CMOs in the spotlight on consumers and the crisis

From COVID to Black Lives Matter, four global marketing chiefs from GSK, AB InBev, Endeavor and Beiersdorf share their experiences leading the marketing remit in 2020

At the Cannes Lion Live 2020 event last week, a group ofmarketing leaders spoke about their experience leading the marketing mission for their organisations through this time of coronavirus crisis. 

Leading a health brand in a health crisis

GSK CMO, Tamara Rogers, began by explaining how, at the start of 2020, the consumer healthcare company had clear growth plans, strategy, strategic resource allocation and prioritisation for how the team was going to work on its brand. And then coronavirus hit.

The marketing chief said health has become front and centre in the crisis the world is suffering through. The focus for GSK was on driving availability, awareness and presence of key brands consumers might turn to during a health crisis.

“We took a look at the brand portfolion through the lense of the consumer, shifted the strategy - whether that was media or content - to make sure we were showing up when and where we needed to be,” Rogers explained. “Are we living up to our promise when thinking about the role and the purpose these brands play and in the life of the consumer? We looked through and re-categorised our brands.”

The pivot also required new content, changing messaging and fast movement to shift the focus and the relevance in response to such an enormous, all encompassing event. “We become very focused on what really matters,” Rogers continued.

“This has been an accelerator in terms of the strategic direction we want to take - ecommerce for instance - leaning into strategies we already had and seeing that online shopping has become a need, more than just a convenience need, and this will continue.”

GSK is using live tracking tools as well as search to track and understand changing sentiment and mood and to adjust messaging so it reflects and connects with consumer sentiment through this rolling crisis.

“Learning from the signals, being data-driven, and being sure the content is connected to the search data to be  relevant to consumers,” Rogers said. What's more, she expected health to continue to be something people are being more proactive about and more driven for truthful information.

“Right now, people just want brands to be useful and do not want to be advertised at. So it’s looking at how you shift that relationship and make sure you’re engaging,” she said.

Acting for good and for growth

CMO with Belgian multinational drink and brewing company AB Inbev, Pedro Earp is another who sees marketing increasingly going far beyond advertising. 

“More and more marketing is going to be about finding holistic solutions to consumer problems,” Earp said. “And CMOs will be responsible for delivering business results.”

According to the marketing chief, the effects of a twin crisis - the coronavirus health crisis and the related economic crisis - will see marketers become more accountable for bringing solutions that help the consumer and business solutions that help the company. For AB Inbev, it's already produced dramatic shifts in consumer behaviours and required the beverage company to be agile in offering solutions to changed consumer behaviours.

AB Inbev's overarching plan has several key attributes: Identify issues, anticipate trends, understand changing consumer behaviour and address them faster than the competition.

“The look of the new normal will depend a lot on the distance between the peak of infections and a permanent solution. The shorter it is, the more likely people will go back to some of their old habits. The longer it takes, the different it will be,” Earp said.

People's behaviours have changed dramatically with the crisis and, as beer is a drink that has been bringing people together for thousands of years, the company has needed to adapt quickly and stay in touch with how people are coming together differently with the virus and lockdowns, he explained.

“Beer is not on anyone’s priority list when they’re thinking about hand sanitiser and masks. So we said ‘let’s think about them as people and what they need now’. And at that time, they needed basic items and to feel safe and we looked at what we had that could help," Earp said. "We also have alcohol and we were able to donate it for sanitiser, re-purpose bottles for face shields, that kind of thing.”

Up next: Endeavour, Beiersdorf chief marketing officers share how they see consumer behaviour from the COVID-19 crisis impacting marketing and marketers in the 'new normal'

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