How COVID-19 could change marketing forever, and for the better
by Professor Jaideep Prabhu and Dr Eden Yin
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has been devastating for individuals and businesses all around the world. But could there also be an upside to all that disruption? After all: A crisis is too good an opportunity to waste.
As marketing professors, we have turned our thinking over the last few months to the question of how companies large and small can use the pandemic to rethink how they do their marketing. Based on our own teaching and research, we think that this might actually be a golden opportunity for you as marketers to go back to the drawing board and rethink how you engage with your markets.
As always, the first stop on any such journey should be your customers. This is a great time to get reacquainted with them. Who exactly are your they? What makes them tick? Who among them are the ambassadors, the fans, of your products and services and your brands? What is it about them or your offerings that gives them such delight and keeps them coming back? COVID may well have changed what they value: for instance, they might value their health over travel, or home entertainment over spending on the high street. Some of these changes could remain post-pandemic and knowing what will change and what will stay the same in terms of consumer preference is very important for you going forward.
You can now find answers to these traditional and fundamental questions of market research in both old and new ways. The old ways are the tried and tested staples of qualitative research: observing people as they shop and asking them to explain why they do what they do. But it is the new ways that really offer a wealth of insight and complement the strengths of old fashioned quantitative and qualitative research. Top of the list is natural language processing: the use of techniques from computer science that can not only “scrape” huge quantities of structured and unstructured verbal and visual information from social networking platforms like reddit but also use algorithms to mine this data for insights. These techniques combine the ability to generate insights that ethnography, focus groups, and interviews provide with the ability to validate these insights on large numbers like surveys can do. If you don’t already know a bit about these new techniques, now is the time to bone up on them. Even better: hire someone with a degree in computer science to round out your marketing team.
The next stop is your competitors: who are they and what do they offer your customers that you don’t? How can you stay ahead of them? Increasingly, the boundaries between industrial sectors have blurred and your competition could be coming from anywhere: from other sectors and from other parts of the world. For instance, I work with the top marketing team of the Financial Times. Talking to them it’s become clear that they no longer simply compete with other newspapers and magazines but with any subscription service including Netflix and Amazon.
Then, think about your company itself: what are its unique strengths and weaknesses? What are your unique assets and capabilities that can help you deliver a unique value proposition to your customers better, cheaper and faster than your competitors can? And how can you keep doing this, not only today, but years into the future.
In the end, of course, a one-time re-assessment such as this is far from sufficient. Even if it brings you fresh insights and gives your marketing efforts a fresh lease of life: you will soon have to repeat the exercise. So: use the interlude of COVID to also ask yourself how you can embed such learning into your marketing organisation so that you are a constantly learning institution.
This brings us to the final, most crucial element to consider: namely your marketing organisation itself. How can you build a marketing organisation that helps you constantly learn and act on this learning? Here we turn to marketing management: the creation of a team that has the skills and motivation to perform in the interests of customers and the company. Is your current team fit for purpose? Who else do you need to hire? How do you get all these different people working well together? What should the marketing function in the post-Covid world look like and how do you get this function to work seamlessly with all the other parts of your company? Perhaps most crucially, how do you need to lead differently in the future?
The secret behind the most successful companies is that they are constantly learning, constantly responding to changes in the market real time, and constantly working together to deliver for their customers better than competitors. Figure that out and COVID will have left you with a lasting positive legacy, despite its otherwise baleful effects.