by Erna George (@edgeo23) I’m sure that this topic will be top of mind and frustratingly ‘done to death’ at the time of your reading this submission but this is our ‘new normal’ (another term used for the gazillionth time) and we need to learn and respond to it fast. One phrase you may not have heard of is to “focus on the dance”.

More important than ever

This I heard during a webinar on leading in lockdown, hosted by a great organisation called Lockstep. I’m not sure who coined it but it’s stuck with me as this is exactly what we as marketers and advertisers need to be doing at present. It’s what we’ve always needed to do but, now, it’s more important than ever. We have to spend time reconsidering how the dance works between people (our consumers and our teams), and between people and our brands. How do we craft a dance that reconnects and creates exponential value for consumers and shoppers and, ultimately, our brands?

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I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to many research webinars and have been using much of this to integrate with my team and our brands. There is, once again, loads of content but what to do with it all? Things such as:

  • In lower-income communities, quality value brands could win over no. 1 market players, or staples and essentials will win over luxuries. All offer great observations but we need to understand what’s the play at a deeper level and specifically for the products and categories we operate within. What’s the definition of an essential and luxury in these times and which of our products fall into each of these definitions? From all the data I’ve seen, there are dessert and treat options globally that are growing — is this a lockdown-specific growth or will it reacquaint consumers with brands and products that will be part of their basket into the future? (Tip: Agencies which are providing support and info over these periods are creating strong connections with clients; think about how you can do this without losing revenue.)
  • There’ll be new competing categories for expenditure eg items within financial services categories such as medical insurance or savings products will compete for share of wallet, potentially pushing out other monthly purchases. Who is this true for vs those who’ll believe that living for today will be more important? Once again, which categories and products or brands is this true for?
  • There’ll be higher levels of unemployment or lower incomes. While some celebrate lowering interest levels from the Reserve Bank, this impacts severely on those who live off the interest of their investments. The long-term impact on disposable income will determine different baskets into the future across the board. Are you in a category that’s already impacted and do you need to innovate to future-proof?

Operating framework

What you need is time to think and facts to think about. You’ll need to rally yourself and teams around the ‘new normal’ and operating framework.

What am I doing across my categories? I’ve been:

  1. Preparing a data deck of channel mix and mix in channels: pre-, during and post-covid-19. Clearly, this is a work in progress but it will provide a view of trends and shifts. At the same time, it will also give a closer view and review of product performance by pack and channel and performance vs competitors — who is winning share and why? What packs are working and what needs to change?
  2. Preparing two views of production plans. First, I’ve been prioritising products now as all strive to maintain social distancing in manufacturing facilities and as retailers work to have the right stock on shelves for changed short-term requirements. Secondly, I’ve been preparing a view of what’s likely to prioritised in the future.
  3. Innovating around value and e-commerce. Remember, value is always about more than price. What value are you providing that facilitates easier shopping and more learning around cooking and baking; what packaging offers greater product protection etc?
  4. Reviewing media options and how to connect with my target market. Of course, don’t keep quiet over this time; you’ll need to stay top of shoppers’ minds and ensure correct messaging. There are so many pieces out there from agencies on how to manage messaging — be sensitive to the situation without being patronising etc, so find some time to review these tips and learnings.
    1. Try to engage with social media and listen to people’s comments, changing views and need. Watch stories, understand the ways people are thinking and the language they are using.
    2. What research can you continue doing and what research methodologies will be best into the future?
  5. Working on growth and re-entry-to-market plans to be ready for post covid-19 lockdowns

Most importantly, over lockdown, I spend much time checking in on how people are doing and building a resilient team that I can empower. Keeping people focused and engaged over this time is a challenge remotely but, again, isn’t something we can dismiss as only ‘now in lock-down’ behaviour.

Many people on my team have noted either how much harder they’re working or how much more they’re getting done. While many long for the social contact and to interact with consumers again, there’s a new way of thinking around how to work emerging: perhaps they could work from home when it’s thinking-work to be done or prep for certain meetings? Or could they work from home one or two days a week as they get more done and it facilitates great work-life balance, given no transport time? Even brainstorming on Hangouts or Zoom (and it only takes about 20 minutes). Be present as discussions are happening, so that you can listen to what’s being or not being said. Connect, connect, connect (technology or practising social distancing, please) even beyond work stuff, as this is a challenging time for everyone.

Fundamental shift

How many times will you able to watch a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour, when all context changes, choices are forced and new ways of being and consuming are being created? Soak it up now because, when it’s over, you’d better have captured the lessons and be ready to run.

  1. Keep reviewing performance of your brand and product range and changing behaviour around your category
  2. Prepare a plan for now and a plan for after the fear and lockdown effects
  3. Look at ways of working to allow for positive lessons from lockdown to be retained

Learn and grow from this experience that none of us expected or wanted. If you’re up for it, it’s allowing you to open up to greater awareness of the world. This will all be support for your career journey.

See also

Erna GeorgeAfter starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@edgeo23) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.

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