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What did top CMOs do differently during the Pandemic?

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

That’s the question many of us asked ourselves whilst we were stuck in lockdown watching our annual forecasts take a nose-dive.

What would the CMOs of blue-chip companies be doing differently right now? Would they have seen this coming and planned ahead? Did they throw out their plans and start again or was there some incredible / lateral /out-of-the-box strategy that they developed in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

These are the insights our team sought out in our latest original series “Marketing in the Time of Covid”, released on YouTube this week. The series interviews prominent CMOs from the tech, food and healthcare industry about the challenges and opportunities they found during the pandemic.

The one consistent theme across all the interviews was that no one saw this coming. No one was prepared on day one. But the most successful companies had CMOs who recovered quickly, threw out the rule book and adapted to their new environment.

We noticed this ourselves when marketing Citron Violet during 2020. We thought we understood our market. We knew our audiences and what they wanted. But suddenly they didn’t want the same things from us. Unsurprisingly, large scale productions to create glossy TV or web advertisements were no longer something our clients could consider.

I admit, it left me reeling for a few weeks. Our services seemed to no longer be relevant, and I had no idea what value we could still offer in the middle of a pandemic.

I had to go back to basics, talking to our clients to see how we could support them. What I found was that our clients were facing the exact same challenges with their consumers.

They needed to understand just what had changed. How would consumers behave differently and how could they best help them?

No one knew for sure – which is why companies like Kerry Foods responded by moving their marketing budget to research. Kerry, who are a go-to source for consumer food and drink trends, realized that many things will never be the same again. The pandemic changed us, it changed what we value and that has far reaching consequences for every industry.

As a marketer, you know you have to sell your product regardless of the economic climate but somehow during Covid, overt selling seemed obscene. We were lucky enough to be in Singapore where filming was only shut down for 2 months of 2020. But when the whole world is struggling, pushing brands to create content for the usual channels was completely inappropriate.

It wasn’t time to be a marketer – it was time to be a human being first. As the CMO of Citrix put it “It was a time to “solve” not “sell””. So instead, we turned our cameras onto the companies who found innovative ways to move forward despite their markets falling apart.

Companies like Dole quickly embraced the need to be a human first and a company second. The pandemic changed consumer expectations of companies. They’re looking for integrity, honesty and brands with a purpose beyond profits. With this in mind, Dole moved most of their 2020 marketing budget to celebrate front line workers and supply nutritious care packages to those in need throughout the region.

Every single company we interviewed said that being in Singapore, where infrastructure is excellent and the government provided strict but clear guidelines; made it easier to operate and ultimately recover from the lockdown period.

During lockdown itself, we spent a lot of time thinking. Reviewing our business model, the type of company we wanted to be and the type of clients we wanted to work with. How could we come out of this, not just stronger but better human beings?

This was another common thread amongst our interviewees. Taking the time to pause, think, strategize and plan. Element AI used the time to reframe their work through the lens of sustainability. How could they bring sustainability to the centre of everything they do? It’s a deep thinking exercise they might not have had time for had it not been for the pandemic.

Regardless of the sector, 2020 was a make-or-break year for all marketers. It’s a time-capsule moment that we can learn from to make certain we respond faster and more effectively during the next global crisis.

About the Series

Marketing in the Time of Covid features interviews from CMOs and MDs at prominent companies including Dole, Citrix, Kerry Foods, and Element AI. It also seeks the viewpoint of sector experts like Edelman Health, food industry lobby group; Asia Food Industry and Bud Communications, a PR firm specializing in the tech industry.

It’s currently available on Citron Violet’s YouTube Channel.

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