Looking at mighty butterflies through a brittle crystal ball

Adapting your brand to the post COVID19 world

What you have to read before you read
this paper(in no particular order)

  • Crystal gazing is a hazardous profession at all times. Never more so than now. It would take quite a bit of spunk – foolishness? - to try and look through the foggy atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety to penetrate into the future. And predict what could be the shape of businesses and brands. But we are attempting that here. For the simple reason, that a framework using the best available knowledge, experience, opinion and judgement will help us to be better prepared for the world that is to come.
  • We heard from a founder that his board member asked him to shut shop and go home.For the rest of the year. We disagree. We see value in the work that you can do during these times. And the paper reflects that action orientation.
  • We work with a bunch of founders and a few large companies – multinational and Indian. We are also connected with a group of investors across stages. Who in turn see companies from different walks of life. We have leveraged that and spoken to a cross section of these companies and investors. The paper leans on this understanding heavily.
  • The current crisis is a healthcare crisis. Millions are going to be affected, many will lose their lives. Our healthcare systems will be tested like never before. Nothing in this paper is meant to take away from the primary focus of all leaders at this point of time – to keep people safe. But as business leaders, we felt that a second priority exists. The economic well-being of the system, our companies and hence our people. The business impact of this virus is likely to be frighteningly bad and will affect a ton of people. We believe that while we keep ourselves safe and look after our loved ones, we also need to try and estimate the damage to our business – current and future – and take measures that allow us to come back better and stronger.
  • The winners of tomorrow will be very different from the winners of yesterday. But there will be winners. And that streak of optimism runs through this paper.
  • Our domain is marketing. We are best at solving business problems through the lens of marketing. And that’s exactly what we are attempting here. We are only looking at those problems that lie in the marketing domain.
  • We have tried our best to stay away from the practice of hedging which usually accompanies all future focused reporting. We have been honest, blunt and direct.

Learnings & conclusions

From a cross section of founders, investors, consumer reports & online trends.


Everybody is negatively impacted.

negatively impacted. Everybody. Well, unless you are Zoom. Even ecommerce companies who saw demand shooting through the ceiling were unable to fulfil their orders because of lack of delivery options. Short term is bad. Period.


The power of digital online has never been so apparent.

The world tomorrow will increasingly go online. It helped that the last five years, consumers shifted online. That was an evolutionary process. We expect a revolution. If it can be done online, it will be done online. We believe this to be the most significant change post COVID.


We will have to learn to live with the virus

At least in the medium term. This means that businesses will need to implement measures that make them COVID proof. Or COVID compliant. These are likely to be terms that get stamped onto all products and services in the future.


Pivots will be required

We spoke to a founder who has created an anti-bacterial apparel range that keeps his product odour-free. He is now working on an expanded application of his core anti-bacterial tech.


The new normal will call for new ‘essentials’

Or rather, the definition of a core need will change. The world will not go back to how it was. Consumer preferences will be dynamic and, in many cases, surprising too. For instance, one of the recent studies indicates that physical and mental health is currently highest on many people’s priorities. We believe ‘essentials’ and ‘discretionary’ may not the same buckets that they are today.

What consumers are searching for?

Dumbells & home workouts

Healthy snacks

Online courses

How to make milk at home


Define/re-define your core business

If ever there was a time to define/redefine your core business, then this is that time. Knowing what you are and what you are not – and then relooking at those thoughts and beliefs in the light of the current situation is mandatory for all of us. It will be a very rare business indeed that will pick up from where they left it on the first day of the first lockdown.

Digitising your business is no longer a growth strategy. It is an essential business need in the new world.


Cash is king.

Always a truism. Never more valid. Postpone, defer, getout of commitments that don’t seem to make sense in the medium term. Most investors fear that the funding tap will slow down to a trickle so running out of money may be a prelude to shutting down.


Do more with less.

A follow on to the earlier conclusion. We will all have to work in a resource constrained environment and will have to take decisions that are suboptimal. We will be forced to operate frugally, forced to make tough choices. As is often said by the many VC firms, the best companies are usually formed during times of crisis.


This is the time to build loyalty.

With customers, partners, teams. This is the time to show that you care, that you are willing to invest in learning and becoming better. The brands that survive this crisis will be infinitely stronger and more valuable in the future.

Loyalty & connections are as important as they’ve ever been. Consumers will buy into brands they trust.


Brick and Mortar will suffer.

Even when the world comes back, consumers may have become more comfortable online. This is the time to re-negotiate rents , get rid of unprofitable stores, make your business more efficient. And go online. As much as you can. Going where the consumer is will become the core strength of all businesses tomorrow.


Do some good.

Think of the community you operate in. Give something back during this time. The good that brands will do will be remembered.


Use the time.

We all complain about lack of time on a daily basis. We have the time now. To think about strategy, about the future, that experimental project that nobody in the team ever got around to doing – now you have the time to do it.


Consumption spike

The optimistic among the surveyed spoke about a ‘consumpt ion spike’ post the virus dying down. Consumers who flock to buy products and services that they did not have access to.

Impact in the medium term:
the questions to ask

Taking on from our understanding that all companies are impacted in the short term, what happens in the medium term and long term? When the world starts coming back, when lockdowns start getting lifted, when the consumer starts shopping again, when supply chains start getting restored, delivery of most products resume – how do different categories get impacted?

We realised that the answer to this question actually lies in the answers to a whole bunch of other questions that will need to be applied to the category you operate in

  • Is your category directly impacted by the situation? Travel, manufacturing, brick and mortar retail – all these categories are likely to take much longer to get back to where they are today.
  • What part of your business is online?
  • Do consumers need to come to you or can you go to your consumers?
  • Is your category positively impacted by the crisis? Content streaming, online education, broadcasting, delivery, online payments – the adoption of these categories will go up as a direct correlation.
  • Is your category essential or is it a discretionary purchase? And do remember that these definitions may not be the definitions of the past.
  • How does your product/service stack up in the consumer hierarchy of needs in the post COVID world?
  • How quickly can your business become COVID compliant? Can you become contactless if you aren’t already so?

The blurring lines between
‘essential’ and ‘discretionary’

While every category will have nuances that impact how the business comes back, the 2 biggest factors that impact this are:

A. How online are you?
B. Are you ‘essential’ or are you ‘discretionary’?

While the answer to ‘A’ is obvious to each of you, we double clicked on what ‘essential’ products and services would look like in a post COVID world.

Consumerism changes through history

Source: BCG consumer behaviour study, 2018

    1. COVID and its impact on the consumer life and lifestyle will have them make fundamentally different choices in the new world.

  • New products and services will come up – those requiring COVID compliance like masks, gloves
  • Products and services may change in the hierarchy of needs – more focus on mental health given forced social distancing causing use of mental wellness products and services
  • Products that are being consumed in one way today may be consumed differently tomorrow or the rate of change my increase – education turning online

    2. The core needs of categories may remain the same but consumer spend patterns within those categories will get impacted

  • Marriages will continue, spend on marriages may come down. Match making portals will flourish, marriage halls may not.
  • Entertainment will continue, spend on theatres may come down. Content will flourish, public places of consumption may shut.

What does this mean for brands / businesses?

The lockdown has forced all of us to go back to things that matter. In a recent survey conducted across 3 cities and 200 respondents, many of the respondents we spoke to echoed this sentiment, with some even confessing that this was a blessing in disguise. Some picked up new hobbies, while others have reconnected with forgotten passions.

We believe that habits that have been formed or rekindled during the isolation phase, will influence the new normal definitions of essential and discretionary.

Consumers’ definition of “essential" categories

Online survey conducted by Spring Marketing Capital in context of Covid-19 outbreak. n= 184 ; 115 males & 69 females. 80% respondents from Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. 74% of the respondents from 25-40 yr age group

We believe that each brand belongs to one of the 4 categories below:

Marketing & brand building in this new reality -Our recommendations:

Adapting your brand to a post COVID world Some overall brand guidelines during this period

  • Be good. A lot of humanity is suffering during these tough times. It pays to pay back to the community if possible.
  • Be considerate, sensitive and humane in all communication.
  • Don’t put your commercial considerations out there until we are on the other side of the curve.
  • Find the lightest touch possible to land a point even if it is to stay relevant to consumers during lean business periods.
  • It’s ok to ask for a smile or find a happy moment in our brand world. All of us need that as well.
  • For startups that are embarking on a brand building journey, this is a great time to get your thinking in place. The time you have now is ideal for thinking through the core aspects of your brand – and most importantly, what you are and what you are not.
Raja Ganapathy

Founding Partner

Rohan Talati

Portfolio Partner

Ananya Agarwal

Investment Analyst