By Tim Beveridge, general manager – strategic consulting, Silverbullet
One thing is clear, consumer behaviour has changed due to the pandemic, and it would be a mistake to think this is limited to this period of time.
Consumers are now spending more time online than ever before, online shopping and home deliveries have spiked, Australia Post revealed current deliveries eclipse even the Christmas rush, virtual meetings are the norm – and all this means Australian businesses have had to pivot rapidly to keep up and stay in business.
This has resulted in many categories going to shock, and, course, budget cuts to departments, such as marketing. However, reducing marketing spend in this time is a knee-jerk reaction, which will result in even more damage in the long term.
The flurry of online activity presents an amazing opportunity to delve into data and understand even more about audiences for savvy marketers who want to stay ahead of the curve.
Trimming back is not the answer
Unfortunately, there are still some organisations where marketing is not considered an active driver of long-term sales, resulting in marketing being cut in periods of downturn. While this might save costs in the short term, it can have a serious long term effect on profitability.
Once trading resumes after the COVID-19 crisis, businesses that have cut marketing teams will be faced with the challenge of re-staffing in a recovering economy. The data and insights skills gaps which existed pre-COVID will only have grown, as skilled workers are headhunted.
Even once hiring is complete, a new marketing team will have to get up to speed, orientate around a plan, connect with suppliers, and get work flowing out to market to drive results. This will extend any time to market by at least 8-12 weeks, on top of the COVID-driven gap.
On top of this, Kantar estimates that brands who stop marketing to save costs will see a 39 per cent reduction in brand awareness following the crisis, and this is something most brands in an already hyper-competitive market simply can’t afford.
In businesses where marketing is seen as a driver of long term sales, and/or brand is considered a worthy investment, marketing is weathering the storm. Some organisations have kept only the senior leadership teams, others have kept the more operational teams. And some have kept both. These businesses will be in a better place to ramp up marketing post COVD-19 to achieve short and long term growth.
Smart, future-thinking businesses, those who recognise the customer journey is neither linear nor one-touch, are in fact, doubling-down on marketing strategy.
Booms for marketers
For those businesses who can afford it, marketing through this current crisis will place them in better stead when life slowly returns to a semblance of normal, with a bigger share of market and a bigger share of voice.
According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, 65% of consumers say how brands respond to the pandemic will have a ‘huge impact’ on their likelihood to buy their products.
Marketers who increase spend in uncertain times come out of the recession with a bigger share of hearts and minds, and are poised to ride the wave of economic growth and commerce which will follow. These long term gains will provide well over and above any cost savings of firing a marketing department.
There are a number of strategies to change up marketing at this time and set up the business to both ride out the wave from an operations perspective, while simultaneously offering an anxious and isolated consumer extra value.
First, think of the other Ps beyond ‘promotion’. Promoting the same products in the same way at this point in history will be perceived as tacky and unempathetic. Can you implement a minor pivot, which gives you a platform to communicate in a helpful and caring way? For example, is there a way you can collaborate with an organisation to achieve some dual-brand goals, while doing some good in the current crisis? Can you change your comms to be more relevant to isolated consumers?
What audiences will now expect from brands
Consumers were already cynical. Following COVID-19, this will only increase. Clever businesses have been pushing messaging centred around brand purpose and value-add at this time, as they recognise consumers expect them to lead in times of crisis. This shift in messaging is not only here to stay, it has become table stakes.
Having witnessed the good brands can do in times of crisis, this will now be expected in the long term by the consumer. Messaging must continue to be valuable, empathetic and authentic to resonate, and must be built into ongoing marketing.
Of course, all this online activity has resulted in a flood of valuable data. New behaviours, new segments and new audiences have been uncovered, and good data analytics and insights will be vital to harness this data boon and use it to propel businesses forward.
This presents an exciting opportunity to grow first-party data pools, better understand your customers, and quickly amplify the ability to drive messaging, improve the UX, and solve pain points – driving better customer experiences at scale.