Coronavirus has changed everything. For how long and how fundamentally time will tell, but what is certain is that a new approach to marketing and its role in business is needed in response. This will be a challenging, but necessary, process that should allow marketers to make changes that have been long overdue.
Pre-coronavirus seems a distant memory, and the change inflicted on us since has been drastic and grinding. Yet, we were living in a time of great change beforehand, and already business was moving in a new direction. The ‘trust economy’ was emerging, seeing effective organisations building customer relationships by providing transparency and earning the same in response.
Post-coronavirus this is even more critical, where a human-technology partnership will be key if businesses want to weave their offering into the fabric of how customers now live their lives and what is important to them. Head and heart – data and hard facts of course, but behaviour, people and emotion too. Looking at the challenge ahead through the marketing lens for a moment (and only a moment, you will see later why this is too narrow a view), here are some of the key actions marketers must take, not just for short-term survival, but for long-term results.
Develop genuine messaging for the long-term
Exchange has explored how genuine, empathetic, content marketing, brand promises and conversations with customers and wider society need to be the focus now, but this also has be backed up by a change of culture and the everyday deeds of the business.
The question then is for how long should this approach be applied? Through the crisis, for a few months after? Should we assume things will return to “normal” and the focus of marketing should return to well-coordinated and measured digital marketing and social technology?
Now should be the time to genuinely develop positioning and communications built on what the business does and how it behaves. The message, positioning and customer conversation should be created and delivered by all parts, top to bottom, with no exceptions.
Open a dialogue with other departments
To do this, marketing must unify more effectively with other departments, choreographing a plan that directly and continuously connects all to the new needs of the customer. It is too narrow a view to say marketing should drive the business messaging alone. Current circumstances dictate we should instead bust open internal business silos. Marketing cannot do its job effectively in this changed world without this happening,
Successful (surviving) businesses will do much more than simply make their content and communications of their current offering more empathetic to customers and consumers, many of whom are suffering and struggling to survive. Smarter digital marketing, data layers, social media, return on this investment are key – but secondary. All customers will have a different view of the world and who they do business with. A fundamental and genuine business re-think is required in these troubled times, with all hands to the pump.
Return or update your market research
What businesses do and why they do it have changed without exception. Even those thriving in these troubled times will find this is a temporary and exceptional boom. All need to re-visit their market and customer insight like start-ups, with new depth and with this new approach as their compass. Business survival and growth will be key of course – but now their wider responsibilities could be just as vital.
Customer insight will reveal the triggers and barriers that drive purchase decisions in the new world. What are the new pain-points and how have the rational and emotional triggers and barriers changed? Both need to be understood for a meaningful purpose, vision and mission to emerge.
Marketing departments must return to their market research and customer insight. If marketing is to continue to be the customer champion, it will have to recognise that customers have changed.
Recognise the importance of the employee brand
The coronavirus will also have made a profound difference to employees view of what their business does, how they work and their relationship with their colleagues and “leadership” team. Their whole view of the value of their work and what matters to them will have changed. The employee brand and internal engagement processes therefore will also be key.
Pre-coronavirus the millennial generation were leading change with “woke-ness”. As well as “digital” they were also “sustainable” natives. Post-corona it will matter to all people, all generations and they will want to play a more active part. The business’s CSR efforts will need to be moved from a separate silo to the centre.
Once the new purpose, vision and mission is clear and shared, only then can a business begin to engage in conversation with customers. Knowing you have the entire enterprise behind the promise, this can be done with new authenticity, empathy and respect for the situation customers are facing.
If marketing departments can align employees, other departments and in turn their customers with the wider societal aims of their business, not only would it serve the short-term aim of survival, it will lead to progress in the long-term. If all these elements can be aligned correctly, marketing (and the customer) will have a broader influence on business life and the day-to-day activities of the marketing department could change enormously. A new marketing “day job” as it were, marching in lock step with the rest of the business, rather than in its own silo.
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