COVID-19 has been ruthless; it has not spared the rich and the poor, the illiterate and the educated. I have seen those belonging to the lowest rung of the economic ecosystem in India lose jobs because of the mistakes committed by the decision-makers. The founders and the CXOs have failed to judge how the COVID wave was going to hit them and their business. So they did not prepare for it.
This lack of preparation has resulted in sudden losses of jobs. As media reports go, Rs 8 lakh crores are needed to support lower-income groups. I am quoting from one such report: “23 crore Indians have fallen below the national minimum wage poverty line and 1.5 crore people remained jobless at the end of 2020.” We must do something or we would have their blood on our hands.
In most families around me, I have seen elderly people go out daily to the market and to the jogging parks without masks. They ended up getting infected, brought home the virus, and spread it in the family.
Their casual approach to life: going on vacations, organising and attending marriage ceremonies, and having get-togethers killed many people in their own families. What we saw was irresponsible.
Similarly, many CXOs, out of frustration or out of their compulsion to show their power, forced their workforce to come to the office. In the end, this only helped the virus to infect many more individuals and families.
India is a country where the definition of hygiene is horrible. You
can’t change the behavior and habits of 1.7 billion people. Hence, the lockdown
was imposed. Had everyone behaved responsibly like the citizens of the western
countries, we would not have landed up in this disaster.
I have seen a similar pattern in the digital marketing environment too because after all, it’s the same kind of people who drive businesses, the same kind of people who make marketing decisions.
The CXOs had a poor sense of digital marketing methods and ROI. No school ever taught digital marketing to them from the foundation level.
This lack of education continues till date and has resulted in people
trying out crash courses to learn digital marketing because job interviews
demand digital marketing certificates. So, our education system needs to be
blamed for not having the right digital qualified resources especially because
ours is a country where digital is growing at an enormous speed.
The digital penetration happened due to Jio’s mobile penetration. Consumers moved and adopted digital marketing faster than the organisations did. This has created the biggest digital gap in India. I do not mean the digital gap in the conventional sense of the term in which we distinguish between the digital haves and digital have-nots.
I mean a different kind of the digital gap in which the consumers are on the digital platform but the businesses and the brands who should be catering to the consumers are not.
That’s the reason why COVID-19 has made those industries, businesses and
brands vanish in just 3-6 months. These are industries, businesses, and brands
that refused to be available on the digital platform out of ego or a
All traditional industries fell like a pack of cards. 6.8 lakh industries closed down resulting in a loss of 7 million jobs. COVID-19 has not discriminated against the rich or the poor. It has throttled the neck of age old industries and killed them in weeks.
Now the question is: have the non-digital CXOs learnt their lessons in
The answer is a big NO.
The CXOs are still hiring cheap unskilled resources. The irony is that
most of them have upgraded their iPhone to 12 Pro Max. They have also upgraded
their cars because of all the discounts various car brands have been offering
thanks to COVID.
The same CXOs find paying a qualified resource and hiring a
capable team costly or unaffordable. That’s the Indian way of thinking. I have
been talking to and advising leaders of 300 organisations (including CII,
World Trade Centre, various trade bodies, and a lot of CXO forums). I see the
same picture getting repeated.
So, what should be done to handle the situation? Those who are beginning
to understand the potential of digital marketing can benefit from understanding
what to do and how.
Here I propose doing various things for the short term and the long term. The short term advice will take care of your survival right now. The advice for the long term will ensure you don’t have to look for short term survival every now and then.
The Short Term Strategy
01. Focus on training your employees
There’s no alternative to learning and education. Learn about growth
hacks. Read extensively about all the facets of digital transformation.
Become a lot more conscious about the goals you have and make a list of
skill enhancement training your team must go through. There are countless free
courses and several paid courses from reputed institutions that your team can
But firstly, do the generic ones that include a broad overview for yourself first so that you know what content and skill go into further specialisation.
02. Promote benefits
On the marketing front, don’t indulge in the hard sell. Talk about the benefits of your product or service through your content. That’s the core of Inbound philosophy.
But then you might think: isn’t talking about the benefits of product or service a strategy of a hard sell in itself? Not necessarily. You’ve got to talk about benefits in a way that matches your consumers’ pain areas.
Without knowing your buyer personas, you won’t know what people like or miss in their lives. These insights can bring you closer to them. Your content will speak to them much more intimately if you know where they really get stuck.
03. Invest in a hand holding app to help non-digital workforce
There are people who are in dire need of jobs. State governments and
central government can design applications to help the non-digital workforce
Just as the Aarogya Setu app helps keep track of infections in an area
and also helps people get cautious about their own chances of infection through
contact tracing, another app can prepare a database of jobs and the list of
people who fit into the job profile.
Jobs might already be there waiting for the right people. This app can connect the two and reduce some demands on the taxpayers’ money.
04. Build a community
We are all in this together. And we must work together too to get us all
Just as an app can bring information about people together which can be
used to connect people with each other, a community can make us feel
And it’s easier to bring people together on digital platforms. This is where people can share ideas, resources and more to support each other.
05. Ask industry stalwarts to come and share knowledge
We definitely have some brilliant minds in the country in every sector
and in every industry. The community can benefit immensely if the stalwarts
from the industry are regularly invited to share their thoughts.
What one leader has done successfully can inspire many leaders.
What one leader has failed to do can also inspire many leaders. After
all, it’s not just the success stories that count. Failure is equally a
Indian industries will grow if businesses will grow. And businesses will
grow when there is exchange of ideas and building of networks.
A community of leaders can bring about a huge change in the way we do business, in the way we make our presence felt in the digital ecosystem, and so on. There are also digital transformation experts with cross-industry expertise who can share their work to influence everyone.
06. Bridge the gap between digital assumption and the reality
Everyone assumes that he or she knows digital very well. A lot of
digital marketing ends in failure because it seems to be composed of random
posts and blogs. And that’s not ture.
An impressionistic understanding of digital transformation also
affects the entire business – its people, process, technology. We should
not let that happen.
The CXO community needs to learn that digital transformation is
something that requires rigorous study, planning, strategizing, and execution.
Without these, no business can go digital in a meaningful way.
So, separate your digital assumptions from the facts. Learn about the digital “reality” – what it is based on and the expertise and the skill it requires to sustain a business digitally.
The Long Term Strategy
01. Introduction of digital subjects at the school level
Computers have become a part of school education now. But we should do
more to teach digital literacy to our younger generations. So that when they
come to higher studies, they can ask the right questions and develop the
The engineering side of this education might already look like it’s well
developed. But from the side of business management and marketing, its
acceptance is very low. Marketers are just not interested in challenging
technology teams to design applications and solutions that can solve real
Digital literacy for marketers is a mindset. And its cultivation begins in schooling.
02. Digital practice from higher school level
High school students should be given ample opportunities to think
creatively about technology, especially digital technology.
Giving students practicals in developing codes is one thing but asking
to constantly think about who that code or software is going to be used is
another. And practical education should include both.
This is how we can have young, bright marketers who can talk to tech
experts and brief them well about what they need.
And yes, it all begins with high school. That’s when the seeds of entrepreneurial spirit can be sown in the minds of learners.
03. Make the workforce ready by the time they are in an employable stage
Good schooling aided by practical education in high school can help MBA
degree aspirants ready to get the best out of the education they receive.
Sadly, the faculty of even the best B-schools in India tends to be
groomed in academic nonsense and non-digital mindsets. Or they are out of touch
with what’s happening in digital transformation projects all over the world.
That’s the reason why they remain incapable of teaching the principles of
digital marketing to the students.
If we have bright MBA students who have learnt the right thing from their schooling, they can challenge their professors to teach them the current affairs in business – including the developments in digital transformation.
04. No negotiation when it comes to digitizing of organizations
After education, let us focus on the law. Because no business, and
therefore, no economy, can thrive without the right kind of laws.
All organisations and businesses must be completely digitised. There
should be absolutely no negotiation on this front. This is going to force all
businesses to treat the digital ecosystem as a part of their work. This is
going to make them develop their digital assets. This is also going to make
them invest into better digital infrastructure for themselves.
Businesses cannot survive for long without getting digitised. With digital currencies and things like NFTs taking over finance, staying non-digitised is not an option any more. You’ve got to become a part of the movement or perish.
05. Digitally-handicapped senior people should be trained
CXOs, especially the ones who grew up before the computers were invented
and have therefore not been able to keep up with changes in the technology,
need to be trained. They have to be clearly instructed to make themselves feel
relevant, productive, and wanted in the organisations.
In other words, no more hiding behind seniority. The higher up you are,
the more you should learn. So that you can train your team.
Times have changed. Change is the only constant of life. So, you cannot afford to sit with an older version of you and expect the newest increments in salary!
06. As a CSR rule, make digital KPIs and metrics linked to tax waiver or similar mandatory rule
If demonetisation can be done by force, I am sure digitisation can also
be achieved through similar means.
As part of CSR regulations, organisations should be compulsorily asked to reflect their digital assets into their P&L statements. Their investment into digital infrastructure should be linked to tax waivers or similar concessions.
The poor get subsidies under various schemes. Similarly, all businesses,
especially the SMEs need to be covered under such schemes of subsidies so that
they can learn the digital outlook and make themselves discoverable and
profitable in the long run.
After all, it’s only the digital knowledge drive that will save many industries in the future.
In short, 3 Cs are going to determine the future of Indian industries:
COVID-19, CXO, and Character. These 3 Cs should be added to our rudimentary
understanding of the marketing mix so that we can give our businesses and our
economy a digital makeover.
As you think about your business and where it stands today, think about these 3 Cs. Tell me what you’ve found and where you want to reach.
If you wish to invest in better digital marketing and have the resources and patience for it, talk to us.