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With the onset of the festival season, consumer durables firm Panasonic India has seen a consistent improvement in sales. In the Brand Talk series, Shirish Agarwal, head of marketing communications and brand at Panasonic, discusses the pandemic’s impact on consumer behaviour and the need for brands to listen to customers on social media platforms. Edited excerpts:

Traditionally, Indians make big-ticket purchases during festivals. What is your reading of the consumer sentiment and demand right now?

We are seeing a shift in consumer behaviour. From price consciousness, now we are seeing that they value more quality and value proposition. By value proposition, I mean that they are looking for devices that can actually ease their life, keep them entertained and help them multi-task. And, most importantly, can take care of their health and hygiene concerns.

In the TV category, the demand for big-size televisions, 55 inches or 4K, has gone up. Similarly, in refrigerators, the demand for 550 litres and above has gone up and consumers are looking for fully automatic washing machines. They are also looking for smart air conditioners as they want to monitor and control the devices remotely.

These are the new trends that we have seen, and looking at the festive season, we are extremely hopeful and optimistic that festive sales will bring the much-awaited festive cheer to the entire industry.

We are optimistic that the overall industry may be able to recover the losses it has incurred in the last two quarters of the summer season, especially when the lockdowns happened.

What kind of jump have you seen in terms of sales?

In August, we witnessed a growth of 25% if we compare it with the same period last year. And the September early trends are on similar lines. This is majorly linked to the positive consumer sentiment that we are seeing in the market right now. We are very hopeful this growth trajectory will continue for at least till November end.

You mentioned consumers are looking for bigger sizes in TVs and refrigerators. So, they are only looking for larger volume sizes or premium products?

So, it’s both actually. Since all of us were confined to our homes with limited or no domestic help available, hence the need for devices which can ease one’s life. What this pandemic has done is that, it has actually increased this particular need of consumers wherein they are engaging more with their devices and the devices are actually multi-purpose.

For example, a TV earlier was used only for consuming content, but now online classes are happening on television, you’re doing meetings on television. Hence, this particular shift we have seen in the consumer decision.

When consumers come to the showrooms, do they state such requirements?

Consumers who are walking into a store today are very well-informed vis-à-vis, say, two or three years ago. The reason for that is because the discovery or the research actually starts on digital platforms now.

The moment the need arises, I start checking out the review videos, websites, I go to e-commerce platforms, I read reviews, I do comparisons and all that. So, consumers walking into offline stores are very well-informed, and they have their needs and choices sorted out in their heads.

Indian consumers today are more woke and demanding brands to be more inclusive and stand up for issues. As a marketer, do you think brands should even engage in conversations like these?

It’s not that I need to pick a particular cause, or a societal problem just because other brands are also stepping into it. I think what we need to do is we need to ensure that any cause that you are picking up first and foremost, you should look at your long-term vision.

You should not treat that particular activity as a tactical activity. Second, any cause that you pick, there has to be certain linkage back to your brand philosophy or your brand ethos. I mean, don’t pick something just because it’s in fashion or other brands are doing it.

We are equally involved in such initiatives, and like I said, we engage with them for a longer period of time. For example, we do a programme called Harit Umang, where we go and plant trees. We have planted more than one lakh trees till now. It’s an ongoing activity we take up every year.

We also started a campaign called ‘Diwali wali safaai’ where we take e-waste from consumers and ensure that we dispose it in the most environment-friendly manner.

Both these are linked to the business that we are present in. These are not tactical or we don’t want to take any marketing advantage out of these initiatives.

What do you think of social media activism today, should brands take social media seriously?

I think no brand today can say that they don’t consider social media seriously. I think as a marketer, your intent should be to ensure that you address any consumer grievances that are coming. If you start ignoring your consumers, and any negative voice of customer (VOC) that is coming, then it can snowball. This gives a window to consumers to communicate back with the brand. We pay a lot of attention to any such VOC.

I think social media has a great power. But brands need to be more responsible, and need to give that much respect to consumers if they have invested in you.

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