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


Pivoting a high-touch event business

Endeavor CMO, Bozoma Saint John, concurred with the other marketing chiefs that no strategy or forecasting could have prepared anyone for what's happening in 2020. “You make some allowances, but nothing like this,” she said.

With standard business metrics and KPIs almost thrown to the side given the enormity of the COVID-induced health and economic crisis, it’s a fight for survival in many ways, Saint John said. “First and foremost, it’s making sure businesses still exist when the pandemic is behind us.”

In its business, Endeavor is focused on live events, media and talent representation, which has meant the majority of activities have been paused.

“Trying to figure out how other businesses can innovate and come up with new plans has become part of the strategy for this year,” she said. “It is a moving target. What success looks like constantly changes from day-to-day.”

Taking events such as New York Fashion Week from “high-touch” to virtual events is the focus now and Endeavor is quickly trying to adapt in how to keep consumers and clients engaged in what could be the future of fashion week.

Saint John said the challenge, which can be both daunting and invigorating, is about capturing what mood or emotion is happening, relating to where people are at and reflecting what’s going on, at pace, throughout this crisis. 

“Our entire strategy, in this moment, has to be in reacting to what is happening. We’ve always had forecasts but as marketers our investment needs to be turned more to the present,”  she said. Just take the global movement against racial injustice.

“We’re now also facing racial and civil unrest and looking at how we can make all our business more diverse,” Saint John added.

The marketing chief hoped the rate of change would slow down because it’s not possible for things to change as rapidly as they have been, longer term. 

“There are more mistakes made when you’re moving fast. My hope is that we can find a middle ground," she said. "Not going back to the days of waiting to understand what the data tells us and before we move based on our feelings and our gut. But the speed we’ve been moving doesn’t help us understand culture, look at trends and understand them before we make moves.”

“This is forcing us to drive from our human emotion first.”

Saint John said she’s been shocked at how quick and profoundly many have responded to the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken places across the US and saw it galvanising many businesses like never before. In response, the marketer, together with three other business women, has developed the ‘Share the Mic Now’ initiative to help support and amplify the voices and input of women of colour and make it more equitable in this moment when real change and progress seems possible.

“When we hear from women, and we don’t always hear from women, it’s from white women. And we wanted to support the contributions of women of colour, to get into the platforms of white women like social media, and land their messages with audiences where they have probably not been able to disrupt before,” Saint John explained.

“In so doing and in so sharing the mic, we’ll be able to get a more equitable voice in those domains.”

Building brands people love

Beiersdorf CMOs, Asim Naseer, who spent 20 years with P&G and now oversees the iconic skincare brand Nivea, said he loves building great brands which people love. And it's the human need and trust that will help brands do that during this challenging time.

“These types of brands are a mix of several things: The first is strategic innovation, and the best ideas are the ones that comes from the consumer. The consumer is the boss - the strongest ideas and biggest insights come from the consumer. The second one is creativity and storytelling. Third is building trust. Nivea has a lot of trust but there is an opportunity to go further,” Naseer said.

During the COVID crisis, the brand’s humanitarian action has included converting its plants across five continents to start manufacturing disinfectant, donating products to frontline workers and celebrating everyday heroes with the ‘Share the Care’ campaign.

Naseer predicts the crisis will have lasting impacts such as the increasing focus on health, which will change some behaviours going forward. He noted this kind of megatrend will shape innovation along with regulations around being transparent about ingredients and environmental impact.

And after the events of this year, Naseer said nothing should surprise us anymore. “Change is so dynamic that it’s to be expected and planned for as much as we can," he concluded. Despite the challenges, this episode has left one lasting realisation.

"The resilience of the human spirit in meeting all of these challenges which can come at the same time."

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