When we look back to the modern history of commercial marketing, the Covid-19 pandemic will stand out as a significant benchmark of change. We have seen some companies use marketing communications as an essential lifeline to continue reaching customers, while others have become cautionary tales.
Before Covid-19, it is difficult to recall a situation that has fundamentally changed such a broad range of businesses. From FMCG and grocery retail, through to higher order goods and the service sector, large-scale disruption has occurred to how business is conducted and purchase decisions are made.
The changes have impacted the supply chain, but in turn, have also influenced and shaped marketing communications. This shift is seen in both how channels are selected, as well as the message itself.
Of course, we begin by establishing what marketing communications are. This can vary from one business to another and even across industries, but the common denominator is that marketing is the ‘voice’ of the business.
Whether conscious of it or not, every business has a voice and a set of values to convey. As humans, we tend to gravitate more towards companies based on their values and ideals as much as anything else. The commercial changes seen through the Covid-19 crisis highlight that a company’s values aren’t just lip service, they can be a core benefit. How effectively and consistently these are communicated is an essential part of the business puzzle under ‘the new normal’.
But what are the changes seen to marketing communications as a result of Covid-19?
Accelerating the shift to a virtual team
In many ways, Covid-19 hasn’t just introduced new trends in marketing – but accelerated existing ones. As health and wellbeing of employees becomes paramount, working from home has become commonplace.
For marketing communications, this changes the relationship between employees and the business. External communications become another way for a company’s workforce to remain connected and up to date with a business, which may be challenging while physically isolated.
The rapid shift in how business is conducted may also point towards how companies operate in the future. It has been suggested that in the future, a hybrid model may be more common, with individuals splitting the working week between home and office.
Should this prove to be the case, the argument for consistent and clear marketing communications only becomes clearer. As well as reaching valuable customers, both existing and potential, how a brand communicates its activity could provide significant advantages for the workforce, in turn benefitting the business as a whole.
Switching Marketing from an ‘add-on’ to a core function
The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the strengths of key industries, as well as the weaknesses. As staff become furloughed and manpower becomes scarcer, naturally budgets are tightened to accommodate any reductions in productivity and output.
Where this becomes a significant challenge is with external communications – and it’s often ingrained in company culture. For some businesses, marketing is seen as a periphery add-on; a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than an integral component of business. Because of this mindset, marketing is sometimes one of the first divisions to be scaled back; but time and again this has proved a costly mistake in business.
As the main day to day connecting point between companies and their customers, whether that be the end user or other businesses, marketing communications are the core way of maintaining visibility, assuring customers that brands are still operating and winning additional business to counter that which may have been lost or paused as a result of the pandemic.
By far, the most effective way to harness the power of marketing is to see it for what it truly is – an essential component of business, in much the same capacity as a sales team or operations division. Whether that be in-house or through a dedicated partner such as PHD Marketing, marketing communications are the constant that keeps customers, both existing and potential, connected with the business.
The rising need for agility
Over the challenging months of Covid-19, a wide spectrum of industries have seen the heightened need for agility. Being able to switch lines or products at short notice to accommodate the shifting demands of both consumers and retailers has proved to be key to maintaining sales momentum.
The same has also proved true of marketing communications, which with a discipline so tightly connected to business activity, is to be expected. It becomes a question of clarity and consistency. The last thing customers want is radio silence from a business, particularly when speed and turnaround are so crucial.
In terms of how this influences marketing communications, the focus is on providing updates and information that might otherwise not form part of a corporate communications strategy. The rising need for transparency means that for many brands, it becomes crucial to reassure customers of continued support and activity when it might usually be assumed.
There is a similar path being seen in terms of how companies are ‘humanising’ businesses. An often-quoted term in sales is that ‘people buy from people’ – and this has proved just as true in the B2B arena.
It is understood by the general public that ‘business as usual’ has changed, with many working remotely. This provides a brilliant opportunity for humanising the business and showing the individuals that make it tick and operate so effectively.
A great example of this in action is oil supplier to the food and personal care sector, Kerfoot Group. During the ongoing pandemic, the business has enabled its personnel to take centre stage on its social media channels and demonstrate the family values that power the business to this day, having repeatedly shown employees and their families celebrating landmarks and national holidays while working from home.
Ongoing surge in eCommerce
There’s no doubt about it; if the meteoric rise of digital commerce over the last decade didn’t convince brands to ‘think online’, the retail challenges of 2020 certainly have. As footfall drops, digital platforms become set to take centre stage once again.
Across both B2B and B2C sectors, the digital space has opened up new opportunities to integrate an online offering with real-world service. In turn, this acceleration has created new opportunities for marketing communications. Whether it be blogs, social media or eBlasts to customers, communications easily be connected to an individual product or service, which allows much more room for specificity.
As the next generation of procurement and buying teams come through, the B2B sector is seeing a profitable rise in the use of social media as a sales and promotion tool. As remote working becomes the norm, this is only set to accelerate – particularly as social media engagement between businesses moves from latent to proactive.
Some businesses have found fundamental benefits in hiring an outsourced marketing partner, such as PHD Marketing. Already accustomed to operating remotely and communicating clearly, a marketing partner is able to keep providing marketing communications and material through a market environment that would challenge many in-house teams.
At PHD, we work with a range of clients in business-to-business marketing & communications in the UK and internationally and have provided essential support as the norms of business and commerce have shifted. At the heart, we understand the complex DNA of our clients’ businesses and the value of both short and long-term strategy. In being prepared for every eventuality, we have supported clients of every size in maintaining their company voice when they need it the most.
Sound interesting? Give us a call (+44 (0) 1977 708643) or email [email protected] and we’d be delighted to talk to you about the benefits of working with us!