Marketing’s role in emerging strongly from a crisis

by Andy Green.

 

Marketing has a key role to play in helping the organisation emerge strong from a crisis, but it must be decisive, single-minded and aligned to business strategy.

The Covid-19 pandemic is precipitating a worldwide economic crisis.  We are probably entering a prolonged recession[i], maybe even a depression.  Many governments have rushed in financial packages to help protect businesses and soften the impact on employees in the short-term.  However, these measures alone are unlikely to be enough to sustain businesses long enough for their revenues to recover to pre-pandemic levels.  The measures themselves also generate uncertainty in the societies in which business takes place – creating, as French President Emmanuel Macron described[ii], an ‘anthropological shock’ where expectations about the relationship between business, government and the public are fundamentally, but at this point unpredictably, altered.

Business as usual is not a viable option.  Tough decisions will have to be taken about the best course of action; what to cut and what to invest in.  But to what end, to survive, or to thrive?

The Chinese term ‘wei gee’ expresses the dual nature of a crisis.  One aspect is danger, the other is opportunity.  Businesses can either react to the danger, hunkering down and focusing on efficiency and conservation of resources to ride out the storm, or seize the opportunity and invest to capitalise on the opportunities the crisis creates.

There are many studies presenting evidence that the companies that emerged strongest from previous recessions are those that increased marketing spend during the recession[iii].  There are even more commentaries from marketing experts promoting different options of how and where to invest that increased marketing spend.  Similarly, much has been published on the most successful business strategies for emerging stronger than the competition from a recession[iv].  Three common themes being (i) the decentralisation of decision making in order take advantage of local opportunities as they evolve, (ii) using the downturn to invest in change because the opportunity cost is much lower than in good times and staff have more time to focus on the transformation work and (iii) whilst there is no universal solution that applies to all business, sectors or geographies, organisations that agree their strategy quickly and implement it consistently will emerge stronger than those that don’t.

We do not presume to recommend any particular business or marketing investment strategy for emerging strong from the current crisis.  There are plenty of other sources with deep sector and/or geographic expertise that organisations can draw on for that.  However, from our SCHEMA® database, with datapoints from hundreds of organisations across sectors and geographies, it is clear that success is directly linked to alignment in vision and strategy.

In these uncertain times, with many different strategic options vying for consideration, pressure on budgets and perceived wisdom being to devolve decision making, the opportunity for diverging approaches and investment priorities is enormous.  Every function will have its own view of what adds most value, what the priorities are and how to deliver them.  Making sure everyone is on the same page and focused on what needs to be done is therefore critical. Specifically:

  • Marketers must be are aligned to, and have a common interpretation of, the business strategy.
  • They must also be united among themselves as to the best way to support the business strategy.

Drawing on our expertise in marketing transformation, we have identified a series of dilemmas Marketers face regarding how best marketing communications can support the business strategy.  It is essential Marketers consider these choices and align behind a common view.  These are split into two groups:

1. The choices to be made as to how marketing communications best supports the business strategy

For example, is the business strategy best served by brand building, or driving conversion and sales?  Should the emphasis be on winning new customers, or keeping the customers the organisation already has?  Is retaining flexibility in media schedules more or less important than obtaining the lowest cost for each placement?  Is the best way to control costs in a time of uncertainty to outsource as much as possible, or to in-house?  Etc.

2. The clarity and consistency in the communication to Marketing of the business strategy itself.

For example, what is the relative focus on cash flow versus margin/profit?  Does the business view marketing communications as a cost, or a profit driver?  Etc.

These are challenging questions and evidence from previous recessions shows there is no single strategy that can guarantee success[v].  However, Marketing has a key role to play in helping the organisation emerge strong from a crisis and by prompting due consideration of the options and understanding, whatever the strategy, the degree of alignment to it, we aim to help Marketers to best align their plans and activity to the needs of their business.

Hence, for each topic, our world-class SCHEMA® toolkit offers two diametrically opposed and equally legitimate options.  Using an online survey, individuals from across the Marketing function are asked to indicate where, on a scale between the two extremes, the organisation’s approach is today and where they expect it will be at the end of 2020.

We have loaded the key dilemmas into our world-class SCHEMA® tool and made it available on-line, free of charge.  Click here to access it.  All responses are anonymous.  Should you wish to receive a report on the overall attitude, along with any key sector or geographic differences, to the role of marketing communications in supporting organisations emergence from the crisis, you can provide your email address.

Furthermore, as the real benefit the tool provides is the rich clarity it provides as to where there are different interpretations, or indeed, different points of view on the required approach and priorities within an organisation, you can also request a private, secure link specifically for your organisation (this can be done from the tool, or by emailing andy.green@dentsuaegis.com).

Once you have shared that link with your colleagues and they have completed the survey, we will provide you a bespoke report, detailing the degree of alignment within your own organisation and the implications of that.  [Note: if you require the bespoke report comparing views and alignment for your organisation, you must not use the generic link above, as we will not be able to identify and collate the replies for your organisation].

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the topics in more detail, please contact andy.green@dentsuaegis.com

 

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[i]Forecasts for the UK economy, HM Treasury April 2020 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/879642/Forecomp_April_2020.pdf
[ii] Interview with Financial Times, April 2020 https://intpolicydigest.org/2020/04/20/vaccinating-democracy/
[iii] https://brandrecoveryseries.com/infographic-what-is-the-best-brand-strategy-in-a-recession/
[iv] For review of previous literature see Kitching et al, “Business strategies and performance during difficult economic conditions”, 2009 https://eprints.kingston.ac.uk/5852/1/Kitching-J-5852.pdf
[v] Kitching et al, Ibid.