Flexibility, short-term strategies key to plotting recovery from pandemic

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Brands and marketers need to be hyper flexible and must plot multiple shorter-term strategies to plot their way through and out of the withering affects of the ongoing pandemic.

Even as marketing budgets get slashed to manage the downturn, brands need to prioritise their spending in these challenging times, by listening closely to forecasts and optimising spends in the right places. Speakers at the inaugural session of Campaign Connect in Asia all agreed that the pandemic had made the old marketing playbook redundant.

In a session on “an APAC view on lessons past and present,” panelists agreed that this wasn’t a regular blip in the market that would subside in a fixed length of time and result in a new normal. Instead, marketers can expect to operate for an indeterminate time in a state of flux. “The plan you have will change 50 times,” says Annette Male, CEO APAC, Wunderman Thompson. “There are things that are changing daily and out of your control.” Instead, in Asia itself, there are large markets such as China and India which are in different stages of lockdowns and opening up, which further complicate marketers’ strategies.

As marketers devise a revival strategy, their path forward can be tricky, because consumers tend to be cynical of brands trying to piggyback on this crisis. “Consumers can become cynical and spot brands that trying to benefit from a crisis,” says Leigh Terry, CEO of IPG Mediabrands. “For brands, the timing is crucial, you should not be seen as capitalising on a crisis.” During this pandemic, brands have pursued consumers in new ways and given extended lockdowns, there has been a sharp focus on the digital market. “Advertising has to be where people can actually buy,” says David Porter, VP of Global Media for Unilever. “The focus has been very much on keeping budgets flexible and keeping focus on areas of greatest effect.”    This pace of digital transformation, which was in its infancy in the last downturn over a decade ago, in 2009, has only gathered pace, Terry of IPG adds. “The digital landscape has evolved … there is a shift towards digital performance at scale not seen in the previous recession.” Male says that as marketers plot their recovery strategy, the tonality of their messaging will be important.

As economies slowly emerge from sweeping lockdowns, brands that will also begin to adopt warmer tones and even humour into their campaigns. Sectors such as tourism, travel and hospitality that went into their shell, will also think of new ways to engage with their audience—Thai Airways converted its loyalty program to reward members who stayed home at this time, rather than tried to catch a flight.

With confined audiences, the media market too has seen a significant change. “Audiences and expectation are changing and with lower attention spans, there is unique demand for media to deliver what they want and when they need it,” says Sunita Rajan, SVP, advertising, CNN. “What has been a trend (now), will last for a long time.”

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