In the latest episode of Marketers in Pyjamas, Jules Lund chats with marketing guru Mark Ritson on why marketers are failing during the current coronavirus crisis.
Speaking to Lund, Ritson said the marketing response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “bit dire”.
“We’ve seen so many marketing operations responding the same as everyone else. And second of all, communication that doesn’t help consumers right now. I think the mistake a lot of brands make is they think: here’s us and here’s the consumer, and we need to talk to that consumer.
“What they’re missing is that the consumer has nine million brands over here, this isn’t a one to one relationship. I think what you’ve seen is brands that have been caught short here are just doing generic comms at the consumer.”
On his thoughts on the impact on the Australian business industry, Ritson said there is no playbook and no set moves to get businesses out of these troubling times.
He said: “Some of them unfortunately, tragically, are going to go down because I don’t think this year is recoverable in any sense.
“That will be fatal for a huge number of companies, and we have to make a pause and take that in. The flip side of that sword is, it clears out a lot of companies, which, in a capitalist system is always unfortunately a good thing.
“So when you create a killing event like this, the remaining firms do have lots of green territory to focus on, and the nimble firms that are already starting to look at how to tweak and change to represent the new customer situation, are going to grow much quicker than the others.”
Ritson said Australia will see a “shake-up”, but that some companies will inevitably get “shaked out”. However, he said this will leave opportunities for companies still left.
Speaking on realistic marketing budgets during this period, Ritson said there will be “massive contraction.”
He added: “I think that the question is, can we have some marketing money left, please? That’s the realistic debate that’s going on right now. And I think it’s not about getting what was left over for the 2020 budget. It’s making sure it doesn’t become zero.”
And, on the importance of brand marketing during this time, Ritson said he likes to use the analogy of “keeping the branding light on”.
“It’s tempting to switch it off, deal with the short term or deal with nothing in some cases and just survive. That’s understandable. But when we come to the end of this – and we are going to come to the end of it, and it is a peculiar recession in that it’s not economic so it will bounce back to some degree – the brands that have kept investing, to some degree, in maintaining salience and what they stand for are going to hit the ground running.
“The biggest argument for a bit of money on branding is that one – when we return to growth, you can’t make up for this time. You may as well spend your money now, keeping the brand alive, then restarting it later for four or five times as much money to get the same growth.”
Ritson also said it’s a very important time for brands to keep making money
“There’s a sort of counter way here, which is, ‘we can be entrepreneurial, but only in helping hospitals. We shouldn’t be making money at a time like this.’
“That’s horseshit. The best thing any of us can do in the world of marketing is push as hard as we can to drive companies to generate value for customers because our economy is going to hurt badly. And one of the few advantages of marketing on a macro scale is we do get economies to work much better.
“If we all go to sleep at this point and don’t try to make a margin, and don’t try to help companies make a profit, things are going to be even worse than what COVID-19 is doing to us right now. We have a remit as well to be entrepreneurial, but not to be ashamed of making money from that entrepreneurial stuff.”