2020 is redefining the rules for all of us. Almost every marketing leader I know has needed to completely rethink their organizational model, talent, spending, and priorities multiple times since the beginning of the year. The shifting landscape has put many of us in unfamiliar territory, but what has become clear over the last few months is that fortune favors the bold. Critical decisions often carry potential risk, but hesitation could be just as detrimental. Quick action in times of crisis can be the difference between an organization’s long-term success and failure.
Marketing has the ability to lead organizations through significant disruption, with focused execution against several key steps: defining vision and purpose, creating messaging and positioning, agility in shifting focus and budget, and building trust.
The first, and most critical, step is to align the marketing team and the broader organization to a single vision and purpose. That purpose must then be communicated clearly and consistently to all levels of the organization. For us, the guiding principle has been providing support for our people. Disruption – in the business world and in society – significantly increases the number of people looking to step up and offer ideas and support to help the organization respond. Regardless of whether you work in a small, medium, or large company, it’s crucial to have a task force that is empowered to make honest evaluations and critical decisions. In our organization, we implemented a task force made up of representatives from communications, talent, operations, and delivery. That task force met daily initially and still meets twice weekly to ensure clear and consistent messaging is shared across the company on an ongoing basis.
The rapidly shifting landscape, impacted by the pandemic, recession, and evolving social issues, means research on business and society trends that impact customers becomes more important. Messaging that resonates in paid and organic social posts can change from one day to the next, so representatives across all marketing functions have to be much more plugged into analytics and dashboards. We’ve applied feedback from client conversations to explore potential trends being published by influencers, advisors, and analysts to determine when and where we needed a more robust message or position. Having brand positioning and message alignment that reflects the moment is a key priority, because using standard social posts, outbound emails, and ads will appear tone deaf if they don’t consider current events. Be sensitive to your customers and how the disruption impacts their business. Focusing on creating value in their lives and communities – because that is what they care about – becomes much more important when these moments occur.
Another critical dimension is agility. Companies that invested in digital transformation prior to the pandemic were clearly better positioned to shift rapidly – across people, performance, operations, and customers. Marketing agility in 2020 has included a massive shift away from investments in traditional events and conferences. These in-person gatherings were a core strategic pillar, and when cancellations and deferrals create immediate savings these funds should be used to accelerate a continued shift toward investments in digital marketing and customer-experience transformation. One example is through custom content, which is very effective when reaching people working from home. It’s important to quickly develop strengths in emerging areas, such as LinkedIn conversational, carousel, and display ads, which allow for customization and content options, depending on how a person interacts with them.
During disruptions, customers are looking to lean on brands they can trust. The voice of reason is powerful and allows a company to focus on the value customers need, to be seen as a partner who understands – not as a partner trying to take advantage of the situation. That applies to sales messages, earned media, go-to-market strategy and, crucially, avoiding exacerbating sensitive subjects. By recognizing the difficult circumstances many customers are in, marketing teams can identify which messaging and offers are resonating and fine-tune their spending appropriately while remaining sensitive to the current climate.
Change is challenging, but disruptions provide an opportunity for agile marketers to take a truly digital approach. Leverage the tools and skills on your team and stay focused on the right messaging and business objectives to keep your company moving forward.
Shade Vaughn is Chief Marketing Officer, North America, at Capgemini, a global leader in consulting, digital transformation, technology, and engineering services with 270,000 team members in more than 50 countries.