With the vast majority of businesses on hold, marketers are struggling with what to say, if anything at all. Spending against working media has been brought to a virtual standstill, and there is very little in-market activity that resembles anything before Covid-19. None of this will likely change until public health, governmental and medical innovation begins to materialize and forge a path forward.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to ready and evolve our own organizations. Now can actually be a great time to look internally and give ourselves a little operational TLC. While none of us really know what the world will look like after Covid-19 has been mitigated, there are a number of assumptions we can make based upon what we have learned so far. When the future is unclear, well-founded assumptions are a good place to start when developing an approach to organizational change.
While we are all holding our breath, here is a little food for thought on how to start.
Relearn consumer insights
Assumption: What we knew about our consumers’ behaviors, lifestyle and priorities will likely change.
People want their lives to be safer, easier and cheaper. All that audience data we collected and market research we have done in the past will likely need to be reexamined and, at times, rerun.
Location data providers have been instrumental in tracking people’s behaviors during the pandemic and have significantly assisted the medical community in understanding virus spread. They can also play an important role for consumer insights teams moving forward.
Immediately, we can begin thinking through what we want to relearn about our consumers and what key questions we want to ask about where, when and how they are living their lives. Begin vetting location data partners now with a careful eye to accuracy, recency and update frequency. By developing our approach now, we can begin to learn about how our consumers are changing their behaviors as soon as stay-at-home orders begin to get lifted.
Make marketing more meaningful
Assumption: Traditional marketing tentpoles like back-to-school season, Labor Day and holidays will now carry an emotional weight.
We may be entering the golden age of functional benefit marketing. The raw human emotion that people will feel when they go back to school, honor the dedicated workers who kept our country going on Labor Day weekend and reunite with family members to celebrate the holidays will far overshadow any emotional benefit a brand will be able to deliver.
Assuming that people want their lives to be safer, easier and cheaper, how can your brand deliver on those three needs in a functional way? Let’s start planning how our products, services or locations can deliver what consumers are looking for in a meaningful way and begin shaping messages and channel choices to bring that to life.
Lean into legal
Assumption: Consumers will expect greater transparency from brands about where their products are made and how they are handled.
Now is the time to work with our legal teams to figure out how to satisfy the increased appetite consumers will have for information on where and how products are made, the safety considerations implemented for employees and how products are distributed and handled. These new and more transparent claims should be easy to access and available at each relevant stage in the consumer journey.
If we begin to do this work now, we will be in a much better position to quickly implement this information using paid and organic search and on brand or ecommerce sites, social channels, CRM communications, packaging and in-store signage.
Be sensitive in your communications
Assumption: Businesses will begin to reopen before people have emotionally recovered from Covid-19.
All of us are on edge—and rightfully so; this is traumatic. When the country begins to reopen, our heightened sensitivity to personal safety will lead to increased scrutiny on all physical businesses. Consumers are already more vocal with their compliments and concerns on social, and the volume will grow exponentially as more businesses open.
Get your communications, community managers and frontline customer service teams ready now. Coordinate closely with your legal and regulatory counterparts to transform the new claims into a communication plan to get your consumers the information they are craving. Develop a detailed action plan for monitoring and responding to social conversation, using monitoring tools like NetBase, Sprinklr, Bazaarvoice and Hootsuite and responding as quickly as possible.
Rethink human resources
Assumption: Saying “If you are sick, stay home” and meaning it will take a village.
Somehow sick days became working from home and dragging ourselves into work for an important meeting or project. That is definitely going to need to change, but this will be a tough one.
HR departments should start rethinking sick day policies and how to change organizational beliefs and values that have historically exacerbated this issue. Covid-19 has shown all of us that the most important thing we can do is stay home and properly take care of ourselves when we are sick. It will take a village to make this change and a thoughtful formal policy, detailed communications and manager training will be key.
People have always been our most valuable resource, and we need to take care of each other.
Talk payment terms together
Assumption: Brands, agencies, publishers, platforms and service providers comprise a tenuous ecosystem, and no one should get stuck holding the bag.
I saved the hardest one for last. All businesses are hardwired to protect their own liquidity, especially during a significant economic downturn. The economic fallout of Covid-19 and the pause of all nonessential U.S. businesses does not discriminate.
We need to come together as an industry and start to actually resolve the tough conversations we have been having around payment terms. The extension of payment terms from 30 to 90 to 180 days created a chain reaction that taxed the industry even before anyone had heard the word “coronavirus.” When marketing activity begins again, this could have a devastating impact on what is already a tenuous situation.
Ideally, leaders from each type of organization will come together in partnership with organizations like the 4A’s and develop a plan to standardize payment terms and methods that would keep cashflow circulating. This should include an examination of all aspects of the supply chain and a reevaluation of payment terms, sequential liability, dispute resolution, electronic payments and greater accountability. No easy task, but certainly a critical one to start now.
As we navigate our new reality, we are going to continue to learn and evolve much more. But beginning to ready our operations is a good way to start to exhale.