidence of working from home. Although precipitated by the current pandemic, I am sure the concept will find much greater acceptance than ever before. What is the import of this while we plan our next set of products and how we incorporate this as a core utility as part of new designs is also something all real estate developers will have to evaluate and factor in as part of their plans.

Q) Has the current situation made you innovate and think out of the box, in terms of how you communicate with your consumers?

At one level it has and at another, it has encouraged us to strengthen certain existing capabilities which needed greater reinforcement. Improved and more immersive customer engagement while the product, the buyer and the seller continue to operate in discontinuous and remote locations is a challenge which we need to face with fervor and innovation. We are learning all the time and piloting initiatives that we think can provide successful and sustainable solutions in this regard. Engagement via social and digital media is also stronger now than ever before. So this is a great opportunity for enterprises to be brave and invest in communication approaches that are new, offering heightened levels of consumer engagement.

Q) Real estate spends big on OOH, Print, two mediums that have been badly hit. How have you modified your marketing strategy during these unprecedented times?

The entire industry is trying to reassess and prioritize overall cash flows, marketing included. The first priority is to clear all and any old outstanding amounts that are payable to various partners. Second, to provide financial security to all stakeholders employed either directly or indirectly with the business and this includes the daily wage earners. Only after that are we arriving at spends that are necessary to ensure stakeholder communication and engagement. We are trying to explore innovative and efficient ways to drive this engagement – both to communicate as also to interact virtually from remote locations given the imperatives of physical distancing. So while there spends on conventional media platforms have been impacted but investments continue to be made to develop a more robust and long term engagement strategy in response to situation all of us find ourselves in.
Q) What have your key learnings from this experience been?

The one thing that has been reiterated is that especially during times of crisis, our ears need to be as close to the ground as possible. Understanding the impact on various stakeholders (consumers included) and how it will influence new consumption behavior is critical. That in turn triggers critical reevaluation of the current product design and mix as also reevaluation of the processes that currently aid their delivery. Changes that may need to be made to both would be derived out of this fresh understanding and such changes must be implemented with speed and clear purpose. Such incidents also nudge everyone to retool themselves, explore innovations and alternate approaches that help at identifying new breakout opportunities.

Q) How long do you think the effects of the lockdown will take to wear off for a brand like DLF? What have your crisis management strategies been?

We are still studying the medium to long term impact of this crisis on the sector. I suspect it will be a couple of quarters by when consumer sentiment towards purchase will show any sign of rebound. That said, I am equally sure that brands like DLF who are trusted by consumers because of its proven legacy of delivering on commitment made will have a head start during this period of rebound and restart.
Q) How are you ensuring you keep communicating with consumers effectively and that your efforts aren't seen as opportunistic as it is easy for consumers to misread a brand's marketing efforts during times like these?

Our communication has largely been around the measures we have been undertaking to keep our immediate and extended community protected. Medically, financially and from any other aspect that we can control. Our language is one of honesty and transparency and our intent is only for all stakeholders to be reassured in the knowledge that DLF is here to stay and will stand by them, caring as much as possible for them during this unfortunate and unprecedented pandemic.

COVID-19IndiaCases: 145,380Deaths: 4,167Recovered: 60,491
COVID-19WorldCases: 5.31mnDeaths: 342kRecovered: 2.23mn
COVID-19USACases: 1.59mnDeaths: 96kRecovered: 379k
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