Don't compromise on ethics and values during tough times

The pandemic has pushed companies to adapt and evolve rapidly or risk being left behind. However, adapting to the new norm does not mean companies should lose sight of their ethics and values. During a recent panel discussion by at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Digital Marketing Asia 2020 virtual conference moderated by Eu Yan Sang Group Singapore's head of transformation, Ji Ching Tang (pictured top left), MD of LUSH Cosmetics MENA, Ziad Kaddoura (pictured top right), said this is the time for marketers to think out of the box without losing their ethics and values.

"A lot is happening but at the same time you want to stay true to who you are. It's not the time to change your position from a branding point of view," he said. Understandably, it would be very hard to stick to one's ethics during such challenging times and businesses might be tempted to compromise on cost or values.

Like many companies, Kaddoura said LUSH's eCommerce business "boomed" during the pandemic and digital transformation also accelerated for its customers and employees. For LUSH, it does not want to be only known as just a beauty company, but one that creates "feel good products" with the help of digital.

"How do you go about doing this in the world of digital? How do you make that phone or that iPad your third hand or third eye, basically? The Internet of Things has become much more than just an eCommerce situation. It's not only about bringing make up to consumers and adding that smile. It's much more than that," he said.

One way that LUSH thought out of the box was by working with shopping aggregators, an unprecedented move for the brand because it wants to drive traffic to its website. "If you are a well-known brand, do you want to sell on aggregators that also have your competitors? Do you use [aggregators] to pass on some of the products? It's that balance between the two - being creative and being tactical while staying true to your strategy," Kaddoura explained.

Furthermore for LUSH, its interactions with consumers never stopped. Kaddoura explained that one of the main drivers of footfall to its stores after they reopened was its CSR initiatives targeted at frontliners. For example, it gave away bath bombs to frontliners and quarantined Malaysians at Hilton Petaling Jaya in Malaysia, and donated handmade scent-free soap to hospitals and medical clinics in Canada. According to him, this led to customers shopping for bath bombs and other products at their physical outlets. "There was a lot happening and that interaction and engagement between us and consumers never stopped," he said.

Meanwhile, another company that had to remain dynamic during this period was Daimler Singapore. According to its digital transformation and innovation head Franco Chiam, one way it evolved was by restructuring some of its production equipment and using them to develop medical equipment instead. Chiam explained that companies need to be dynamic and decisions have to made on what the key changes will be during this point in time and what the options are moving forward. It also had to reimagine how it entire supply chain works. According to him, the pandemic has offered the company opportunities to rethink how structures and operations have to evolved.

"There is a lot of acceleration internally and we are focusing on the digital channels that might have evolved. To support this, employees need to have the right tools and systems in place. We also looked closely at our supply chains, what are the recurring revenue streams we have today, what needs to be further optimised, and zero-based budgeting," Chiam explained.

An interesting change Daimler witnessed during the second phase of circuit breaker in Singapore was that more customers were buying private cars as they are afraid to come in contact with others. As such, there has been an increase short term purchase, with consumers buying because of safety measures. 

Moving forward, he believes that digital channels are definitely here to stay. While automotive showrooms will be necessary to allow consumers to physically experience the cars, Chiam said the industry will eventually move towards 3D visualisations and allow for more consumer interactions with the vehicles. Another area that automotive companies should look into in future is the future of carpool and contactless driving because that puts a major strain on having one's own vehicle on the road, he explained.

Join us on a three-week journey at Digital Marketing Asia 2020 as we delve into the realm of digital transformation, data and analytics, and mobile and eCommerce from 10 to 26 November. Sign up here!

Importance of effectiveness and efficiency

Besides thinking out of the box, effectiveness and efficiency have also become the two keywords ranked high on the marketing agenda during the crisis, given the cuts within organisations and marketing teams, Mohamed Abo El Fotouh (pictured bottom right), digital transformation and marketing capability director, PepsiCo, AMESA said. As a result, the digital transformation agenda has become a big priority for companies as they seek ways to become more efficient and effective in the way they communicate, invest in media spend and market their products. He said that such a trend has helped to create value exchange within the organisation.

"Usually, the transformation agenda is slightly more future forward while the organisation is more focused on the now and the near future to deliver business. This was a very interesting situation where we found that the interests aligned and we also found efficiency and effectiveness," he added.

These two values have also become a fundamental way to tide through the crisis, Fotouh said. He explained that companies are all in this together across the board and everyone is trying to find synergies and ways to collaborate, as well as offer consumers with the right offerings and products. PepsiCo, for example, inked a five-year partnership with Microsoft in July this year to accelerate the former's infrastructure and data estate consolidation and modernisation. Meanwhile, it also joined the Saudi Sports for All Federation to make sports more accessible and facilitate a better quality and balanced lifestyle for residents in the kingdom.

Separately, Marriott International was also another company that entered into partnerships during this period. Last month, it tied up with Grab to integrate their offerings to bring the premium hospitality experience into the hands of millions of consumers in Southeast Asia. This is Marriott's first extensive integration with a super app platform in Southeast Asia, and Grab’s most comprehensive agreement with a hospitality group to date. In Singapore, it also recently partnered with Wildlife Reserves Singapore for wildlife staycation packages for seven of its hotel brands.

Its chief sales and marketing officer for Asia Pacific, Bart Buiring (pictured top centre) said during the panel that it is "looking at all sorts of ways to collaborate", adding that everyone is in this together to solve the situation and get back on their feet.

(Read also: Marriott APAC CMO: 'Marketers who can identify local trends and adapt will recover quickest')

Marriott announced last week that it's third quarter 2020 (Q3 2020) results were "dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it". Operating income for Q3 2020 totalled US$252 milion compared to US$607 million in 2019. Reported net income totalled US$100 million compared to US$387 million during the same period last year. Like many companies, Marriott also had to make the tough call of job cuts. According to multiple media reports including FOX Business, it laid off "hundreds of workers" at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland last month. In March this year, it also put "tens of thousands of staff" on unpaid leave, the Financial Times reported.

"We've had to deal with a really dynamic business environment and the toughest calls are always the people calls. We pride ourselves on having a strong Marriott culture. For us to make personnel decisions, that's always the hardest," Buiring said.

Meanwhile from a marketing point of view, it has shifted to weekly investment meetings where the team looks into amount of monetary investment available and how it will allocate that to digital to ensure it captures demand where demand is. In China, for example, Marriott relooked at its relationship with big ecosystems such as Tencent, Alibaba, Meituan Dianping and ByteDance. Buiring said Marriott reengaged with these Chinese ecosystems differently and looked at what the future of the relationship would look like.

It also dialed up on livestreaming and focused on integrating the brand management, marketing, sales, revenue management, loyalty, customer experience, digital and communications functions to grow its brands and travel programme Marriott Bonvoy further. For example, its Marriott Bonvoy app allows the company to connect with its 57 million members in Asia Pacific via mobile chats while helping them travel safe and offer personalised experiences.

"The pandemic has absolutely accelerated our transformation agenda. We've seen pivots such as staycations, which is the new word that everyone is using," Buiring said. Another trend is domestic leisure, as individuals begin rediscovering their country and according to him, this is very popular in South Korea, China and Japan. The third element is consumers being a lot more safety conscious, which sees Marriott doubling down on its commitment to be clean. "Hybrid or virtual meetings is also another changing customer behaviour that we need to address," he added.

How can leaders be more prepared for a black swan event?

Buiring's advice is simple - be optimistic and positive for the future. Meanwhile, Daimler's Chiam reminded leaders to not forget about the individuals supporting the company. "There have been a lot of sentiments about cutting cost but we should not forget that fundamentally, these are the same group of people that help the company grow," he explained.

On a similar note, LUSH's Kaddoura said companies should listen to their customers and employees because the best ideas come from people. "Stay people-centric. Even though we are talking about technology, nothing can replace a human," he added. PepsiCo's Fotouh also echoed similar sentiments, adding that it is important to keep the consumer at heart and always think about delivering the right value and experiences.

Join us on a three-week journey at Digital Marketing Asia 2020 as we delve into the realm of digital transformation, data and analytics, and mobile and eCommerce from 10 to 26 November. Sign up here!

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