Is your marketing team adapting quickly enough to the COVID-19 crisis?

Teresa Sperti

Teresa is a commercial marketing and digital leader with over 20 years experience working for an array of brands including World Vision, Officeworks, Coles and Teresa’s leadership in the digital, product and customer space has delivered substantial growth for organizations and transformative change in rapidly evolving markets. Teresa has proven expertise as a digital change agent having successfully led customer & digital transformation for several organisations during her career and advocates agile and lean marketing practices that allow brands to adapt in the era of always on change. As the former World Vision Chief Marketing, Data and Product Officer, Teresa was named number 16 in CMO magazine’s top 50 most innovative & effective marketing leaders in the country. After a long and successful career leading change, growth & transformation within organisations, Teresa has recently launched a new advisory and learning organisation called Arktic Fox. Arktic Fox partners with Marketing & Customer leaders to help drive the transformation & growth agenda, through shaping a clear vision and strategic direction, building and embedding capabilities and delivering sustainable change.

The impact of coronavirus is far reaching with the true impact on the economy and businesses is unknown. While there are a few categories and brands experiencing growth, for the most part the crisis is wreaking havoc for large and small operators across many sectors including entertainment, tourism, retail, fitness, services and the list goes on.  

The uncertainty is of course one of the most difficult parts of the crisis and the only thing we can predict is that things will be unpredictable.

I often talk about transformation requiring a catalyst - something that pushes (or in many cases forces) a business to shift its approach, as it simply has no other choice but to change. In this current environment, the virus has become that catalyst for brands to experiment, iterate and innovate to survive as the threat of doing nothing is simply too high. 

For the meantime in Australia, the crisis lags many parts of the world – which can provide valuable insights and learnings to help make more informed decisions in times of extreme volatility. Consumer behaviour and social norms are evolving rapidly and with consumers likely to experience sustained periods of disruption to their daily lives, new consumption habits will form and are likely to live on long after the crisis is over.

Some of the trends we are seeing include:

  • Shoppers flocking to purchase online, many of whom are utilising online channels for the first time.  In the US demand is so high, that has announced it plans to hire an additional 100,000 employees in the US as millions of people turn to online channels at an unprecedented rate.
  • Organisations are rapidly adopting remote working practices, in ways which haven’t been trialled or seen before. This is driving increased consumption in online collaboration tools and in-home office supplies.
  • Sales of fitness equipment like yoga mats are experiencing a rapid increase in demand as consumers move to online subscriptions and free content to workout from home.
  • Schools and universities are rapidly shifting to deliver classes and learning via various online approaches in order to enable students to continue to learn in a safer environment and this is the tip of the iceberg. 

We are operating in unchartered territory which can be frightening and scary. But it’s how we respond that matters. Marketing and customer leaders play a pivotal role in stewarding organisations through these tough times but don’t wait for permission;

Be brave and be heard: Organisations are going to have to make tough decisions in relation to keeping employees and cutting back non-essential spend – this usually means the marketing budget is within clear sight. Remaining solvent is vital during these times, but cutting too deep may in fact risk the financial viability of the organisation in the longer term. Marketing leaders need to speak up and demonstrate the importance of continuing to invest in the areas that enable organisations to deliver the best possible outcomes in the current climate and soften the recovery.     

Don’t put your eggs into one basket: We’ve heard it before, but now more than ever, it’s time to experiment and iterate on an ongoing basis. Consumer behaviour will continue to evolve and being wedded to one idea or approach that isn’t successful could leave you more exposed than you already are. 

Tune in to what is really important to your consumers: Leveraging real-time insights is essential if your team is to solve the most important problems for consumers. How this information is disseminated through the wider organisation is equally as important to ensure you are aligning efforts around the right problems. Pizza Hut and Domino’s are doing just that. In Japan, both brands have launched contactless delivery to allay fears of transmission through food delivery services. This enables consumers to gain access to food whilst upholding social distancing, it also enables these brands to continue to trade and provide a livelihood for their employees. 

Shift operating rhythms: Operating rhythms need to be flexible and adjust to the rapidly evolving market.  Whether it be daily stand ups with cross-functional teams, war rooms (virtual or otherwise) or other mechanisms, it is important to have operating rhythms that drive rapid decision making and cross-functional alignment.

Plan for the recovery now: We are in crisis. But often we can get busy managing the crisis itself and be caught on the backfoot for recovery. Organisations that plan and execute in tandem are likely to be able to reap benefits if consumer confidence kicks back sooner than anticipated.   

Optimise your channel mix: As consumers increasingly flock to online channels to fulfill an array of needs, such as connect with colleagues and suppliers, buy essentials, engage in fitness activities and sales and channel strategies need to rapidly evolve. Cosmetics company, Lin Qingxuan did just that. The retailer in China was forced to close 40 per cent of its stores during the crisis, including all locations in Wuhan. However, the company redeployed its 100+ beauty advisors from those stores to become online influencers who leveraged digital tools, such as WeChat, to engage customers virtually and drive online sales. As a result, its sales in Wuhan achieved 200 per cent growth compared to the prior year’s sales.

Get creative: I often hear from marketing leaders that their teams don’t have time to innovate due to the daily BAU demands. There is no BAU in times like this; as a result, innovation can’t be an optional team focus. If resources are idle, think about how the time can be leveraged to innovate – whether that be to develop and trial new experiences, offerings or new go-to-market channels. 

Stay safe, and lead with confidence.

Tags: CMO role, marketing strategy, marketing leadership

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