Are marketing leaders required, now more than ever, to keep abreast of global economic and political upheavals? Yes, says Jane Bloomfield, chief marketing officer at design agency Landor & Fitch: “If marketers don’t stay on top of what is happening in the world, then how on earth do they expect to engage with potential customers?” This goes beyond perhaps the obvious, knee-jerk reaction from marketers in times of crisis, of focusing on discretionary spending.
It’s not just about listening, but finding your voice too. As Freedman International’s global strategy director Matthias Gray puts it: “How can you say you’re doing your job if you’re not only not paying attention, but not developing a point of view or [thinking about] what changes you’re going to make based on that?”
The butterfly effect
It used to be enough for brands to live their values internally, but today they have a responsibility to represent their ethos, employees and, crucially, their customers.
In times of apparently perpetual turmoil, brands all over the world must hold themselves accountable for what they stand for. “What is happening in Ukraine matters to farmers in Missouri,” says Gray. In other words, what’s happening on a global level ultimately has an impact locally.
Marketing, as a function, doesn’t exist solely to promote and drive sales, but to drive change too. Agencies find themselves a part of a much bigger ecosystem, which they must learn to navigate.
Paramount is their duty to move clients through trends and difficult times. For Amazon-specialist marketing agency Optimizon, the emphasis is on partnership. “As an agency, we need to take all of that onboard so we can evolve and learn from it each time,” says account manager Lena Omo. “It’s understanding that each country is going through something different, and that not every strategy will work for each marketplace. That’s what we’re there for: to understand the bigger picture.”
Being an ally
The reality of the marketing landscape is becoming more complicated (especially, in the UK, post-Brexit). Ali Hussain, group director of creative strategy for The Marketing Practice, drives that fact home: “The importance of market orientation isn’t a new thing, but the cocktail of globalized supply chains still suffering aftershocks of the pandemic – and the fact that there are some total maniacs in charge of large amounts of long-range weaponry – does feel combustible, doesn’t it?”
Given this current trajectory of the world, companies are having to consider other ways of showing up for consumers and exercising empathy, shifting beyond marketing’s traditionally-perceived role – to sell. Referring to a recent IPA survey, Gray reiterates that in light of the cost of living crisis, what consumers currently expect from brands is to keep prices fair.
“They don’t want entertainment and fun advertising. One response to this is that Asda and Boots have frozen prices for a range of products, and it’s a very small tactical thing and it’s right in this moment […] it links directly to a specific consumer sentiment.”
Leading by example
While brands shouldn’t get lost in the ‘now,’ how they act (or don’t act) right now has something to say about how they will be positioned in years to come. When it comes to crisis management, you should have a clear vision of who you are as a brand, but be flexible enough to bend.
As Bloomfield says, “it’s about understanding what your brand stands for and having that clearly articulated both internally and externally. That will act as your north star.” This will determine whether it’s necessary for you to be visible in a certain situation or not. When brands lack this vision, they often deviate from their purpose and mission for the sake of jumping on a hot topic.
What this can often lead to is an “inauthentic expression of your brand,” according to performance marketing agency Coegi’s vice-president of marketing and innovation Ryan Green. Green argues that sometimes brands get it wrong when they rely solely on what market research is telling them.
“If 48% of the NFL fandom were for Black Lives Matter and 52% were against it, they were against it – [look at] everything that happened with Colin Kaepernick and blackmailing him out of the league,” Green adds. “Then, three years later, when 51% of people were onboard, every commercial was about inclusivity and equality.”
So, what does marketing have to offer the world as we currently know it? As our panel seems to agree, maybe it’s less about budgets and more about knowing whether (and where) marketers fit into the conversation. More importantly, maybe it’s time for a more intuitive approach.