Navigating Pandemic Paralysis

Navigating Pandemic Paralysis
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In this guest post, Dan Hojnik (main photo), head of strategy and planning at Involved Media, says marketers and agencies need to embrace change in this confusing COVID world, adding traditional strategy planning needs to change…

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the worst thing marketers can do is be paralysed into doing nothing at all. This statement is especially true during a challenging economic climate.

During every recent recession, brands who held strong and invested in marketing when times were tough came out far better off than those that did not. Those who decreased investment to zero struggled, while those who sustained investment or even maintained it at lower levels were nine times more likely to see a quicker recovery (source: Kantar Brand Z Report 2018). Yet despite this, many of us agency folk have had recent conversations with our client partners who have decided to completely pull back on any marketing investment. A lot of marketing has been paralysed by the pandemic.

Although we are seeing some green shoots of recovery, the pandemic is not going away as soon as anyone would hope. We must adapt to effectively plan during these uncertain times, quickly pivoting as and when needed. Another outbreak could be around the corner and even if it is not, we need to have an approach in place which allows us to effectively navigate the paralysis.

There are three things we need to accept:

  1. Times have changed and they are not changing back. COVID shifted our base needs as a species. People expect more on their own terms and their media consumption and consumer behaviour is more unpredictable than ever. The recent Deloitte Media Consumer Survey 2020 highlights a new hierarchy of needs post the start of COVID-19. For example, people are replacing entertainment experiences in the real-world with multiple video content subscriptions across a growing SVOD landscape. With this unpredictability comes a necessity to understand more about people’s behaviour, what is working and what is not, in real time, and then adapt accordingly.
  1. Marketing effectiveness needs hard and fast indicators. Linear in-channel performance is great for understanding efficiency but too shallow and siloed for effectiveness indication. Longer-term, market share reporting or media mix modelling is too laborious. By the time information comes to light, it is often too late to make the necessary strategic adjustments. We need real-time measures which allow us to balance efficiency and effectiveness in the short-term to adapt to the uncertain market. Looking at metrics such as “brand interest” or “share of search” alongside in-channel performance metrics can give a more balanced view and one that is geared to understand when and where communications strategy needs to pivot. However, we also need to have access to the right information in real time so that informed decisions can be made quickly.
  2. Communications strategy cannot be an annual “set and forget” exercise. Annual strategic responses are not enough for effective communications strategy today. Clients and their agencies need to regularly challenge each other on strategy, not once a year. When it comes to communications profitability, the gains we can make from media are far greater when we can leverage communications synergy, that is, all channels working together to become greater than the sum of their parts. But this approach must be rooted in understanding effectiveness quickly so that we can do more of what is working and less of what is not. Agencies and their planners cannot be too precious, and neither can their media trading counterparts. Something that was a great strategy yesterday might not be the right thing to do today. They must listen, understand and act based on the flow of data and insight to evolve as required and deliver more effective communications strategy for brands.

Navigating pandemic paralysis with “involved planning”

The concept of “involved planning” was built to help brands navigate a brave new world. The process of planning today must be a constantly evolving strategic communications model; strategy at its heart, with a dynamic feed of insight to inform agility in trading. At no point do we stop asking why something is working or why it is not. This ensures rich insight is consistently unearthed and implemented into an evolving communications approach.

To do this, the right measurement methodologies must be in place, ensuring information provides a clear evolution for strategy. However, there is no one-size-fits-all marketing effectiveness solution. Therefore, agencies and their brands need to set clear KPIs for their activity, balancing a short and long-term view of efficiency and effectiveness. Only with a dynamic approach to communications strategy, underpinned with a robust measurement framework to understand marketing effectiveness, can brands truly navigate pandemic paralysis now and in the future.

We are an adaptive bunch; this isn’t the first challenge the marketing industry (and humanity) has faced, and it won’t be the last. If we must accept and learn anything from this pandemic let it be this: clients and their agencies must be willing to accept what was true yesterday may no longer be true today, and that we must understand what has changed so we can evolve accordingly.

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Dan Hojnik Involved Media

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