The covid marketing brain: how marketers are thinking and acting in new ways

The covid marketing brain: how marketers are thinking and acting in new ways

There is no question that the lockdown has changed marketing. A deeper question might be: how has it changed marketers and the way they think?

We’re calling this the ‘covid marketing brain’. In just a few months, all assumptions have been challenged in marketing as behaviours and channels changed overnight. This has forced a new way of thinking on the guardians of brands in all sectors. Here are some of the ways that marketers have changed the way they believe they must think using the ‘covid marketing brain’ in these strange times.

Kill previous assumptions

Pre-existing customer personas and assumptions about audiences are irrelevant now, says Exonar CMO James McCarthy.

Claire Walker

“Customers are now different human beings but we don’t know how they’ve changed. They’re experiencing anxiety and emotions they hadn’t felt before the lockdown. So we need to get back to basics; we need good quality primary research,” says James.

Robert Pepper, MD of PS London agrees. He says, “In the past, you’d get an insight on your desk and say, ‘Yes, I probably knew that.’ Today, I see research about the propensity of international students to study in the UK and it’s out of date just a week later. All insights need to be refreshed.”

Claire Walker, Group CEO of Firefly Communications, says, “We put in extra measures to spot those subtle changes in consumer behaviour so everything we do is absolutely relevant for that moment in time. And before it changes again.”

Clarity in purpose

There is an urgency in all marketing activity. This means that not only must marketers think before they act but know exactly the purpose and objectives, says Robert Pepper.

Robert Pepper

“There is now a much greater need for clarity. Meetings used to be held to decide what the problem is, not how to solve it. There is no luxury of being able to say ‘We haven’t thought about how to do this’,” he says.

Claire Walker adds, “There is also a need to communicate clearly, and manage all the collaboration apps to bring your team along with you. And you must stay focused. You need to consider your ideal core customer persona and where you can deliver the most, if not essential, value and focus on that.”

Show genuine intent

“You’ve got to be up for a fight,” says Realia MD Paul Williamson highlighting the three ingredients he believes are needed for marketing during the covid-19 crisis.

He says, “You need integrity, intent and ingenuity. I’ve seen considerably more intent during this time and less of a laissez faire attitude to campaigns. Some people are using this time to make things happen.”

Trust remote colleagues

Working remotely may become a fixture beyond the lockdown. This, says Paul Williamson, will require us to place greater trust in remote workers.

“There is not much evidence of the so-called ‘snowflake generation’ – people at our agency have shown considerably more resilience than I expected. They have become more efficient and steadfast. This enforced freedom means that senior marketers have to trust and believe people are making good, emotionally intelligent decisions without sitting on their shoulders. In turn, this has allowed younger marketers to mature considerably.”

Be aware of mental health

Mental health was becoming a topic of discussion before the lockdown. But the current situation has thrown it into sharp relief.

Busuu Lead CRM Manager Collette Mosca leads a team whose wellbeing has been thrust to the fore working remotely.

Collette Mosca

“Everyone’s emotions go up and down during the week,” she says.

“We’ve maintained stand-ups every day, where we explain what we worked on yesterday and what we plan to work on today. But communications with my team has been the biggest change. We used to mainly talk about how we communicate with the customer but we talk more often about the team because I’m concerned about them working remotely.”

Show leadership

The danger, of course, is that as the economic consequences bite, marketing jobs will be cut. Therefore, says Claire Walker, marketers must “prove the value” of marketing.

She says, “Recognising that no one is indispensible, we spend our time proving our value, over and over, to everyone at every level client-side, so we are not on the chop list.”

James McCarthy

The best defence is an offence, says James McCarthy.

“People are looking for leadership from whatever leaders emerge and marketers have a huge opportunity to reduce anxiety among employees, understand customers, what is happening, and plot a way through. If the organisation has the right understanding at board level then the CMO should be driving value in the business,” says James.


Use brainstorming tools

Creative teams need to brainstorm. But working remotely means that workshops or chats at a café are off.

Collette Mosca and her team use brainstorming tool Mural.

“It helps us do creative thinking collaboratively but remotely. It took us about two weeks to get used to it but now we’ve adjusted relatively well to it,” she says.

Be more customer-centric than ever

A much over-used phrase in many opinions, it stands to reason that ‘customer-centricity’ is vital when whole populations are experiencing a unique set of changed circumstances.

“When the unexpected happens and things change overnight, I’ve learned that if you don’t have the customer at the centre of what you do, you’ll struggle,” says James McCarthy.

Zoom in on intimacy

Have you noticed a difference in the tone when we communicate on Zoom? Robert Pepper has and he believes this means we are becoming more receptive to each other, and more informal.

“In B2B, it’s easier to engage with prospects on a personal level as you peer into people’s homes via Zoom. It’s created a greater level of humanity as there are fewer artificial gatekeepers when people work at home. And people are saying things they wouldn’t normally say because they’re home. We’ve lost some of the artificial barriers of language and behaviour that make it hard to engage with people,” he says.

How long will the covid marketing brain be required? Who knows? But while the crisis bubbles on, this new way of thinking and working has become vital in marketing.