Trending right at the heat of the coronavirus pandemic was the "New normal" buzzword among marketing communications professionals. Almost every introspective content embraced the anecdotal catch phrase to suggest new directions for marketing/brand communications planning amidst the pandemic. And yes, I'm guilty of this, but that's a content for the future.
Married with the "new normal" were conversations about the most efficient marketing approach for businesses to cope with the pandemic period-Performance marketing or strategic marketing. While the approaches were different, one agreeable stance is they all aim for brand and business sustainability in the long run. Or perhaps, survival in the short term and sustainability in the long run.
Whichever cuts it for you, there are underlining basics to devising effective marketing (tactical or strategic) campaign in a pandemic and post-pandemic period.
- Be Market driven, NOT Marketing driven: Devising any effective marketing strategy towards sustainability should begin with an in-depth understanding of consumers' behavioural and attitudinal changes in the market as forced by the pandemic. To approach it otherwise implies force feeding marketing offers into evolving consumer lifestyles- marketing driven- a path that has been proven to be inefficient and ineffective in the long run. The death of Hummer Automobile wasn't father from this.
Hummer Case Study: In 2009, with the terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico drawing attention to the ugly side of oil and bringing to the fore discussions around energy independence, Hummer sales dropped to a pathetic 5,487 units from 20,681 in 2008. People who drove gas-guzzlers like Hummer were in some quarters openly accused of being unpatriotic, and this changed market perception towards the brand. Hummer lagged on this evolution, refused to adapt to consumer changes and had to shut down late 2009.
- Re-appraise your offering: Along with virile market understanding comes the need to re-appraise product and service offering to match consumers' trend and evolution. A shift in purchase context, consumption and user contexts, consumption patterns and so on should be matched with strategic marketing propositions.
For example: Research has recorded some significant shift in basic consumer behaviours which may remain after the pandemic. Physical store shopping may take a backseat for e-commerce platforms in the unforeseeable future. It is logical for any strategic marketing plan to blend this into its thinking for effective delivery.
- Be clear on the long term: By its nature, a pandemic is time-framed. With the right and deliberate attention, it should be quickly outlived. A strategy designed to deliver marketing objectives that may be unique to a pandemic situation must be clear on the future ahead to be effective. This involves predicting where current market trends will lead and looping that into current strategic thinking. And that's only enabled by a deep understanding of the present.
The story of Mars Incorporated take over: During the Russian financial crisis in1998, many businesses suffered financial losses and had to quit operation in Russia. Mars Incorporated, however, took a long-term perspective and launched a strategic move to dominate the market.
Mars Incorporated went against industry norm to provide their products on credits to their customers-Distributors. By so doing, they helped the customer solve the problem of shelf-stocking to generate sales and hold fit amidst the pandemic. In a short time, other distributors who couldn't afford to purchase started stocking Mars' Incorporated products. Not long after, Mars Product had dominated the market and became the only shopping choice.
By the time normalcy was restored, Mars Incorporated had commanded over 500,000 distribution points. With the enormous physical presence, Mars then resumed advertising to strengthen positioning in consumers' minds, which promoted shelf pick up and brand loyalty.
Till this period, Mars has enjoyed a strong market presence and grown to become market leader.
- Flexibility: Marketing is a continuum, even in the absence of an ongoing campaign. Effective marketing strategy is one that accommodates modification of deployed tactics to align with unplanned scenarios. A pandemic period is an uncertain one riddled with unpredictable outcomes. The parroted "New Normal" may eventually not normalize. An effective marketing strategy will provide for uncertainties, thus, being flexible.
Aside from the highlighted, there are category, and cultural peculiarities brands and businesses must factor into effective marketing communications strategy development in a post-pandemic world. These peculiarities would vary depending on contexts, and so is strategic thinking and approach.
A pandemic period could be a window for growth and doom for any brand. How it plays out is largely dependent on the strategic thinking behind it.
Samuel Sokale is a Seior Strategist at Chain Reactions Nigeria