Beyond the obvious health and potential humanitarian crisis the world is facing, it is the whole economic chain that is at best disrupted or in many instances, broken.
In the midst of the chaos that social distancing has created, we have also witnessed business inequality: those who benefit from it (e.g., communication technology), and others who suffer from it first-hand (e.g., retail, travel, entertainment). The ability to confront this crisis does not have to be fate-related. Marketing organizations have a huge role to play as they are faced with an increased responsibility of optimizing revenue in a disrupted market while sales teams may likely be limited in how they engage, or struggle to adapt.
Industries must address this current reality and not only plan to survive, but also rethink their long-term strategies. Strategizing takes more than a short-term reaction- it requires planning and deciding on how to address six key marketing and business objectives:
The 6 Business Objectives all companies should tackle
1. Engagement: Adapt marketing messaging, content, plans, product mix, offerings, and brand positioning immediately as the crisis unfolds.
This objective is by far the one that has been focused on the most. Engagement is the immediate concern of all marketers who are forced to rapidly reconstruct all of their marketing plans. Being able to strike the right tone, and not over-communicating is as much a challenge as it is to react quickly and find the right products and messages to focus on.
Some obvious examples are the increasing focus of marketing budgets into digital channels, the revamping of the search strategy, or the acceleration of direct to consumer marketing activities. But we are seeing large and diverse combinations of those marketing mix shifts, depending on digital maturity and industries. Companies that had lagged on the path to digital transformation have often found themselves struggling to react, and have in some instances felt paralyzed, unable to move fast.
2. Efficiency: Driving the right budget decisions, and re-phasing spend to lower the financial risk while optimizing impact and ensuring best customers remain loyal.
Most companies struggle to elevate this exercise beyond just “cutting costs”, thus, hindering their ability to build. The reality is that there is likely no better time to test new processes, and when possible, repurpose budgets to accelerate investments for long-term efficiency benefits.
Optimizing budget in times of crisis is a catalyst for share gain, as most are not able to adapt quickly enough and re-think their marketing cost structure to match the market and consumer shifts.
3. Agility: Being able to react fast, implement changes in a timely manner, adapt teams to new needs, and make faster decisions, based on close to real-time information, thanks to the right digital and machine learning capabilities.
Many companies have struggled with agility. No matter how good marketing teams are, they have encountered situations where they needed more staff, or more support from their agencies, or new processes, and have not necessarily been able to deliver as a result of fundamental gaps they had not previously identified. Even if it can feel counter-intuitive, it may well be the right time to re-open the in-housing vs outsourcing debates, on-shore vs off-shore, or even technology vs people. Covid 19 is the ultimate acid test for an organization’s ability to be nimble!
4. Re-launch: Preparing for markets to reopen, deploy strategies across counties, states, even countries, phasing this properly to maximize impact and managing cost.
Prepping for different scenarios, ensuring modular messaging and creative, betting on sometimes new sets of vehicles, whilst ensuring alignment with corporate positioning and the pricing strategy are key challenges marketers are facing today
To be successful, marketing teams must arm themselves with more tools to watch the market and listen to social media sentiments. They must listen to their customers, potentially through their loyalty programs, first-party research, surveying, or customer outreach. Companies with no real ability to hear and understand what is happening online and are not looking at what their competitors are doing or saying are going to find it difficult to re-launch their activity on time, and with the right tone and marketing strategy.
5. Re-prioritize: Longer term marketing strategy shift, accounting for what are believed to be future customer habits, media consumption, and the obvious accelerated importance of digital marketing.
Suddenly, being competitive in the digital sphere, mastering identity, leveraging geo-localization, and having access to valuable third-party data has become a priority for many.
Now is the time to test activities in a different setting with a new marketing mix to review attribution models, and rethink segmentation strategies, KPIs, and technology priorities.
This should and will impact the way marketing get organized to meet the new needs and customer expectations. CMOs should use this unique environment to challenge legacy marketing responsibilities and organization structures.
6. Innovation: Be proactive in defining the next big game changer for your company
The real risk is that innovation is considered a secondary priority. As the market evolves at a fast pace, as habits are changed in some instances forever, innovators will get the immediate rewards of first mover advantage. And innovative marketers will be listened to as all organizations are looking for the edge that will allow them to come out of the crisis stronger.
Needless to say, innovation can also be a very powerful management tool to keep marketing teams motivated, as many of them already show signs of fatigue.
Build a comprehensive plan around these 6 objectives and rally the teams around them
Moving as soon as possible from short-term engagement shifts to Medium/longer term decisions is paramount. Not only is it required to avoid losing relevance and traction with customers once the crisis fades away, but it is good for team morale and motivation.
Marketing managers should be building comprehensive and all-encompassing plans. They must do so quickly, to avoid letting short-term optimization corporate pressures take over. What matters most right now is to provide guidance and an overview of the strategy to the teams.
Marketers are best positioned to be driving key decisions in times of market disruption. But marketers must do so by providing options to the broader organization and laying out as much evidence and insights as possible. Only by delivering the over-arching picture can marketers justify those options and make them relevant for executives who are struggling with having to make tough decisions without reference points or sound plans in place.
It is the marketing team’s responsibility during these times of interrogation and stress to bring a broader picture to the table: this will allow companies decide on a path forward. If market and customer insights are overlooked, if technology, organizational, process considerations are not accounted for in the company’s decision process, companies run the risk never being able to rebound properly. Successful and leading companies will be those that listen to their customers, analyze the market properly, reset their plans to address the longer-term opportunities and not solely the short-term challenges.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy as this crisis unfolds before our eyes. However, it would be a major mistake for companies to overlook any of the marketing objectives listed above. Marketing has an incredible leadership role to play right now of course, but even more so in the coming weeks and months.
What is probably marketing’s biggest challenge ever - a total and durable worldwide market disruption-, is also its biggest opportunity to rethink, plan, accelerate and transform.