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Different organizations have had varying experiences while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. At #GROWTHAsia 2020, the illustrious panel comprising of Sapna Arora (CMO, OLX), Abhishek Joshi (Head of Marketing, MX Player), Harish Narayanan (CMO, Myntra), and Anugrah Honesty (Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Bukalapak) discusses the art of maintaining customer engagement through apps.

Following are the key highlights of everything discussed by the panel:

Changing Customer Behaviors: The COVID Impact

The rapid adoption of digital technologies marks the key customer behavior characteristic that underwent a rampant transformation.

“COVID-19 has done something that no amount of advertising that brands could do – it has made consumers change their preferences.” – Abhishek.

As physical traffic trickled, online traffic hit its peak to a point where the consumer behavior shift was more dynamic than anticipated by brands. Abhishek compares this phenomenon equivalent to demonetization that jumpstarted digital payments.

MX Player serves as a noteworthy case study on the matter as it saw as much as 5x growth in its DAUs (Daily Active Users). The company had to churn out approximately 20 shows over a period of 4-5 months to meet the ever-growing demand for new content. 

In contrast, OLX, a classifieds portal, took a considerable hit due to restrictions on movement. As transactions came to a standstill, the brand tried to engage with customers in other ways. However, such attempts were initially met with resistance, and OLX faced backlash, due to which the dialog had to be dialed down. Resultantly, it embraced a wait and watch approach and reconnected with customers after the reactionary response. 

As OLX took a step back and took stock of the situation, the company noticed the rise of price sensitivity in the customers. It proved to be an opportunity as the shrinking purchasing power encouraged consumers to invest in pre-owned goods. And once the lockdown was lifted, the portal saw a rapid surge in the number of buyers and sellers, who were now flooding the platform.

Anugrah commentates on the situation in Indonesia by highlighting how the pandemic also brought about a shift in the category of items being purchased by the customers. Previously, the focus was largely on gadgets and electronics, which transitioned into daily goods. It reflected how customer budgets were now redirecting to the basic necessities.

“Folks were more focused on essentials, even when it comes to fashion,” says Harish as he recollects how consumers browsing through Myntra were focused on comfort apparel like shorts and t-shirt, while also viewing Work-From-Home (WFH) outfits. The once-popular categories, such as party wear and festival wear, witnessed downward engagement.

Immediate Brand Responses to Customer Behavior Changes

Given the varied sets of reactions from customers, businesses also had to adopt an equally multifaceted response.

For instance, MX Player launched new features, such as the data saver mode to regulate data bandwidth consumption due to the heightened demand. On the other hand, OLX followed a cautious approach of sticking to its core product without losing its business goal. 

Even the nature of the campaigns differed depending on the industry vertical. With companies like Myntra and OLX, the goal was to sensitively engage customers even though they would not bring immediate revenue. 

“[Our] engagement-led aspect campaign was focusing on content, focusing on being helpful, and reactivating our users.” – Harish.

For Bukalapak, it was pivoting the campaigns to make them more customer-centric and in line with the consumer purchase patterns. 

“We put the customer on top of everything,” says Anugrah. As a result, Bukalapak made other accommodations, such as partnering with online and offline platforms to keep up with the rapid digitization – a move that resulted in 20% growths. And it also leveraged the festival of Ramadan as a basis to launch its soft-selling campaign.

Cohesive, Long-Term Organizational Action Plan

“The most important thing is to have all stakeholders and all decision-makers on the same page that we need to act collectively as a brand to help our customers.” – Anugrah.

The desire to aid and assist customers was a common theme regardless of the enterprise. And such an objective could only be attained when the entire team was working tirelessly towards this goal.

Anugrah narrates how Bukalapak had to find a centralized platform for data to act as a single source of truth to update stakeholders on all the activities and future plans. The business left nothing for interpretation and adopted a data-driven approach rather than acting on assumptions.

Despite being in a favorable position, MX Player did not miss the opportunity to maintain momentum. It utilized this time to gain perspective on the viewer’s demands and strategize accordingly. Abhishek even looks back on how the company redefined its performance metrics to quantify viewer engagement with zero latency. To ensure that the 5x growth was sustainable, it launched re-engagement campaigns over online (in the form of contests, watch more and earn more, etc.) and offline (‘It Can Wait’) channels. Meanwhile, it also conducted a survey to assess brand perception.

For OLX, the resurgence started during the second half of the lockdown. The brand engaged its users to dig out the things that they did not use and declutter their homes. As a result, it set the premise for more sellers once the lockdown was lifted.

And while OLX made a pretty good start, Myntra took a similar campaign and went bigger than ever. The brand deployed content-led engagement through WFH tips, fitness tips, home decoration tips – all surrounding fashion, the brand’s primary offering. It also revamped the app and website homepage to capture viewer attention by incorporating more content. Myntra also deployed multi-pronged engagement campaigns such as Lockdown Stories, Myntra Studio, and Masterclasses for Myntra Insider members. All these lead nurturing efforts culminated into the grand End of Reason Sale in June, which turned out to be one of the most successful sales in the fashion industry at that point in time.

Changing Dialogs With the Customer

As hard-selling became a complete no-no, companies had to get innovative while conversing with the customers. Of course, safety continued to remain the cornerstone at every touchpoint, but businesses also had to find ways to nudge users down their sales funnel.

Sapna, “One could look at what sort of consumers or customers you have and what their requirements would be.”

At this stage, key findings from first-hand information and third-party research data came to the rescue. Research carried out into customer behavior, sentiments, usage, and attitudes, paired with revenue analysis, could help curate conversations. Brands could now weave narratives around these data insights to attract attention towards their offering.

For example, OLX noticed an uptick in demand for personal vehicles as people were now hesitant to travel by public transport. At the same time, they could not spend as much on new cars, indicating the inclination towards pre-owned cars. As a result, the OLX team got together to achieve a single business outcome – connecting consumers to dealers.

Product Diversification for App Engagement

Considering that businesses like OLX and Bukalapak were severely impacted by the pandemic, they were asked whether they contemplated diversifying their product.

Both businesses responded that they added new categories within the existing project rather than causing a complete product overhaul.

OLX, for instance, launched home inspection services, which were heavily in demand by nearly 66% of the customers. Resultantly, home inspections are now an integral part of its offline component. 

In the meantime, Bukalapak partnered with news outlets to update users on the latest COVID-related information. Such a value proposition got the users returning to the app more frequently. Furthermore, it also covered live exhibitions and live streaming shopping to build a new shopping experience.

Hence, the primary product remains the same, but it gets bolstered by additional features and functions.

Retaining Customer Engagement Post COVID

When asked about the future of customer engagement in the post-COVID world, Abhishek went into detail about the importance of diversification to maintain relevance.

He cites the example of MX Player, which has consolidated its role as a super entertainment platform rather than sticking to mere streaming or OTT services. The platform now covers offline video playing, online video streaming, music streaming, and the gaming ecosystem. This level of product or service diversification would be key to retaining engagement in the post-COVID world. Rather than focusing on a particular segment, such as videos or music, MX Player satisfies the user’s need for entertainment, thereby casting a wider customer loyalty net. 

Thus, even if one section of the offering were to underperform or witness a dip, the others can offset and mitigate the risk.

In summary: Diversify, don’t just differentiate.