May 27, 2020
During these uncertain times, leaders play a critical role, setting priorities and making decisions quickly with incomplete and rapidly evolving information. Sales and marketing leaders, therefore, need to act decisively and take a collaborative approach to stabilize the business. It is essential to minimize the downturn and get the highest return from spend, while proactively responding to customer demand.
Equally important, as efficient business management today, is to start looking ahead, plan for the recovery, envision the future and devise a plan to get there.
Marketing as a connection between the company and its customers plays a major role in economic recovery. It is time for marketers to step-up, collect key customer insights, understand new consumer behaviors, leverage the learnings to identify new opportunities and start shaping the new normal.
What have we learned from consumer sentiment and behavior?
Needs have changed.
Recent satisfaction metrics show a shift from what customers want to what they need.
Consumption decisions are made differently.
We used to search for products online, found the best retailer and often made a purchase in brick-and-mortar shops. Now e-commerce blurs the line between marketing and sales. Operating models transformed with higher attention to supply and delivery, both connected with secured IT, and manage enormous spikes in demand.
Media gained higher attention.
According to the Global Web Index Report, Boomers and Gen X are watching more TV (up 45 percent) and increased their online video viewing. Millennials and Gen Z engage more with the media overall and are leaning hard into gaming (up 30 percent).
The contact-free economy is “in”.
Customers altered their buying habits. e-commerce persistently gained penetration even before the crisis and coronavirus only accelerated the transition to online. This trend will likely continue when the worst is behind us and we enter the recovery period.
The distance is back.
For several weeks now, lockdowns made us all prisoners following strict rules of limited physical contact and overusing hygienic disinfectants. Yet, the real heroes are the professions on the front lines: people working in retail, banks, healthcare, logistics and more, working hard to maintain our normal. Thank you all.
Higher demand for local products and services.
Country lockdowns and cross-border restrictions weakened the supply between countries. The need for resilience across supply chains drives sourcing closer to end markets and creates a preference for local over global products and services.
The crisis accelerated digital transformation.
Many businesses realized they are not as digital as they thought. Digitalization is key for a prompt response and cooperation with customers— and there is more to come. Future customer demand will dictate the next steps in digital evolution.
Efficiently managing the entirely new situation:
Marketing and sales teams are juggling several scenarios, putting the fires down and already considering how to steer their company's success toward the new normal. Some questions they ask themselves are: How to address the customers? How to best optimize investments and stabilize the business situation, mitigate downturn, and stimulate sales? How to cooperate with other departments while working remotely, and still be efficient and add value to customer response? How to stay relevant? What is needed to stay relevant also in the future? We are witnessing a major cultural disruption that changes how we function in our private and professional lives.
Current consumption intelligence does not yet indicate the immediate signs of recession behavior, though much depends on how long the current uncertainty lasts. Everyone understands that cutting the spend is a reality right now and it is fully reasonable to be worried. However, now is not the time for marketing to go dark. Execute budget optimizations smartly so companies don’t threaten long-term potential for growth. The following imperatives can add value:
Savings without sacrificing customer experience.
Good customer experience creates substantial long-lasting value for your business. The sooner companies can fulfill new customer needs and accelerate time to market, the better the return. Building agility across functions to handle changing customer circumstances is necessary. The introduction of a test-and-scale approach leads to the creation of new experiences with a quick release to the market. Prioritize innovations that fit with remote, digital, or home delivery trends that are likely to accelerate and continue to differentiate in our new reality.
Technology and digitalization shape engagement with customers.
A recent healthcare example illustrates when family doctors simply used available online conference solutions to speak with their patients in their ambition to help in the first response to COVID-19. The utilization of this platform was a new approach for this very traditional segment. Companies not there yet are starting to realize how technology helps add better value to their customers and the power they can gain by its adoption.
Uncertainty dictates flexible business models and adaptation.
Buying dynamics strongly influences retail today. Consumers adjusted to staying at home and shopping online. After the situation calms down, retailers need to rethink how to attract customers back to traditional brick-and-mortar stores; how to incentivize them. Retailers must, therefore, gain a deep and up-to-date understanding of customer preferences to respond correctly. Think about potential omnichannel integration and consider how to add new value and shape a seamless and pleasant experience while managing these new expectations.
Planning for the recovery:
Marketers must prepare to capture mindshare and demand from customer insights and professional knowledge. Experience dictates that forward-thinking leaders release long-term spend after short-term budget cuts. In doing so, they rethink how to best use the tools and capabilities while connecting with their customers.
Marketing teams are bound to get the green light from business that have yet to embrace digital tools and capabilities to upgrade the analytics engines. Investment in data and analytics significantly improves the ability to better personalize offers to customers, prioritize sales pipeline and improve sales activities.
Capture early demand.
Marketers must prepare for demand when it picks up. Develop clear strategies based on customers' expectations and information about what they value most. Create modular scenarios for multiple versions of the future and define actions and tactics robust enough to enable adaptation and proper scaling.
Sometimes there will be a need to unbundle your current offer, make a shift of your pricing model to recurring revenue or subscription model or simply to lower up-front fees to attract new customers. The added value should be considered as a key differentiator. Don't forget to closely monitor customer reactions with the offering, so you can adapt.
Win in the next normal.
No one can predict the next normal. To succeed, marketing needs to consider new capabilities for maximum effectiveness. Remain flexible and agile in decision-making in order to adapt. Be forward-looking and open to new trends. Be bold in innovation based on insights.
Rethink marketing ecosystems.
Partnerships and agency cooperation remain beneficial for knowledge sharing and efficient management of customer journeys. The improved and resilient ecosystem needs to be flexible enough to identify new customer behaviors and robust enough to enable adaptations to on-the-go with no disturbance to the customer.
Virtualization is becoming a reality.
Customers are becoming more comfortable with virtual platforms and open to new options like »visit« and »trial». For instance, we witnessed beautiful examples of virtual museum tours during lockdowns. The virtual experience also raises attention in other economy segments like a smart mirror in the apparel industry and virtual hairstyling. Soon we can expect new experiences: virtual real estate visits, virtual schools, virtual shopping and more. Further development supported by AI and smart homes is expected to simplify these experiences, make them seamless and convenient to use for customers, all with a strong impact on business models of the future.
It sounds like a Black Mirror episode, but we can adapt and shape the new reality supported by:
Have a start-up mindset.
A test-learn-adapt operational approach that allows greater flexibility in current uncertainty and thus empowers the business to evolve through innovation.
Invest in new skills and capabilities.
Companies must quickly find new talent and up-skill front-line teams working in a remote operational capacity. Similar situations will be handled with higher efficiency and future agency; partnership relations will be managed with greater confidence and effectiveness in mind.
Digital, technology, and analytics adoption.
An accelerated shift to digital demands a tech-based response. Efficient analytics help understand customers better, improve decision making, enable a relevant response and identify new opportunities. A tech stack empowers teams to accelerate execution and scale their impact, drive business innovation and automate channel roll-out.
Trust is paramount.
The power of the brand in uncertain times remains a tremendous asset, but the playbook has changed. Marketing leaders need to rethink the value propositions and build purpose-driven customer journeys, guiding their decisions wherever they might be.
There are many unknowns. We are living in a time when many future practices will emerge. Marketing plays an important role in shaping this future.
Helena Mah is a senior executive who takes a vision and makes it a reality. She intuitively understands the threads of opportunity through an organization and brings them together into a coherent strategy. In her 20 years long international career Helena inspired action and empowered individuals to unlock their potential and innovate to accelerate growth. Respected as a credible voice in decision making, establishing strategic partnerships and flexible while adjusting to changing priorities, Helena is a true team member.
Currently, as a Management and Business Consultant Helena is supporting international and ambitious companies in a definition of their Business and Commercial strategy for higher impact, supporting organizational evolution while enabling innovation and customer value, spearheading major strategic transformations through digitalization and technology adoption.
Her main managerial focus is strategic development, sales, and marketing, while she also has a rich experience with change management in organizations. Previously Helena was a member of management teams in international companies. As VP Transformation for Celtra, she defined company-wise Enterprise strategy, set up the operational frame and thus tripled the number of clients and platform usage. In her regional CMO role for Microsoft, she transformed the Marketing function into a revenue-generating engine. With an innovative digital marketing approach, she helped to increase the company’s value and customer offering. Under her leadership Marketing became a valued internal partner and seen as a growth driver. During her time at Tušmobil as Chief Marketing Officer, she managed to raise company equity value and strengthen market share before the targeted acquisition, while transforming the marketing function into a commercially driven organization. Before that, when she took over a General Manager role in GfK, she managed a Regional Market Intelligence new business growth, improved company performance by 46% during the recession and achieved positive operational results after several negative years while strengthening leading regional share.
Helena is an active member of several managers associations and contributing to the assemblies linked to technology, digitalization, and AI.
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