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Impact of the pandemic on marketing and communications resources – observations from The Observatory International’s global network

We asked our global network of offices how their clients were responding to the pandemic and economic downturn. There were many consistent themes and a few nuances by region – accelerating transformation, customer-centricity, transformed media mixes and resourcing implications being just a few. Here are the key findings:

What is the lasting impact on brands’ marketing strategies and plans going forward?

The crisis has accelerated existing trends for: more radical and urgent digital transformation across the marketing ecosystem; Customer-centricity and the digitisation of the customer journey; and the use of data from all touch-points.

Businesses seem to be falling into two categories when it comes to ecommerce:

  • Those that are playing catch up and need to invest quickly to improve their online sophistication
  • Those that have invested in the past and need to refine their ecommerce further to gain competitive advantage

But for those that are successful, ecommerce is going to accelerate growth and weaken the traditional retail approach even more.

  • It has emphasised the need to have a clear purpose and an attitude – but not superficially – many brands have been exposed by their “we are here for you” approach
  • Our Paris office emphasised the emergence of “phygital” – experiences in real life translated digitally – for example Bulgari’s online sales show and digital events
  • Whilst in Greater China and South East Asia experiential and sponsorship are likely to take a longer term hit. Traditional events in some sectors, such as motorshows, were already waning in popularity. Sponsorship will be more price-dependent and brands will be reluctant to commit to big headline sponsorship while budgets are tight and the priority has shifted to digital.

In summary, doing less but more effectively (and digitally) will be the focus of marketing strategies and plans moving forward.

What do you think are the biggest problems that clients are facing?

There is no ‘blue print’ for the situation brands are facing and less robust data for decision making: the scale and duration of the economic impact on global markets and nations is unclear; the behaviour of consumers is unpredictable; and the trajectory of the pandemic is still uncertain and varies country to country.

  • There is a need to reallocate resources – senior marketers will have to become adept at squeezing their remaining resources to get more effective work in a different business landscape and a renewal of discussion about insourcing vs outsourcing.
  • Undertaking transformation in a time of crisis is a difficult organisational task, when budgets are slashed, cost control is prioritised and it is difficult to effect change quickly.
  • Sustainability ambitions and plans may get deprioritised and changed with a focus on a new “low touch” customer experience as well as budget restrictions.

How could clients use this time as a catalyst for digital transformation?

  • There was strong consensus amongst our global team of consultants that this is the time to speed up and improve digital transformation.
  • The need for customer centric communication has become even more important to reflect the specific needs and situations customers are in. Complemented by an appropriately focused agency model and organisation design.
  • The clear advice from our offices is to undertake a review of existing digital transformation strategies and plans. Any existing plans will likely need to be adjusted and changed to reflect new consumer behaviours arising from the pandemic.
  • In parallel to this, undertake a digital resource audit – it’s likely that brands will have invested in resources and expertise to achieve the original transformation. Now is the time to audit what works, what is providing value for money, and what will help them deliver the updated plan. It is time to be ruthless and prioritise.

What changes have you made to the Observatory International’s own ways of working do you expect to continue to use?

Video calls in one form or another are here to stay. Our own operations will benefit from continued regular ‘short sharp’ team updates via video call – 10 minutes to get up to date, make sure everyone is OK and know what is going on. And networking and new connections over video calls can be as meaningful and productive as face to face. All of this challenges the need to travel for short meetings.

Our clients have quickly grown accustomed to using video calls for quarterly reviews between client teams and their agencies and our Search and Selection process has been adapted to work very effectively in a virtual setting.

On a lighter note – what amusing things have you seen on a video call?

We’ve seen the inevitable cats appearing and walking across keyboards as well as one of our team’s two-year old daughter trying to feed a cat that appeared on screen.

The COVID motto of “you are on mute!” has become a familiar cry. And we’ve discovered the way to ensure the video call is kept short – spill tea over the keyboard, followed by a blank screen!

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