CMO Momentum 2020: Innovating during a crisis

At last week’s CMO Momentum virtual conference, four marketing chiefs shared their insights and experience innovating during a crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented global event, causing huge uncertainty, economic hardship and shutdowns across the world.

In a time of crisis, organisations have little option but to respond. Innovation suddenly becomes a means of survival rather than an optional extra. Here four marketing chiefs explain what it’s been like to innovate during a crisis.

The question of how to define innovation is fundamental to a discussion of responding in a crisis. Marketers have traditionally defined innovation as doing something differently, Monash University CMO, Fabian Marrone, told the audience. “Whether that's brand new creative or transforming something or flipping something completely on its head from an original perspective,” Marrone said during a recent CMO Momentum panel.

However, during this current crisis, innovation can be as simple as filling a gap, changing the delivery of something, changing a piece of functionality, changing a step in the communication process to respond to a new need,” he said. "The degrees of innovation have changed and are much smaller in the crisis.”

In effect, the university had to flip its entire operation, from open day, classes and graduation to all its marketing efforts and, of course, its workforce to digital platforms. “The innovation is flipping the entire experience online and running that in a parallel strategy of reactivating a campus when you can and keeping people engaged to the university,” he said.

For Movember marketing director, Jason Olive, the crisis has brought “a shift to a true definition of innovation in that it should be something centred around solving a problem”. Responding to people being more home-based and changing consumption habits, it’s allowed Movember to think in different ways.  

Movember needed to pivot its entire approach and re-configure its campaigns to be digital and virtual. It had to find ways to encourage men to reach out and support other men when they couldn’t necessarily go out to a café or a pub for an in-person get together. “We moved our festival to an online event and deliver comedy, music and fitness to their living rooms and still foster better conversations between men and their mates,” Olive said.

Innovation has always been about finding new and better ways of solving challenges, according to The Coffee Club chief brand officer, Megan Magill. “During Covid, we found it was the smallest things that were the biggest innovations and had the biggest impact,” said Magill.

“One of the things we did was tap into our supply chain to enable customers to get grocery items through our stores and order them online to be delivered,” she said.

Airports aren’t the first place you think of when consideration innovation. But this year, innovation came from the kinds of questions that were forced upon the airport, Brisbane Airport Corporation head of commercial marketing, Michael Doyle, told the audience. “I think the questions themselves were the innovation in this crisis, Doyle said.

“We had conversations that we probably wouldn't have had prior to COVID that we were now comfortable having, and it's shone a light on things that maybe we could do differently, or improve that were sensitivities before,” he continued. During Covid, the airport launched the first ever online store, something that is unique for the business that normally just handles online parking bookings.  

“Where I saw the biggest opportunity was breaking down walls and having conversations about things that allowed you to either get some change, which is a form of innovation, so you're improving a process; or something that's kind of existing, or, in our case, we kind of disrupted ourselves, which I don't think is common.”

Sustaining innovation


Acting quickly, making large, wholesale changes and responding to fast-moving crisis situations will inevitably settle down in the post-Covid, next normal period. The question then becomes one of much innovation can be sustained over the long term.

For Marrone, the huge uncertainty around when universities will be back to their pre-Covid normal, particularly in relation to international students, means continuing to run the parallel approach with their marketing activities. “You have to be prepared to run things in different options,” Marrone said.  

“The preparedness in the infrastructure – martech stack, content stack and tech stack – to then push your message out through different channels needs to be maintained,” he continued.

The value proposition of certain innovations when they’re put to decision makers will determine if they are maintained, according to Brisbane Airport’s Michael Doyle. “If something becomes a sustainable, long-term financial model, there’s no reason to turn that off,” he said.

While The Coffee Club had to park some of its plans for the year, the business is still looking to hone its martech stack and the customer data insights. “But this year has made clear that having that direct line to customers and being able to connect with them was is key,” Magill said.


Miss CMO Momentum and want to catch up on all our virtual event content? Simply visit our CMO Momentum 2020 on-demand offering and you'll be able to access all the sessions in full for 30 days. Click here to access.

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