by Danni Dixon (@dannidixon) There’s no going back to how it was pre-covid-19. Last year’s ads, as well as your approved marketing plan, are becoming a distant memory. By now all your comms and channels have been scrubbed and, reactively over the last couple of months, brands have now unified as humanely as possible to support and collaborate where they can to make a real difference.

We all know that business unusual is now our new normal. We have moved from the phases of surprise/shock to acceptance/reactive mode to where we find ourselves now. It’s time to re-strategise for the next few months and go back to doing marketing while we keep readjusting our marketing plans for a new future.

Danni Dixon CMO action plan

You may be asking a whole lot of good questions at this point. What data do you use to inform your marketing in business unusual? What are the right things to focus on? How do you build product demand in a fast-declining market? What’s the point in advertising if the product isn’t available due to stock delays or, worse, no-one is buying it? How do I protect my brand health and saliency in times like these? How do I ensure ongoing relevancy?

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And where do you start? The cracks in most businesses that were there pre-March 2020 are now really showing. The pace of digital transformation, technology disruption at play, aligning business purpose with company culture, doing good in society and to the planet, and the ability to truly deliver accountable growth marketing, sluggish go-to-market planning, brand trust erosion… These remain critical business imperatives that have accelerated post-covid-19. CMOs have to be part of leading these in an organisation and so have to help business, their teams and their agencies to quickly refocus and readapt these transformative strategies to ensure ongoing market relevancy, more agility and faster delivery than ever before. Those ahead in the race are already benefiting from their smartness and preparedness.

It’s a bit early to really understand the impact of the world coming to a halt in these unprecedented times, but there are things as marketers that you can focus on right now so that you can get ready to pivot your brand, products and business for growth. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and re-strategise so you don’t only survive but thrive during these challenging times.

Focus on retention strategies and stop the bleeding.

The best strategy is to retain as many clients/customers as possible. Churn is inevitable and, while focusing on growth is right, retention is better. Retention influences every other marketing input because, if you improve retention, you’ll also improve the rest of your funnel in terms of consideration and referral ratings for future acquisition. Now’s the time to really understand what your consumers want and need from you. Do you have the right value proposition that solves their new pain points? Are there new sub-segments or old segments that have become a priority for growth? Are any of your segments or product lines no longer profitable or relevant and you need to shift budget focus? Do your clients have new needs based on covid-19 that they didn’t have before?

It’s time to ask questions, to listen, to map new journeys and start testing some scenarios to find product-market fit as you readjust your value propositions to retain your market share and then take them to market as fast as you can. If you’ve not done this already, ramp up all your digital delivery.

Be innovative — Just keep moving with passion and pace

If you just keep moving, even at a slower rate than you’d like, you will overtake your competitors who might be waiting for this crisis to pass. Acting fast with a minimum viable product mindset to quickly test and launch new offerings or propositions can give you the edge. Use data to see what’s working. Look for the upside of the opportunity that’s being created post-covid-19 to be more agile and forward-thinking. Is it time to launch new verticals such as free delivery or adding value-adds with pricing strategies? Brainstorm new ideas on how to embrace new technologies, experiment with new advertising formats online or re-examine things you previously discarded as their time may be right, right now.

Market more

Given the level of economic uncertainty, companies/marketers will need to make strong justifications on investing in more marketing. The good news is that every indicator’s showing that people are spending more time online and are still buying. At the same time, many big advertisers have pulled back. This creates a golden opportunity for businesses. Building and maintaining a brand that consumers know and trust is one of the best ways to reduce risk when the economy is down.

Don’t be afraid of advertising and storytelling

Use research and social-listening tools to monitor mood and sentiment. These insights could help to build understanding for the new future of brands that will emerge. There’s still so much that brands can do to stay top of mind for consumers. I don’t think that the need for inspirational creative brand stories and compelling content has become less important because consumers want and need them — in good, but especially, tough times. People are looking for escapist entertainment to be transcended from reality (time to really think VR?), light-hearted or funny or inspiring stories that connect us together. And they don’t need to talk covid-19 directly as people are full-up on that.

Make informed adspend decisions based on long-term brand health trackers and start securing it at these discounted rates before you’re crowded out again. Don’t be afraid to give your agencies the opportunity to produce great storytelling that works! We’re in for a long journey so don’t delay getting your brand story on why your consumers should care about you (and this will help to keep your brand saliency on track).

Check your tone

Let’s pause on tone for a minute. We’ve seen brands and messaging all falling into the sea of sameness with similar market messaging. Also, while your message does need to connect with your consumers, I think we need to be careful of not falling into the oversentimental (and somewhat forced) approach we’re starting to see every day. We do need to be caring, build trust and be transparent in a way that creates ongoing engagement and connection so that you can still have a role in their lives — but talk to your clients/customers like you mean it and in the authentic tone they always knew you to have.

Plan for a new future

Planning for a variety of scenarios is going to be tricky. Use this time now to learn and listen from the best of what the future holds. I’m a big fan of futurists and insight agencies; they help us to strengthen our ability to recognise uncertainty the VUCA way and they have a big job to help anticipate the new future. The next three, six and 12 months will bring many societal and economic changes and will have large effects on future marketing plans. Ideally, a dedicated team (an integrated effort from marketing, finance, HR, digital transformation and leadership) needs to continue to plan ahead using these insights and predications so that marketers can adapt strategy, pricing, ongoing budget adaptations, product offerings etc to always predict not only the worst outcome but also build on the best outcomes, to keep innovating and tell brand stories that mean something. Decisive and nimble action will be required to ensure business goals can be achieved long term.

I read a good quote the other day about looking at this time as a comma and not a full stop. Now is the time to understand, prepare and respond for what works now and for the future. Continue to hone your craft and do brave work you’ll be proud of when you look back on this time.
imperative in surviving a recession.

See also


Danni DixonDanni Dixon (@dannidixon) is an award-winning, results-driven, purpose-inspired CMO. She has a proven history of innovation, strategic communications, creative leadership and brand achievement in financial corporates (recently as head of marketing at Investec), startups (her own agencies) and global network agencies (ex-MD of TBWA\Hunt Lascaris). She’s established a reputation as a transformational leader who’s driven by challenge and influenced brave strategic creative ideas. She is a regular contributor to the marketing industry.

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