During an unpredictable and chaotic event like the Covid-19 outbreak, many adjustments need to be made in the world of marketing.
Way back in 2012 and 2013, I interviewed some marketing influencers and leaders in the field to understand what they thought the Future of Marketing would look like. Some of the predictions on the rise of thought leadership, empathy, and culture were spot on. While other predictions, not so much.
In the years since, I’ve covered some elements of the future of marketing such as how marketing and CMOs have adapted to a more accountable business climate and the digital marketing trends shaping our world. And I still believe that HR will work more closely with Marketing to activate employees for marketing success and business growth.
But enough about me! I want to share what others are saying about the future of marketing, now that the world feels like it has changed so much during these difficult times.
The following marketing quotes from todays leading CMOs and Marketing influencers describe their pandemic experiences and how they’ve adapted to this extreme culture shock.
Four major marketing trends emerge from these CMO quotes:
- Communicating to connect (not promote)
- Giving back
1. Connection and Communication with Employees
Many companies emphasized the importance of staying connected with effective communication amongst employees. Ensuring employees that they are not alone in this tough time is imperative to future success.
In fact, many of the companies who gained market share and grew awareness during these past few months, did so because they communicated about staying connected and not about themselves or their brand.
Tim Minahan, CMO of Citrix, said that he’s constantly connected with his leadership team through its marketing leadership Slack channel. “I also make it a practice to either open or close each day with a personal outreach to my leaders to stay abreast of any late-breaking news and to take a moment to find out how they and their families are doing personally.”
Mary Stanhope, CMO of Unitas Global, said the health and safety of family members is the top priority. “In the current situation there is a lot of activity, and motivation seems to be less of a problem than the question of what to prioritize,” Stanhope told CMSWire.
“We always communicated with our consumers during all of this phase. We will adjust our spending to what really matters in a specific moment.”
“We made the decision to communicate what we are doing as a system, instead of talking about ourselves. And doing, for us, means donating funds to address the most critical needs,” said Manolo Arroyo, Global Chief Marketing Officer and President of Asia Pacific Group. “ we’re being as flexible as possible while listening to consumers and staying true to the essence and values of our brand and company.”
Alicia Tillman, CMO, SAP on pausing advertising: “It’s important because we still have to maintain communication and, in a period of crisis and turmoil, your customers, your communities want to hear from you more than ever. Do we need to be very thoughtful about where we are spending? Absolutely. Do we need to reprioritize around the areas of our business that are most relevant now … absolutely. It’s a shift in a really short period of time and, within that, being financially sensitive to stopping spending where it’s not relevant.”
In order to put health and safety first, Jay Sethi, CMO, Diageo Beer wanted to make a new advertisement to cheer up workers and consumers. Sethi mentioned “that we hope would bring a bit of comfort to both Guinness drinkers and also to everybody.”
Mohammad Ali, CEO of International Data Group said “You’ve got 3,000 to 4,000 people at home and they need a community. We have been creating online communities that have nothing to do with how much you’re going to sell this week.”
Michael Dell, CEO of Dell spoke on coronavirus with this statement: “We are all navigating this new normal together. As we lock arms virtually and try to help one another in the ways we can, our vast world suddenly feels a little smaller and a lot more connected. And for that, we are grateful.”
Levain bakery is a New York based cookie company that proactively closed their doors even before it was required for restaurants. However, to make employees feel less alone and continue their role in the community, they continued to run takeout and delivery services for customers. “On the one hand, you can shut everything down but that doesn’t make sense on a multitude of levels. Some of our employees are happy to have a place to go because it is scary to be stuck in a house by yourself.”
According to CMO, Dara Treseder, Digital Manufacturing platform Carbon has been working diligently with customers, and building shields, masks, and other healthcare products with their 3D printers. “If brand reflects culture and culture reflects brand, in this time it’s really important how that brand becomes expressed through internal communications, through actions the company is taking to support the workforce,” Treseder said.
“So many in our team have grown up being fans of weather,” said AccuWeather CMO Michelle Harmon-Madsen. “So it’s an opportunity for us to talk about that, but also an opportunity to help families who are in need not just of entertainment but also education while they’re at home.”
You all know this is one of my favorite topics. I even wrote a whole book about it. Some of these CMO quotes highlighted the need for empathy for customers and employees in this delicate time. Taking the time to understand what consumers are going through helps to adjust future approaches to marketing.
“A pandemic is not the time to sell, it’s a time to serve,” says Sara Varni, CMO at cloud communications platform, Twilio. “Make sure your organization is providing tools and information that are of value in the moment.”
In “Marketing Through Uncertain Times,” keynote speaker Mari Smith said companies should “Continue to provide value, no matter what. But, depending on the type of product or service and your industry, if you’re still in a position to promote online, first keep in mind the likely current emotional and mental state of most of your audience. Many small business owners are feeling immense fear around their livelihood.”
“There’s an important balancing act here between all that’s happening, all that’s going on and all the understandable anger and emotion.”
CMO of Uberflip, Randy Frisch stated “While marketers work tirelessly to guide prospects through the buyer’s journey, creating and curating content mindfully will be essential to a successful content marketing program. During this time of uncertainty, content must serve a purpose that adds value to the problems and aims to educate — instead of sell.”
Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner said “Use this time to shift from direct selling to content marketing that is useful to your prospects. Why? Right now, people are watching videos more, reading more, and listening more. How can you use video, blog posts, and podcasts to show up and help your customers solve the problems they’re facing right now? When you do move back into a regular marketing cadence, remember that the world is in shock and your messaging will need to be crafted with empathy and wisdom.”
Jay Baer, founder of Convince and Convert commented on the need for understanding and awareness during a time like this can help create a better connection between provider and consumer. “This is not the time for frivolous posts that are sent because they are “due” per the social media editorial calendar. That doesn’t mean you can’t be lighthearted, or even funny. It does mean, however, that you must carefully consider WHY you are posting in social media.”
“This time is hard for everyone. So now more than ever it’s time to be empathetic.” -Tricia Gellman, CMO, Drift
Diego Scotti, CMO at Verizon said “A big pillar of how we execute everything is leaning on what is true and what is real.”
Author Neal Schaffer declared, “You may want to shift time and resources to keep in better touch with your current customers and understand how to serve them better. In other words, it might be a good time to shift a little bit of your social media marketing to customer success marketing. In doing so, you’re going to get a lot of great input as to how coronavirus is affecting your customers and how you should further pivot your business for long-term success.”
Salesforce CMO Stephanie Buschemi said “Right now, being relevant to our customers and what they’re currently dealing with is our top priority.” She also stated “People need effective communication more than anything.”
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, CEO of Perdue Chicken, Jim Perdue decided that instead of continuing its business-as-usual advertising, he should make a home video thanking workers for their service like farmers, truck drivers, restaurant workers, and shelf stockers. He commented, “We just felt it was not the right time,” David Zucker, SVP of Ecommerce and CMO at Perdue Farms, said of the shelved campaign.
According to Anheuser-Busch Inbev U.S. CMO Marcel Marcondes, “everybody wants to have a moment at the end of the day to decompress, to relax a little bit, to be as social as possible—although everyone is applying social distancing.”
“The biggest marketing turn-offs these days include tone-deaf business-as-usual promotional messages as if nothings going on. On the other end of that spectrum are marketers trying to make everything about COVID-19 all the time.”
~ Cynthia Gumbert, CMO of Smartbear
Virtual therapy app Talkspace saw major growth when the pandemic hit in mid- February. It was evident that the mental health of the population was deteriorating. He said “We’re saddened that it’s come to this, and we see these stories every day of people who are going through extreme stress and emotions but we’re humbled to be here to help see people through it. Everyone in the world is going through this, which is crazy to think about.”
3. Perseverance During Unsettling Times
Some CMOs focused on the business side of the Covid struggles and described the need to persevere and find new ways to stay afloat as a business. I advised CMOs to stay the course with customer-focused content and to stop advertising as well.
My good friend and Author Ann Handley stated that businesses should “Seize the opportunity to get ahead of the chaos that today defines many marketing roles. How can you tee yourself and your department up right now, so that when things calm down you’re more on top of your game than ever before?”
“It’s always a good idea to be much more dynamic, and much more responsive in the way that you’ve planned your media and the kinds of messages that you’re sending out,” said analyst Shar VanBoskirk
Stephanie Buschemi, CMO of Salesforce said “every week, we are reimagining how we’re going to do our work in this virtual world.” She also added that her teams’ “ No. 1 job is to help our customers right now,”
“In line with most marketers around the world, as a result of mass cancellations of physical events, my marketing team has been putting additional funds toward virtual events and digital activities, and are ramping up PR activities in order to close the awareness gap, an essential move in the face of this pandemic.”
“These are the times that programs need to be heavily focused on growth.” said Daniel Frohnen, CMO of Sendoson. He also added that “Now is the time for teams to double down on their technology investments,”
“And that is what that research shows, right, that essentially folks who invest in marketing, in sales during a recession tend to outperform and more quickly outperform their competition as markets resume. You don’t even have to wait for them to get good — just as they start to pick up.” Says Rand Fishkin, “Wizard of Moz” and ex-CEO of search engine optimization company Moz.
“For so many people, life has become so unexpectedly hectic and frightening,” says Jaime Punishill, CMO at Lionbridge, the translation service. “It’s important right now that businesses keep going. Marketers are on the front line of the economy. It takes sales to pay vendors and employees, revenue to keep a business running.”
“One way to help your client base is by offering remote consultations, discounts, and showing you are willing to go the extra mile,” says Morgan Taylor, CMO of LetMeBank. “That is what your potential clients need, and what you can do to help them.”
CEO of Toprank, Lee Odden made the following statement about what you can do to improve during this time: “Stay in close contact with your customers. Learn what you can do to better support them, anticipate changes and offer resources.”
Matt Moody, CEO and Founder of Bellwether, said, “With everything changing so quickly due to the current environment, brands need to focus on three things: First, focus on what you know and who you know. It’s cheaper to keep your existing customers. Second, Understand the changing needs and behaviors of existing customers (e.g. How are existing customers behaving now?). Set up more diagnostics and feedback tools. And third, use the data available to identify potential growth opportunities with existing customers. There are likely new opportunities for brands to better serve their existing customers, delivering even greater value.”
Hanneke Willenborg, CMO, Seventh Generation commented, “We’re in a unique situation with Seventh Generation experiencing unparalleled demand, as people are looking for products that keep their family safe and cared for at home more than ever,” said CMO Hanneke Willenborg. “Our sales and supply team are working diligently to ensure that product is available on the shelf and online as soon as possible.”
Tonal, a home fitness resource has seen a huge peak in at-home workout usage this spring. CMO Chris Stadler stated “Not only are people interested in the category and sales are very strong, but usage has also reached peak levels,” he said. They used the rise in activity to their advantage and capitalized off of it.
CMO of MullenLowe, Kelly Frederickson stated “Most consumers don’t mind hearing from brands as long as it is a solution,” where we are not trying to sell something, but we are trying to solve something.”
“When we look at the usage of AI and cloud, I think it is especially going to accelerate also not just us, but how our clients are going to go on their digital transformations. And I believe this crisis is only going to accelerate that as we go over the next few months.”
iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman created a program called “Businesses Doing Good,” which helps to inform listeners with what they need to know about the pandemic and also what brands are doing to help. Troberman said the program led to “hundreds and hundreds of millions of impressions” in the first few weeks with ads from close to 100 brands. “Sometimes, when you’re doing good work, it’s hard to shout about it yourself,” Troberman said.
Password manager Dashlane has been going through all of its existing creative to gauge what’s still relevant and which parts need to change. “It actually really matters not only to keep your account secure, but if you know anything about digital media, it’s that login that people begin to exchange their privacy for the sake of convenience,” CMO Joy Howard said.
Lindsey Lurie, CMO of IBM Security and Cognitive Applications said IBM has been educating employees on the importance of cybersecurity while working from home. “Threat actors unfortunately don’t slow down, even in a pandemic,” she said.
4. Taking a Step Back, and Giving Back
Lastly, many large companies decided to take a step back, reflect on how to handle this time of need, and give back to those who are struggling.
Visible, a wireless phone carrier, wanted to see how they could best help their customers and employees throughout the pandemic. They conducted a survey which showed that half of people were asking for help with bills, and the other half wanted to help others in need. “That just speaks volumes to people’s desire to be comforted and see more of the goodness that’s already out there,” said CMO, Minjae Ormes.
According to CMO Diego Scotti, Verizon “gave 600,000 kids access to the digital edition of the New York Times through an amazing partnership.”
Hearing aid company, Eargo wanted to find a way to make a difference for people with hearing problems, especially during a time when in-person communication is not possible. “When it comes to hearing, it’s such a major thing,” CMO, Shiv Singh said. “All of a sudden your entire life is about Zoom calls and hearing people that are 6 feet away versus right in front of you, it takes on a greater challenge in a time like this. And for older folks, isolation can lead to all sorts of other problems.”
Angela Zepeda, CMO at Hyundai Motor America said “I would say we’re delaying and just being smart with how we’re spending our money now, and when things get back to normal, we’ll move that money.” Hyundai donated money to great causes related to COVID and reopened a program designed to help those who have lost a job.
“We felt that during this time even though we’re still a growth-stage company, we had the responsibility to take care of people who are highest at risk,” said CMO Mayur Gupta after the company donated to Meals on Wheels.
CMO of postmates, Eric Edge said “Since we are the #1 delivery platform in Los Angeles, we approached a few of our most loyal celebrity customers who immediately agreed to be a part of this effort. They jumped at the chance to highlight some of their favorite restaurants and encourage others to order from their own favorites, helping remind people to support local businesses during these challenging times. #OrderLocal is one way to encourage people across the country to support their favorite neighborhood restaurants.”