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How can Marketers adapt during times of crisis? A checklist for survival.

Jan 27, 2021

The adage that ‘the only constant is change’ has perhaps never been more top of mind than in 2020 and 2021 with so many lives changed in so many ways by COVID-19. This month we focused on the way COVID has affected marketing professionals and businesses, away from the broader devastation and tragedy that it has caused, looking specifically at how people and businesses had navigated, responded to, and adapted to these new and changing demands.  We've put together a checklist for 2021 from our key learnings on agility and adaptability during a crisis.

If COVID has taught us anything in professional terms, it has been the importance of not taking anything for granted and also being able to ‘pivot’ both ourselves, our products, and even our entire businesses in part or in full, whether temporarily or permanently. Not forgetting that it has been brutally challenging for many businesses, we have also witnessed a period of massive innovation in businesses at every level from small independents to massive multinationals. We have seen huge steps forward in digital adoption, and steep curves in the development or improvement of the digital customer journey. Not only this, but businesses who have a physical footprint without the ability to utilise digital to a greater extent have also displayed amazing adaptability in order to try and survive against an extremely difficult, unprecedented set of demands.

In the first blog on this subject, Nick Bottai explored the physical or mental agility required when facing demands of this type reasoning that we have to approach such a challenge with preparation and thought process of an athlete. He considered that there was a similar principle at the heart of professional agility and adaptability, namely: do a variety of things and be ready to face a variety of threats. Nick examined the cases of Blockbuster v Netflix, Kodak v Instagram, and Microsoft’s ‘loss’ of Android to Google to highlight that even some of the biggest businesses and best professionals do not make the right predictions. Nick encouraged readers to find the opportunities in change.

In the second blog, Andrea Tartaglia considered the impact of COVID-19 on the microcosm of his local high street, using that as a proxy for the big corporations. He outlined that COVID has created the challenge and opportunity to rethink, reset and react. For some businesses, it has turned out to be a chance to grow and prepare for prosperity not only in a time of adversity but also for the future. But for others, Andrea noted, it has been objectively impossible to face the challenges, as demonstrated by the many closures and record levels of redundancies and job losses.

In the third blog, Tom Newbould explored the effect on Fintech and Financial Services marketers and businesses and the mixed ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ effects with some businesses struggling to survive and others accelerating innovation and coping with huge demand for their services. Tom considered how marketers in the sector were affected by the contrast of a buoyant Fintech sector containing no less than 41 VC-backed fintech unicorns worth a combined $154.1B with the Financial Conduct Authority’s stark warning that up to 4,000 financial services businesses could flatline and go out of business citing “low financial resilience” and a “heightened risk of failure”.

So what were the common observations or key findings that we can move into a ‘How to’ list?  Here are our top tips to navigating a crisis like COVID or forced change on both marketers and businesses:

Accelerate Digital: Consider how you can take advantage of digital and e-commerce whatever type of business you are. Make changes as fast as possible. Businesses and professionals that were able to accelerate digital, create or improve digital pathways for customers, divert resources, change focus and create an end-to-end digital ordering system which could fulfil customer demand remotely managed to survive and even thrive.

Value customer insight: Like businesses (and everything else for that matter), consumers have been adapting to the situation. Accordingly, it is ever important and even more critical to a business’ success to understand the consumer and follow and adapt as attitudes and preferences are changing rapidly. As a marketer, you hold the key to bringing this insight to the business and making sure it is considered. This will give you and your business a head start in ensuring any changes you make are closely aligned with your customers and their needs.

Be Creative and Innovate: Thinking creatively and innovating are natural skills of the marketer and more important during times of forced change. Some brilliant and brave ideas were born during COVID in businesses of all sizes, despite all the challenges, which enabled customers to find the product they needed quickly and conveniently. Make sure you do not overlook the huge role you can play through your natural creativity and ability to rethink. Look for the opportunity.

Be Flexible and Adaptable:
Flexibility and adaptability are critical to achieving success, not least in marketing. These are skills that have always been important. We highlighted through all three blogs how it’s important to prepare for change at any time, and make sure you keep alternative strategies in mind to navigate possible changes, including strategies that might have been discounted in the past. The mindset of, ‘We tried that before. It didn’t work.’, should be challenged with an open mind.

Be prepared to Pivot:
Pivot has been a word that has steamrollered into professional vocabulary for businesses and marketers during COVID. We mentioned some businesses that had completely changed both the structure and nature of their business in order to survive in another form, and other new businesses that had been created during the crisis. These were common cases. Pivoting both yourself or helping your product or business to pivot and being prepared to do so should be on your checklist. As we stated earlier, this preparation should be akin to an athlete by ensuring you keep your skills up to date and anticipate change, even though it may be impossible to know when it will happen or to what extent.

Continue doing what you do well:
Not every business had to change. A number of businesses continued doing what they always did, with little or no need to adapt or diverge significantly from the way they had operated before the pandemic other than perhaps increasing their capacity and volume. Amazon was perhaps the headline example here. At every level, consider what is working well that can continue during times of crisis and change: keep that going at all costs.

Even in normal times, there is a very good case to state that both marketers and businesses should always have at least one eye on where they could adapt or pivot into new features, new products or markets, or perhaps the balance of where they are deploying their efforts. This is a key aspect of any marketing team, product, or business and it is always subject to the demands of the P&L, the business strategy, or exit plan.

The very best marketers, in particular those with responsibility for strategy and product, will not only be ‘future-facing’, taking into account developments or possible developments in customer expectations, market developments, competitors, and marketing-technology, but also ‘future-proofing’ against these considerations and others. They will take a key role in helping their businesses and products remain at the top of their respective industries or sectors by planning for these possible developments and changes.  Always have an eye on contingency and plan around it. While no-one could have predicted the extent to which COVID would affect the whole world so quickly and so dramatically, let alone its effect on marketing, as marketers we can make sure we are prepared for change.