How to reach the consumer during the pandemicReading Time: 5 minute
The year 2020 was a year in which many of the well-known paradigms changed and the reinvention and adaptation were required to cope with the new. Marketing has also been through these stages, as Călin Coman, Strategy Director and Managing Partner of Handsome Advertising, the oldest and largest advertising agency in Arad County says.
Călin, how was last year for Handsome agency?
I would consider 2020 a rather interesting than a difficult year. Because, in marketing, we have always had difficulties, it is always challenging to think of how to reach the mind of the new millennium’s consumer. Over this challenge, a new question that has never existed in marketing before has been added: how to reach the consumer during a pandemic?
And, of course, this challenge of reaching the end customer has spread from our clients’ clients to our clients… and, finally, to us. I say finally, because we felt the shock wave late, at the end of summer. And, if we are to relate also financially, although it was interesting, the agency’s figures were still significantly impacted.
That was because we thought less about the agency’s profitability and more about keeping the businesses of the clients. The health of their businesses also means our long-term health. We have doubled the effort, reduced sleeping hours, but billed less. This is what 2020 meant for us.
How did Handsome come about and what projects and clients do you currently have?
The Handsome agency was born when, having arrived in another city, I could not find a job. In 2002, I moved from Cluj to Arad, from a position of art director at the largest advertising agency in Transylvania to something uncertain. And the Handsome agency was actually like inventing a job. Inventing my own job.
Over time, we have created valuable national brands from scratch, such as edy Spedition, Millefiori, Smart Diesel – companies titled in the national press, but also successful regional brands, especially in the real estate sector (in Timișoara, Arad, Cluj, Brașov, Oradea but also Bucharest). An even bigger challenge followed then. And we managed, for the first time, to create Romanian international brands (such as Scooterson or Astreea), which have become a global benchmark with customers from the United States to Singapore. One of them was created exactly in 2020.
Although we have been very successful in B2B marketing (60% of the agency’s activity being B2B marketing – sometimes invisible in the market, targeted towards corporate clients), our heart has always been in the B2C area – the visible marketing. Otherwise, we have always and especially in recent years made sustained efforts together with the client to promote and grow European brands in Romania, such as Siviero Maria, Maresi Milk or Shan’shi, brands from Maresi’s group that we want to take to the top of the Romanian clients’ choices.
How do you work with Maresi, which has a very large portfolio of brands?
Maresi is a client who has an Austrian DNA and clearly knows its goals. The brands in the Maresi portfolio are positioned in the premium area of the market and have a heterogeneous target, more difficult to build on loyalty for some of the products. In the mass market sectors (low-cost food products), promotions are much more present in the marketing plans. But even if it has this DNA, Maresi is a client who knows how to reach the consumer of the new millennium.
Through clever solutions, creativity, unconventional and brilliant ideas that often replace a large budget spent through classic mass communication. And that’s exactly what we consider as well. Hence this long-term relationship.
We need to reach to the consumers’ minds in other ways. And we succeed because we mix communication engineering with creativity.
Only creativity and the unconventional can attract the clients’ attention who expect more from a brand than what a simple food product offers. They expect you to find associations with their world in your brand. They expect you to have an attitude as a brand, so that you can speak the consumer’s language. They expect you to inspire, build emotions, entertain and confirm/validate their choice.
How has the consumer changed in the recent months?
Besides restrictions-imposed constraints, consumer behavior has changed in the sense that he has reassessed some consumption habits. But that does not mean that he has reduced his expenses, rather that he has rethought allocation of the resources, or simply waited. Some sectors registered losses due to imposed restrictions, not because consumers have changed, but because they lacked access to these services. And when I say access, I mean the state needed to consume a particular product or service.
During the pandemic, much of the consumer’s mind was occupied with negative news and processing uncertainties so that the remaining part, responsible for lifestyle, choices, pampering was substantially reduced. Therefore, these changes have been observed in the consumer behavior. But the consumer would still have wanted to fly, go on vacation or attend events.
That has not changed. Some more fortunate sectors have had the opportunity to reinvent themselves through online presence, home delivery or new distribution methods, others have not. Some sectors even had massive increases during the pandemic. I think that most of consumer changes were contextual, due to both restrictions and personal introspection that people have experienced during the inactive or professionally weakly active times.
Certainly, this pandemic has also left deep traces in the way consumer evaluates his/her consumption habits and in the way that consumer relates to his/her own needs. What I have noticed is a decrease in appetite and enthusiasm to buy physical goods (primarily non-food products) from stores.
I remember a study conducted a few months ago by the Global Web Index in which over 50% of those interviewed claimed they would not visit stores for „a while” or even for a longer period of time. But it is too early to decide which changes are contextual and reversible and which are permanent. The years 2021 and probably 2022 will be the years in which we will find out these answers.
What are the challenges that you are facing right now?
We have started 2021 after an unprofitable year for the agency, 2020, though a year in which we have contributed to supporting our clients’ businesses. The biggest challenge now is firstly to encourage our team after a year in which our people went through uncertainties and leaps between office and remote work.
The second challenge is to think in a „IF-THEN” system for the clients’ brands. That is to have plans prepared for different scenarios. Just like playing chess. I am saying this because there are some markets’ uncertainties: how long will the pandemic last, what restrictions will there be in 2021, that could prevent us from possible experiential marketing projects and events, a possible pandemic shock wave in the economy that may only reach 2021 on shores of the markets, even if Governments may be able to absorb this wave through a more sustained involvement in the private sector.
There is also the post-pandemic behavior when the pandemic ends (or meets a decline phase). There are many uncertainties, and this complex marketing equation is a challenge. And the third challenge is to pay attention to our ratings. As an agency, we have little autonomy and we have already entered 2021 with weak profitability. This year we gave up domestic investments (technical infrastructure, new know-how investments, lack of marketing events) and this affects us a lot. But we have stepped into 2021 full of hope.
Translation Supported by AB Traduceri