The CMO Growth Council – a body featuring some of the industry’s top talent from around the world – has published a new report offering guidance for marketers as they respond to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Catharine P. Taylor, WARC’s US commissioning editor, outlines some of the main insights from this analysis.

Read the full report here.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Read more

Jodi Harris neatly summarized the task facing marketers as they adapt to a world that has been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s clear that the fundamentals of marketing have never been more important, but the way in which we market is fundamentally changing,” the global vp/marketing culture and capabilities at brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev explained.

“The success of our business will depend on our ability to anticipate, and solve for, consumers’ rapidly changing needs and behaviors.”

Against this backdrop, she advised, brands must “leverage the power of your whole business to identify trends, challenge processes, build best practices and pilot with pace.”

Harris is a member of the COVID-19 Leadership Coalition formed by the CMO Growth Council, a joint venture between the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and Cannes Lions (a sister company of WARC) that features leading marketers from around the world, and seeks to tackle the biggest issues in marketing.

Within that overall remit, the COVID-19 Leadership Coalition was established to serve as “a force for action that will help chief marketers shape intelligent practices and provide functional guidance for managing through the COVID-19 crisis.”

And the CMOs that are part of the Coalition are finding, now more than ever, that they are responsible for mapping out their companies’ potential futures as the pandemic’s effects play out for the long haul.

Their collective insights form the basis of a new report, entitled “Turning leadership into action during the pandemic” (embedded below) and published in partnership with WARC, that draws on roundtables and one-on-one interviews with several dozen top marketers, including the CMOs of Bank of America, Mastercard, CVS Health, General Motors, GSK, PepsiCo and Facebook.

Taking action in the pandemic’s next phase

As companies have moved past the initial shock of reacting to the pandemic, the CMO Growth Council report urged marketers to put the pieces in place now to deal with the next phase:

  • Adopt a start-up mentality: In category after category, CMOs said their companies had learned they could move much faster than they had previously realized, a dynamic they feel will continue into the future.

    “I don’t think there is such a thing as going back to what it used to be. And that’s perhaps a good thing,” said Dean Aragon, CEO of energy group Shell Brands International and global vp at Shell. “Marketers will surely come up with fascinating new products/services and inventive new content/channels for engaging their customers or stakeholders.
  • Plan for various scenarios: It’s essential to deploy scenario planning tools to map out different potential futures that reflect the ways the world is changing – from the greatly increased need consumers have to feel safe and healthy to shifts in supply chains.

    “To achieve the new goals that all of us face during this crisis, my advice is to think of this as a ‘20 Mile March.’ That means that we need to plan for everything. Every day,” explained Deborah Wahl, Global CMO of General Motors.

    Norman de Greve, CMO of pharmacy and insurance company CVS Health, echoed this viewpoint. “We are focused on how culture will change. Are we entering an economic period like the 1970s? We have already experienced more than a month of working from home. What impact will that have on consumer spending habits? What if the Coronavirus returns? All of this will have a significant impact,” he said.
  • Maintain focus on protecting your ecosystem: From employees to media partners, it’s crucial to keep ecosystems healthy, as they will accelerate business recovery.

    CVS has taken a 360-degree view toward making sure its employees feel supported, for example. This includes providing Personal Protective Equipment for its retail employees and ensuring social distancing in-store, as well as providing childcare.

    Elsewhere, The Walt Disney Company is one of a number of media enterprises that has been helping its advertising partners to shift their messaging during the pandemic, as most prior advertising campaigns no longer fit the current climate.

Enduring insights from the immediate COVID-19 response

These insights build on the enduring learnings accrued by marketers during the pandemic’s early stages – a brief period of triage, when messaging, media channels and products needed immediate realignment:

  • Lean into purpose and challenge sacred cows: “Often, as classic marketers, we think there is only one way to do things,” said Rand Harbert, CMO at insurance provider State Farm. “Now, out of necessity, we are discovering there are new ways to get the job done.”
  • Use a company’s entire infrastructure to drive brand purpose: The report cited companies such as Panera Bread and Subway, which have extended their purpose by meeting the need for grocery staples, and used existing delivery services to offer contactless shopping.
  • Make communications useful, not self-congratulatory: CVS is among many advertisers that pulled all of its existing messaging as the pandemic unfolded. It quickly pivoted to messaging that highlighted its free services, and took on more of a public-service tone with a focus on consumer safety and health.
  • Empathy and entertainment matter: During quarantine, brands that are positioned to do so should focus on the need to provide entertainment.

    “As people become more fatigued from information that is often depressing, they are gravitating towards escapism and live content,” noted Gayle Troberman, CMO of iHeartMedia, the media company.
  • Fast-track projects that fit the current situation: The report cites the rapid action taken by weight loss and wellness brand WW (previously known as Weight Watchers), which made its 30,000 workshops virtual within a few days, including weigh-ins.

    Tencent, the tech giant, also engineered 40 different upgrades in 30 days for its VooV online meeting service to serve the surging demand for digital learning and webinars, and also made this product free to use in 100 countries.
  • Tap social listening and other research tools: Now more than ever, it is vital to keep on top of the concerns of both external and internal stakeholders.

    The CMO Growth Council advised marketers to deploy every channel – partners, customers, employees – to stay on top of rapidly changing behaviors and attitudes.