Global Marketing vs Coronavirus: The Uncensored Talk

At the end of April, after another month of staring at the same four walls, marketers from all over the globe took the opportunity to see some new faces via our virtual roundtable, Global Marketing vs Coronavirus: The Uncensored Talk. Everyone was in good spirits!

After admiring each other’s lockdown haircuts and Zoom backgrounds (an Italian sea-side town providing some much-needed escapism), we started our discussion on marketing during the coronavirus crisis. We explored the current challenges, from creating content that cuts through the noise of coronavirus marketing comms, to allocating spending in response to the current economic situation. Finally, we discussed what’s in store for global marketing in a post-coronavirus world.

Here are our notes from the session:

What are the biggest challenges that brands are facing right now?

  • Understanding what’s happening in each market and finding the appropriate reaction is tough for brands.
  • Getting teams to collaborate effectively when working remotely can be a struggle. Equally, trying to get everyone aligned within the global corporation isn’t easy.
  • Leading a team is a challenge right now, leaders must take into account the personal toll of coronavirus on team members and be supportive.
  • Breaking down silos, bringing the marketing and sales teams together to focus solely on the consumer is tricky, but necessary right now.
  • Changing the way the brand is communicating with customers is a challenge, especially when there’s uncertainty about how to proceed.
  • Putting the product messaging on the backseat and focusing on the ethos and values of the brand is a sensible move, but it’s a challenge when consumers are so used to seeing the product in the brand comms.
  • Measuring performance has emerged as one of the biggest challenges during the pandemic. Regions still feel evaluated on performance but it’s hard to perform well in these circumstances, especially if a brand’s product isn’t very relevant to the crisis situation. Regular benchmarking needs to be replaced with an assessment which takes the crisis into account.
  • Finding a distinctive voice and producing content that stands out during the crisis is extremely difficult, especially as many brands are producing very similar ad content.

How can brands be distinctive during the coronavirus crisis?

  • Understandably, brands are double-checking all content with the “Covid lens” to check that they’re being sensitive and relevant. But does that mean all of their content is starting to look the same? Have brands withdrawn too far, and are consumers ready for a sense of normality in the communication they’re receiving?
  • One of our guests from a tech brand revealed that forecasts were cut in preparation for the worst. However, the situation hasn’t been as dramatic as expected. There was an initial drop in interest but, once lockdown hit across markets, demand began to increase and consumer interest grew. Consumers, even in countries that aren’t traditionally seen as ‘online markets’ like Germany, have changed their behaviours and are just as interested in the products today as they were 3 months ago. Marketing comms should reflect that, but how can brands judge the tone?
  • At the beginning of the crisis, many brands were told from a general management level that communicating product was not sensitive. Whereas the regions who had all the data actually saw an opportunity, looking into the consumer searches and proposing customised landing pages and homepage communications in response. It’s good to listen to the voices of the market, using results to drive the decisions. If results suggest that consumers are looking for a brand’s product, it’s fair to reintegrate more product messaging, as long as it’s done cleverly.
  • Brands need to start looking at the world through ‘economic recovery status’. So many countries are at different stages in their recovery, so brands can no longer think regionally. Brands have to ask: where are the countries in their journey with Covid-19, and what messaging applies to them?
  • The brand is more important than ever – it’s not just about marketing messaging. It’s also about actions right now. If they can, brands should help by providing services that customers need during this time, i.e. free packages which aid remote working or living in isolation.

How are brands approaching the argument between cutting marketing spend vs continuing to invest through recession?

  • Many brands are pivoting as much as possible to digital but, when looking at the sales funnel, deals aren’t closing as fast or as frequently as possible. So, is this the right time to spend on certain channels? Will digital actually deliver the results? One of our guest brands had come to an agreement with their finance team, stating that if conversion rates fall to a certain threshold then they’ll stop spending.
  • After making initial cuts, there’s an opportunity for brands to sit back and think: what should we shift our money into? Brands should do the things they’ve been holding off, investing in the gaps that they’ve always thought about moving into. Now’s the time to break up old structures.
  • It’s important that marketers understand where their business is right now, before they argue for continued brand spend. Is the business in survival mode, and does it need to get through the survival stage in order to thrive later down the line? Brands are doing themselves a disservice if they’re overlooking the commercial element of the business at the moment.

How have global marketers been managing strategies across different countries within regions?

  • The pandemic has been extremely democratic, hitting hard everywhere. So markets are actually responding in very similar ways.
  • One of our guest brands revealed that their global panel of consumers across markets were looking to the human side of brands. Consumers want to see brands providing tangible solutions to protect the brand, the community, the consumers and employees. The call is for brands to act as citizens of the world, rather than just providers of reactive content.
  • Right now, it’s easy to make mistakes. But it’s about learning and adapting as marketing continues to change. Branding will not be the same after this crisis.

How have marketing teams been adapting to remote working?

  • Amongst many of our guest brands, the issue of all-day Zoom meetings affecting productivity has been a constant challenge. One suggested solution was ‘Wellness Wednesday’, where employees are encouraged to opt out of video meetings, helping to boost their productivity and, as a result, their mental health.
  • Some of our global marketers have found that they are working much longer hours, waking early and staying up late to work across time zones. New rules need to be set to ensure that there’s a best practice for remote working which can be followed.
  • Bringing a bit of fun and positivity to remote working has been key for many brands. This includes: running competitions like ‘best Zoom background’ and ‘cutest pet’ competitions; introducing ‘meet the family’ days where people can bring their children or partners onto video calls; and simply setting a day where the team has lunch together over a video call.
  • On another positive note, there’s been more direct collaboration between teams. Many of the marketers felt that they actually have more direct contact with colleagues when they’re working from home, than when in the office.
  • Many brands have seen a rise in productivity.

In a post-coronavirus world, what will the “new normal” look like for brands?

  • The impact of the coronavirus crisis may be felt for 1 or 2 years. So brands will have to stay explicitly focused on the consumer to work out how to proceed.
  • For some brands, the plan is to avoid going back to normal. While the situation is chaotic right now, progressing towards something entirely new can be a positive, especially for older brands that need shaking up.
  • One of our participating fashion brands revealed that they wanted to prioritise thinking globally when it comes to ad content, finding a global framework then following it with regional adaptations and executions.
  • The reality of the situation has made brands really question how they do things. While some elements of the brand or business have had to be put on pause and marketing has had to adapt incredibly quickly, there have been some surprising and positive results. All of this shows that challenging situations force brands to grow.

Though the topic of coronavirus is a distressing one, there were certainly positives to take away from our virtual roundtable. For example, working from home is a great opportunity to boost collaboration and productivity between teams. And, perhaps more importantly, the current global challenge is presenting brands with a great opportunity to shake up their old ways of doing things. Brands now have the chance to adapt and grow, ready for a post-coronavirus world.

To find out more about our upcoming virtual events, make sure to join the Global Marketers’ Club here.