Marketing, COVID & the future

Written Aug 2020

The future’s bright, but the future is clearly digital – especially in marketing.

In order to make sense of the chaos around us, many firms and their leadership teams are looking for insight. Looking for data and competitive advantage, because COVID is a new challenge not covered in any previous MBA syllabus, and a pandemic isn’t something many of us have lived through. There are of course historical comparisons, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918, where the economy bounced back relatively quickly, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968, where the response was to carry on as normal, but we live in a very different world than in 1918 and politically things have moved on since 1968.

There have of course been many other recessions with the financial crisis being the most recent, but this was different too. In 2008-2009 liquidity drained out of the market, today the market has been flooded with cheap loans. Governments around the world seem to have learnt a lot from the great recession of 2008-2009. Then, banks were the problem and now they are part of the solution. However, what has surprised many is the chaos COVID has caused in such a short period of time and navigating through this period is very hard for leaders.

COVID has brought its own set of circumstances and firms are looking for an edge, and for information. When are other firms going back to the office? Which customers are still growing? Will we be returning to the world as it was in 2019 or a totally new world where people spend more time working from home? Will people move out of cities? (the Independent had a good article on this) Has everything changed forever, or will our memories be short ? We swore off debt after the financial crisis and now there’s more debt than ever.

Interesting though, despite the uncertainty, this doesn’t seem to have affected global stock markets, which have made a remarkable recovery. Is this a result of the increased liquidity? Is this a sign that COVID is a blip? I’m no financial expert and so you will have to make your own mind up, but what stock markets have clearly shown is that the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) operate in their own world. With the exception of Alphabet (Google’s parent), all have reached historical highs (at the time of writing this article) as consumers and businesses have reached to their products to solve their pandemic challenges. Take these stocks out of the index and things don’t look quite so good.

Whether it’s Microsoft teams, Google Hangouts, or new kid on the block Zoom, we’ve realised the value of tech and have unleashed its full potential. I’ve heard tales of people who haven’t been to shops in months, but who have carried on shopping – online. Many firms have transitioned huge amounts of people to working from home almost overnight and whilst we feel people will go back to offices, we feel it will be less than before. The drop in the oil price has been interesting too. Clearly there was a mini-price war earlier in the year, but this was compounded by the fact we’re moving around less and so as well as putting pressure on the price of oil, it’s also putting pressure on traditional forms of marketing. Whilst the UK’s tv watching has gone through the roof, it looks like the subscription based channels have been the biggest winners. This move to digital had been going on for some time in the world of advertising, but COVID-19 has been a game changer and sped this up.

In the past, marketing was a bit of a “gut feel” industry, part science and part art, but just as leaders are looking for insight today on COVID, they’ve been looking for greater insight from their marketing activities for some time. They are keen to understand their potential clients better and to improve ROI – particularly as advertising budgets have been cut during the pandemic. Wasted advertising budget is a luxury of boom markets and a luxury nobody has at the moment.

Fram’s focus is on the financial services industry, and we’ve seen huge changes in how firms operate and employ digital marketing. The industry’s understanding of their client base and prospects is so much better and sales teams now are passed much better quality leads than ever before. Less wasted meetings and greater focus, in short sales teams have been made more efficient by high quality marketing, and the argument for marketing leading the sales function of firms is increasing.

There is also more demand on marketing teams too. Long gone are the days when a trade publication came out once a month and everyone placed an advert there. We’re not going to cities and so billboards and other traditional forms of marketing don’t seem attractive choices. They are static and whilst they can be effective, they are arguably slow to respond to the mood of the day. Whereas LinkedIn, Facebook, company and trade websites are being browsed 24/7 by prospective customers. I know with my own social media usage that an advert on LinkedIn may also appear on Facebook, but they may look and feel slightly different.

So marketing teams are being asked to produce huge amounts of content that’s fresh and engaging, that meets multiple demands and that ultimately delivers. In our experience, firms with strong marketing teams tend to win the battle and grow. Whilst financial services has been a low growth industry for some time, some firms have grown and a large part of this has been down to their marketing teams and their use of digital marketing. They’ve been on the front foot and haven’t just relied on the historical dividend their brand strength delivers. Therefore, whilst things will remain uncertain for some time, we believe that demand for those with digital marketing skills will be strong for the foreseeable future.

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