There’s no ignoring it: the ramifications of COVID-19 have shaken our day-to-day lives. We are witnessing a social paradigm change that will disrupt our way of living, working, interacting — and consuming. What can marketing teams do to limit the damage? Is it possible there could be opportunities in all this?
We’ve brought together groups of experts from various disciplines to talk, of course, about the inevitable global pandemic, but also more generally about crisis management in this situation, and the disruptions that are sure to come for consumers and companies alike.
Meet the members of our first interactive round table:
Édouard Reinach, digital transformation consultant and host of our round table
Èva Morin, MA, customer experience strategist
Sébastien Neveu, inbound practice lead and strategist
Catherine Gratton-Gagné, content marketing team lead
Mathieu Zancan, MSc, digital media team lead and strategist
Simon Lahaie, digital media strategist
Pascal-Philippe Bergeron, data scientist
Nicolas Scott, PhD, data scientist
Édouard: There’s a global recession causing an economic slowdown. COVID-19 is going to touch everyone on some level. How do you think it will impact people’s consumption habits?
Èva: In a normal customer journey, the starting point is brand awareness, search, awareness building, evaluation, consideration, etc. In a crisis situation, those behaviours disappear: your persona is panicking and goes into an urgent, reactive mode. So, we can skip past nearly three-quarters of the usual journey, and concentrate instead on being more direct.
With the isolation measures (voluntary or not) recommended by the government, there are going to be new consumers buying online for the first time, or who will be turning towards e-commerce much more frequently than ever before. That’s where there’s an opportunity for accelerated customer acquisition and loyalty-building. Companies will therefore have an interest in making sure these neophyte users are able to see and understand the advantages of shopping online with them.
Catherine: Isolation will be hard on a lot of people, and could have an impact on mental health, particularly in a climate where so many are already experiencing so much anxiety. It might be a good time for brands to bring some levity to the conversation, and put out some lighter content.
Sébastien: Of the myriad corporate emails sent on the subject of COVID-19, I was unpleasantly surprised by the lack of value most of them brought. We’re being very marketing-minded. We can’t forget that a brand’s main concern is its expertise. Rather than getting caught up in the urgency of doing what everyone else is doing, we should always bring it back to thinking about what we can contribute.
Mathieu: The way brands approach this situation is going to have a real impact on their reputations. Even if a brand isn’t currently benefiting financially from the situation, it still has the opportunity to position itself as a leader. Long term, that inspires confidence.
Mountain Equipment Co-op, in my opinion, has shown real leadership by sending communications about the situation that are increasingly specific, transparent and committed. It’s a more powerful loyalty-building incentive than any ad campaign.
Èva: Companies need to reflect on their missions. Just because you want to be considered a credible source of information, doesn’t mean you are one. That comes with power and responsibilities. Relevance comes with consistency. There’s also still room to be playful. You have to know how to choose your tone and positioning.
Simon: On the media side, my clients are asking, “Should I be ending my campaigns, or reducing my investments? And if I do, do I risk losing my audience?” It’s important to ask questions about what you should be doing, because this shift in the user journey has more or less done away with the consideration phase. At the same time, companies want to make sure they’re well positioned for when the situation gets better.
Èva: We need to think about the types of conversions we want to drive consumers towards. For example, with the maple syrup producers of Quebec, we emphasized content related to recipes, but ended any initiatives geared towards physical visits to sugar shacks. A simple question of consistency.
Simon: We’re seeing that it’s harder for some brands to get ahead of everything that’s in their pipeline, particularly when they have an editorial calendar where everything is programmed in advance. But that’s exactly the type of thing we need to be focused on right now. A full review of every ad you’re running is crucial in order to ensure that they make sense in light of the current situation.
Édouard: Evergreen campaigns will continue to run, the Earth won’t stop spinning. But everything that falls in the category of seasonal or specific campaigns should definitely be put on pause and re-evaluated.
Mathieu: There’s no question that, when something like this happens, some behaviours will disappear, and new ones will appear. Some of these new behaviours are intrinsically linked to a state of fear and reactivity given the situation. We can’t necessarily know if these new behaviours will reoccur in the future.
On my end, this crisis is majorly affecting clients in the fields of culture, fitness and banking, particularly in terms of media. Each client’s situation is unique, and there is no standard procedure to follow. But there’s always room to maneuver, to channel your efforts in another way.
Édouard: Companies are in unknown, uncertain territory. How can they adjust their marketing strategies? What’s a reliable plan of action in these times?
Èva: At times like this, content, owned media, could allow companies to have richer conversations with their customers and anyone they’re already connected to.
If you’re not seeing a high return on your investments, or your media campaigns, the value of inbound will be greater than ever; this is a better context for pull than for push. It’s a good opportunity to stay top of mind, and you can do it mostly through email and content strategies. Focus on owned and earned, loyalty and nurturing. These approaches will make a difference after the crisis, rather than focusing on approaches that, in the end, risk generating results that don’t meet expectations.
Sébastien: We are going to see massive drops in traffic. But maybe this is the time to focus on more of the “plumbing”-type work, updating and creating content, tagging, and looking at your deeper projets.
Édouard: In terms of data, the interesting thing is the abnormality of the situation. I get the impression that it’s allowing us to see things we might have missed before. For example, will the two-week closure (or longer) of retail stores reveal insights that weren’t apparent before?
Sébastien: We might see a drop in mobile and a lift in desktop, or even a boom in media we didn’t see much of before, Xbox or PlayStation, for example. Content consumed on the go will be drastically reduced.
Mathieu: We’re going to have to be careful about the variation in the data, and take care not to include it in long term predictions. An interesting exercise might be to look at consumption habits by comparing data from before and after the crisis.
Édouard: My fundamental belief, when it comes to this crisis, is that there will be a slim increase in the percentage of people online shopping in Quebec, probably concentrated among older generations. This way of shopping goes against their habits, but because they have no choice, they could come to realize that it’s not actually that bad.
Nicolas: We were talking about the various ways for a company to benefit from the situation to improve their image. So far, one of the best examples I’ve seen of this are French book publishers, who have made their entire book collections for primary students available online, so that parents can homeschool their children.
Èva: I think that we’re going to see more and more companies changing their service offering to adapt to the new reality we’re living in. It’s going to set apart the more agile companies, who are paying attention to their customers’ realities without behaving opportunistically. Those are the ones that will survive this.
Édouard: Companies that took the time to structure themselves digitally will be reaping the benefits today. Now, take a marketing manager. What would you recommend to them?
Pascal-Philippe: Personally, I would tell them, “Prepare a defeat plan. Prepare a scenario of planned degrowth.” We always have acceleration plans, but I rarely see brands preparing positioning plans or slow-down— even immobilization — plans. Your CMO almost certainly has a dozen ideas to get the situation back on track. What you want to be sure of, is that they have their fall-back positions in mind, and their point of no return. We have to learn to lose the right battles if we want to win the war.
Sébastien: It’s about experimentation, a bit like a submarine. You launch a campaign like you would send out a ping. For a period of time, you stop, you listen, you watch and see what happens, then you move on to the next experiment. It’s stop and go; something I am very familiar with from my former life in the military field. Launch, listen, start again.
Édouard: Right now, we all have to accept that there is a new norm. It’s a bit dangerous to compare your results to anything you were getting before the crisis. If you compare yourself to before, you’re sure to see a downturn every day. But by comparing your results to real comparables, for example the preceding days or weeks, at least you can know whether you’re succeeding compared to your competitors.
Mathieu: Don’t forget to do an in-depth analysis with as many people internally as possible, to listen to advice from your partners (e.g., your agency), but also to centralize strategic decision-making. You have everything to gain by putting an agile decision-making system in place, so you can react if the current crisis escalates or another presents itself.