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Round table recap: Marketing leaders share their pandemic insights

Round table recap: Marketing leaders share their pandemic insights

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The word “disruption” has taken on new meaning for businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It no longer refers to iconoclast brands tearing up industry norms, but to the fact that the pandemic has reset organizational plans and strategies all over the world—and reinvented marketers’ roles in the process.

To discuss those changing roles and understand how brands are supporting their customers in a time of need (while plotting a course to post-pandemic prosperity), we invited some of the world’s leading industry marketers to take part in a virtual round table to share their thoughts. The session can be viewed in full here, and we’ve also captured some of the key takeaways below.

Given all the disruption we are experiencing, how has the role of the marketer been impacted by this pandemic?

More than ever before, the marketer is meaningfully involved in shaping organizational strategies. “The role of anthropologist and translator that a marketer plays becomes more important,” offered Tim Rickards, Marketing Director at Charles Schwab. “How are people’s needs and motivations changing over time, and how is that evolving the relationships with the products and services that we’re marketing to our clients and customers?”

Rear view of businesswoman with curly hair drawing diagram on whiteboard when preparing for presentation

This pandemic has shone a light on how diverse the role of the marketer can be—and marketing leaders have had to consider how they can retool their teams and ensure they have the diverse skill sets required to effectively perform their duties.

“In the development world, the idea of a full-stack developer can be applied to marketers as well. The designer that can write or play in the social space, digital marketers that don’t just understand great advertising but great user experiences, brand leaders that understand the power of digital, and so on.”

– Manoj Jasra, Chief Marketing & Digital Officer at Northland Properties

What are the most effective channels for communicating with your audience?

Given the global situation, it’s not surprising to see how certain channels and platforms have become more effective (and others less effective) for engaging varying audiences.

“We’re a membership-based organization and our focus has shifted from acquisition to retention of our current members,” said Andrea Dearden, Marketing Director at David Lloyd Leisure, a British gym brand that leveraged its already-strong digital community and focused on its owned channels to keep existing members engaged.

“One of the key things that defines us away from the gym market is the fact that we have really strong communities and all of our channels are about how to keep that community going while we are closed. That related back to an on-demand product, a run club which we never had before. We have about 5,000 of our members in the run club, which went from zero.”

Shifting communications strategies have, in turn, disrupted media plans and caused brands to adjust both messaging and channels.

“Messaging is what saw the biggest disruption. The tone very much changed in the messaging versus the channel,” said Alicia Mowder, Head of US Marketing at Circle K. “Being sensitive to the message you are putting out there, where you are buying that media, and what stream of consciousness your customer may be in at the point of disruption—that messaging has to be incredibly well timed.”

With heightened sensitivities around messaging and the need to communicate essential information to core audiences, digital and social platforms remain areas of focus as they allow marketers to reach customers directly.

Where do we look for consumer insights and data?

As marketers struggle to make sense of data during a crisis, they are turning to their customers to determine the best ways to communicate and most effective channels to do so.

One bright light bulb among many dark ones

“From a data perspective, we’re looking at the qualitative and quantitative feedback right from our customers. The consumer perceptions, the attitudes, and behaviors is what we really look at to understand if there is trust in the market to travel, go out for dinner, or go our for gatherings and activities,” said Jasra.

“Email has become a more important platform as there is a one-to-one relationship. We started to use our email subscriber base as an opportunity to do market research.”

So, what do the next 6-12 months look like?

This is the $64,000 question (or the $4.1 trillion question, actually). Tim Rickards sees it as a task for nimble thinkers: “The first six months is about flexibility and relevance. A lot will have changed, so it’s the responsibility of marketers to keep a close eye and look 3-6 months ahead to determine if we can we pick up where we were pre-COVID-19.”

The next phase of the pandemic is going to be extremely localized in terms of gradual reopening and easing of restrictions. Marketers will be tasked with creating messaging that is sensitive to new guidelines and regulations for physical business locations as well as helping to consumers feel safe and encouraging them to engage.

“One of the things we’ve learned works best is as close down to the store and the customers you can get to those decisions, the better off you are. Sitting in a corporate office trying to make decisions for what is often community and township regulations just doesn’t make sense. At this point, anything we had pre-COVID-19 needs to be reworked. We have more consumer touch points than we’ve ever had before as we see a huge surge in customer comments and feedback letting us know everything we are doing right and more importantly, what we are not doing right.”

– Alicia Mowder, Head of US Marketing at Circle K

What are the opportunities for a brand to come out stronger after this?

“From a branding perspective, there is a huge opportunity to develop content, brand stories, and deeper connections. Going beyond advertising and finding ways content can resonate with overall local audiences,” said Jasra. “Using agile approaches and rethinking how we’ve done work in this time—we need to take this with us to move quicker.”

Alicia Mowder, meanwhile, sees a bright future for problem solvers: “Brands that can solve problems for consumers are the ones that will win in the long run. We’re already seeing brands step in to solve the very real problems that are there for customers day-to-day.”

Our VP Client Strategy, Nasser Sahlool, wrapped it up: “The responsibility at a time like this for a marketer in terms of their face to the customer is evermore central and begs a need to be even more active and even more focused than ever before.”

Our thanks to our distinguished panel

  • Andrea Dearden, Marketing Director at David Lloyd Leisure
  • Manoj Jasra, Chief Marketing & Digital Officer at Northland Properties
  • Alicia Mowder, Head of US Marketing at Circle K
  • Tim Rickards, Marketing Director at Charles Schwab

If you have any questions about the themes and topics covered during our round table session—or you simply want to know how we can support your brand through these uncertain times—we’re always ready to help. Let’s talk.


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