At the outset, let me say that I am a marketing person, and I believe in marketing. So do not view this article as an attempt to denigrate marketing. Instead, it is meant for marketers to think, especially in these Covid times and as we go into 2021.
During Covid, 50% of Americans had reported a reduction in household spending along with collapse of many people’s income. Many services have changed and reduced in volume such as healthcare (non Covid), education, food services, transport, event management, clothing and fashion and beauty treatment salons. Let us start by asking, whom does marketing work for? In fact, all employees work for the company. They are paid by the company and they have to do what the company wants. So, marketing works for the company and the good (as defined by the company) of the company. Should they also work for stakeholders and how?
What most companies want is growth, an increase of profits and stock prices. So, the mantra, down the line is increase prices and markets (and market share). And so, marketers toe the company line.
Unless the company has a proper purpose looking at all stakeholders, they cannot inculcate a sense of purpose in marketers and get them to think differently.
However, when the world shifts suddenly in a disrupting and disturbing fashion as it is doing in this Covid crisis, the old norms get thrown out. The Economist calls this the year when everything changed. They say the sheer scale of the suffering from covid-19, the injustices and dangers the pandemic has revealed, and the promise of innovation mean that it will be remembered as the year when everything changed.
Marketing Sherpa says so don’t run your marketing department with rules. Run the department with a customer-first approach as your guiding principle and a value proposition as your core goal.
Stay focused, but flexible. Do not be too narrow in your definition of markets and customers. Crises are a way of life. Find unique opportunities thrown up by virus…. distancing, mask like environment, stay at home, more internet, different needs. There are other crises waiting to happen: climate change, nuclear war, famines etc.
And when a crisis happens be ready to move and move fast. Take the example of Zoom and Skype.
Skype was the preferred choice before Covid for chatting and smaller meetings on line. But Zoom took over with aggressive marketing when they understood this was a big need for such services and webinars and left Skype which did not change, far behind. Focusing on meetings helped individuals, and later companies, schools and colleges. Webinars became a big business. Skype did not change, maybe because Microsoft, their owner was promoting Teams.
Let me give you examples. In many places, doctors are facing a cutback of patients. Most doctors in India have only 30% of the normal patients. Barbers have the same problem. Restaurants, airlines etc. and others have similar issues.
Instead of looking at the old market as a holy grail, can marketers and companies disrupt their thinking and look at the world differently. New products, new markets for existing products. An example is restaurants starting home delivery services. Maybe even restaurants at home…that is bring in a restaurant feeling with the food at home. Travel is advertising lower Covid risk, lower occupancy. An example is Ride the rails from Bavaria to Berlin
The clock is ticking on promo code GERMANY50. Try delicious food and beer and immerse yourself in the lively culture of Germany from only ($899) $849 if you book before midnight tonight.
Your vacation includes:
Round-trip airfare into Munich, out of Berlin
3 nights in Munich
Standard-class rail from Munich to Berlin
3 nights in Berlin
And if they had added you can do this Covid free, and quarantine free, maybe they would have more takers.
The euphoria around Airbnb’s blockbuster IPO last week is already long forgotten. Shares have plunged 25% since then, as Wall Street casts a bearish outlook on Airbnb’s current valuation.
Uber for example can become a delivery platform and not just a taxi service. Yes, they have Uber delivery but it could be expanded.
Half measures and incrementalism won’t work when your company emerges from a crisis. Marketers have to think about holistic transformation to go all in.
And what will companies do and what will marketing do when the world limps back to ‘normalcy’ away from the pandemic stranglehold and into a new future.
Warren Harding built a campaign for the presidential election in 1920 around his new word “normalcy”. It was an appeal to Americans’ supposed urge to forget the horrors of the first world war and the Spanish flu and turn back to the certainties of the Golden Age. And yet, instead of embracing Harding’s normalcy, the Roaring Twenties became a ferment of forward-looking, risk-taking social, industrial and artistic novelty.
The positive is that companies and marketers are working to restore the confidence and the economy. For this, marketers are value creators.
Brands came out to help the public during the Covid crisis with ads and notifications. They used digital, virtual platforms in a bigger way.
The negative is we might go back into a “Roaring Twenties” situation which can lead to unbridled growth, leading to another crisis. Then marketers will be value destroyers. And this destruction will include waste, demand for unnecessary things, destruction of Nature and so on.
All this requires marketers to be resolute, resilient and imaginative. Marketers need the 6As of being aware, anticipating, having ability and agility and becoming ambidextrous with a great attitude.
They must think of new ways to win, understand customers better, by also looking at non customers and also better data and analytics, not reforming but resetting according to Mckinsey, and have a renewed purpose for the future.
The future will then admire the way we reacted during a difficult crisis.
So, marketing which can become value destroyers when companies are internally focused can become value creators by changing themselves and their companies.
But it seems to me the urge for companies to grow, will force marketers to grow markets, irrespective of the true needs of people. To quote marketing Guru, Prof. Phil Kotler, Marketing is essentially a value creation discipline. He goes onto say in his article in the Journal of Creating Value, The Consumer in the Age of Coronavirus, that we should place more value on the needs of our family, friends and community. We should use social media to urge our families and friends to choose good and healthy foods and buy more sensible clothing and other goods. Brands must spell out their greater purpose and how each is serving the common good. Marketers and their companies must become more conscious of the fragility of the planet, of air and water pollution, of water shortages and other problems.
When the COVID-19 crisis is over, capitalism will have moved to a new stage.
Consumers will be more thoughtful about what they consume and how much they need to consume. And marketing will have to pay heed to this and create value and more value for the consumer and other stakeholders!
Kotler, Pfoertsch, Sponholz in their book, H2H: The Genesis of human-to-human marketing say that marketing can change the world for the better. During the last decades, marketing experienced many revolutionizing changes that added to the quality of life for many people. However, changes have not all been for the better. Due to some unethical practices of over-zealous profit-minded marketers, the current image of marketing, as perceived by employees and customers, has deteriorated to a point where “most people associate negative words, such as ‘lies,’ ‘deception,’ ‘deceitful,’ ‘annoying,’ and ‘manipulating,’ with marketing”. Public scandals, like falsified market research results, add further aggravation to this bad image. A general lack of trust prevails, which results in the exact opposite of what marketing is trying to achieve.
It is up to us to ensure marketing continues to create more value and destroy less value.
What do you think?