Planning to fail or failing to plan? Thinking outside the COVID-19 marketing bubble

Katie Ashford - General Manager, Group Marketing & Communications, Ovato

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed many organisations on the back foot when it comes to making marketing decisions. After all, marketing is often the first-place businesses look when there’s a need to reduce costs and COVID-19 has made organisations sensitive to spending more than they can afford.

However, this means many marketing decisions are being made in the vacuum of the pandemic and its immediate aftermath – particularly the most severe April and May “bubble” Q4 months. While it might be tempting to focus on the short-term as the situation continues to evolve, you can’t forget the importance of a long-term approach for future success post-COVID-19.

Removing or revising long term plans that stretch into Q1 FY21 will do more damage than good. Making decisions in the middle of the extraordinary event doesn’t reflect the normal way the world operates and despite the seismic shift we’ve all experienced, things will eventually go back to a type of normal.

Change is inevitable

Nothing stays the same for long, and short-term boosts to certain industries won’t necessarily continue as restrictions ease.

Many online retailers, supermarket chains and home office supplies stores saw a massive increase in sales during COVID-19. But shopping habits are likely to drop or return to normal as consumers who had to adjust to working from home make their way back to work or go through their stocked-up goods.

Similarly, as restrictions ease and offices slowly re-open or many settle into working from home for the long run, few people will still be looking to buy a new office chair, or a second or third monitor. Those purchases have been made and will last a while. On the flip side, as restaurants open back up, even with social distancing restrictions, people will be more inclined to start spending on socialising or eating out.

Likewise, digital sales are up while people spend most of their time at home, but it’s unlikely there will be a complete shift away from in-store shopping, so print and outdoor marketing channels are still an important part of the mix. We won’t know what new consumer trends will look like for many months, so making significant marketing changes now could mean you exclude potential customers or negatively impact future sales opportunities.

Avoiding short-termism

It’s important to balance addressing short-term financial pressure with the long-term reputational impact of your marketing activities.

COVID-19 has led to a surge in short-term marketing, as brands seek to keep the lights on when they can’t see over the horizon. However, long term brand building is still an important aspect of marketing and shouldn’t be abandoned entirely.

Long-term brand strategy involves activities that may not deliver an immediate boost to the bottom line but will set your brand up for success well into the future, from creative messaging development to thought leadership programs and customer journey mapping.

If you’ve turned marketing spend off totally, customers may not be waiting for you when you resume your usual activity, as they may have already jumped shift to a competitor who held the course. For brands that are in this position, long-term brand building will be even more important post-COVID-19, to regain awareness and competitive edge.

By dropping your strategic activity now in reaction to the data of a few months, you’re potentially wasting the work you’ve done over many years to build a brand, grow a loyal audience and develop brand affinity within your category.

Looking ahead together

A new Australian financial year gives companies the opportunity to draw a line in the sand and regroup with suppliers to discuss how digital and traditional marketing channels can both be leveraged to deliver success.

It’s important to remember that traditional and digital marketing aren’t meant to oppose but to complement each other. Every marketer who understands this will be better placed to utilise the strengths of both these methods.

Through a complimentary marketing approach, marketers and their suppliers will be able to maximize their marketing efforts and get the best result from their short- and long-term strategic campaigns.

Thinking laterally

There’s a difference between being agile and able to respond to the major shifts in the world we operate in and throwing the baby out with the bathwater when confronted with suddenly altered circumstances.

As consumer behaviours changed during COVID-19, it follows that ad spend levels did too. An effective marketer is flexible and open to embracing channel opportunities and testing new strategies, and smart marketers will react to the short-term changes we’re all experiencing, while investing in long-term strategies to see the brand through into the future and beyond.