Speed, agility and heart: The recipe for marketing amidst uncertainty

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"Don’t spend too long producing that perfect piece of content because it will be out of date by the time you get to 100%,” said experts at a recent webinar hosted by Marketing around “Getting your marketing plan right in times of uncertainty”. In today's ever evolving world, successful brands need to remain agile and keep their fingers on the pulse, while always focusing on being connected with consumers during a period of uncertainty.

Speaking at the webinar, Marcus Chew, CMO of NTUC Income, said that at times like these, speed and agility are crucial. The marketing team at NTUC Income has evolved its strategy to produce content within a one to two-week period during the COVID-19 period. Besides putting content out at a rapid speed, Chew said that brand marketing strategies should always be dynamic to ensure curveballs can be tackled and marketing plans can proceed.

He cited the example of how NTUC Income’s plans to launch content was met with the Singapore government’s announcement to commence Phase Two of the recovery, resulting in the insurance giant needing to adjust its messaging so as to resonate with consumer sentiments. Speed has also been vital for software and technology company Cisco during the COVID-19 period. According to Rashish Pandey, its senior director of marketing for Asia Pacific, Japan and China, the company was affected largely because it could not run its annual large-scale events.

However, it remained agile and within three weeks, it fully converted its flagship event to a virtual event which drew in more than a million audience members, as compared with about 12,000 people it would have had at its physical event.

Heart sell, not hard sell

During a time of crisis or uncertainty, brands should also be focused on serving consumers, and not selling to consumers, according to Pandey. This is where content plays a crucial role. Brands should be creating content to tell great stories to consumers, while ensuring the messaging is in the right context, with the right tone, and with the right emotions.

Similarly, Audi shifted its marketing message away from hard-selling its cars, and focused on connecting with its consumers “on a human level”.

According to Rudi Venter, general manager of marketing at Audi Singapore, the automobile brand shaped its content to tell consumers that it was part of their daily lives. Audi tapped on consumer experiences such as the feeling consumers get when they get into a car in the morning, or the private time they spend in the car every day, to draw a connection with its consumers.

He also said there was a shift in the brand’s KPIs during the COVID-19 period. “It really was a bit of a paradigm shift of how we focused on which KPIs to change,” he said.

Even though there were measures such as awareness and brand image, Audi chose to focus on engagement with its audience. It decided to have a “pull” strategy instead of a “push” strategy, and looked to win its audiences over through engagement.

To do this, Audi took its teams off pipeline and booking goals, and had them focused on engagement, reach, and conversions on trials. Audi also shifted its entire funding set aside for its campaigns to more relevant ones in the market, such as remote working solutions for business continuity problems.

“This is not the time to launch a new campaign or a server. The market is just not there."

Seconding the change in focus when it comes to KPIs is Filippo Stefanelli, CMO of online investment management company, StashAway. He said brands should focus more on input KPIs than output KPIs during a time of uncertainty. Instead of setting KPIs based on how consumers are transacting with a brand’s product or service, brands should take a look at how it is interacting with its consumers as well.

For StashAway, that meant seeing the frequency of which its consumers opened the app in a week, or how many minutes of its on-demand videos the consumer was watching, instead of how much the consumer was investing with the company.

Stefanelli also highlights the importance on ensuring a fast response time to its consumers, as it looks to remain accessible to consumers at all times.

“We believe that access creates trust, so we want to be super accessible,” he said, adding that with increased trust from consumers comes increased loyalty to the brand.

Timing is essential for content

In an interesting turn at the webinar, Chew appealed to brands to stop producing COVID-19-related content. “There is a time and place to do certain things,” he said, adding the topic is getting boring and consumers do not have to get reminded of it over and over again.

He added that timing is critical, and if brands missed the window of opportunity to produce COVID-19 content during the past few months, it is too late for them to do it now. Instead, he suggested brands use this time to entertain consumers and tell their brand story to consumers in the new normal.

Cisco’s Pandey also agreed with consumers’ shift away from COVID-19, and added that brands need to be one step ahead of consumers in this shift. For Cisco, that means pivoting its marketing message from urging businesses to protect their employees and assets during the time of uncertainty to capitalising on the new economic landscape and building a new resilient company.

On the other hand, Stefanelli said the relevance of COVID-19-related content is dependent on the industry. Given that StashAway is an investment management company, the COVID-19 topic is still very present in its conversations with consumers. “The market is quite crazy recently, and people are turning to us to understand what is happening,” Stefanelli said.

Meanwhile, Venter said that balance was key. While there may be some kind of saturation in terms of the COVID-19 messaging, he acknowledged it remains a reality for consumers.

What separates a really great brand from the rest of the pack is how it is able to have that underlying tone in its messaging. Such brands will acknowledge the ongoing crisis, but at the same time produce little bits of content that is going to help humanity get through this uncertain period of time.

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