A new survey of nearly 300 top marketers at for-profit US companies reveals how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the landscape for marketing organizations across a range of industries. Among the findings: because of the total collapse of in-person marketing engagement due to the lockdowns, consumers are now significantly more open to new digital experiences and offerings from companies, more receptive to companies’ efforts to promote social good, and more deliberate in their consideration, purchasing, feedback and loyalty behaviour. These changes have led to broader shifts in marketing tactics and investments within departments as leadership scrambles to adapt to a new and uncertain future.
The most recent results of the CMO Survey, produced by Deloitte, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and the American Marketing Association from data collected in May, shed light on how the coronavirus crisis has impacted the marketing strategy of top brands.
“The economic and social disruptions caused by the virus will continue for many months and a ‘new normal’ for business seems likely in the long run,” wrote Christine Moorman, T. Austin Finch Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Founder and Director of the CMO Survey. “As a profession, business function, and organizational activity, marketing sits at the centre of corporate responses to these challenges as companies shift their go-to market activities.”
Among the key findings:
- Customers prioritize trusted relationships. The highest percentage of marketers surveyed expect customers to focus more on “trusting relationships” with brands and companies than on low price, despite the economic downturn. 79% of CMOs believe customers are paying closer attention to the social activism, outreach and investments of companies during than pandemic, and will reward brands that represent their values with greater loyalty in the long run.
- Online and digital are essential. According to the survey, online sales have grown 43% between February and May 2020, accounting for 19.3% of all sales (and a whopping 26.1% of sales at companies with fewer than 500 employees). The necessity of doing business online has made consumers significantly more open to digital offerings and experiences – a shift that marketing execs believe will persist even after the pandemic recedes. This suggests digital marketing efforts will command a greater share of total marketing spending moving forward, even if overall marketing budgets shrink 8-10% next year, as many of those surveyed expect.
- Social media is a critical brand-building tool. As marketers prioritize building brand trust and loyalty to attract and retain customers, companies are increasingly using social platforms as an important engagement tool. 84% of respondents report using social media for brand building and more than 54% have used it for customer retention during the pandemic. That’s reflected in a 74% increase in social media budgets since February – a jump from 12.3% to 23.2% of total marketing spend. That reflects an important shift in the perception of value of social media among marketing leaders, reversing a sceptical trend that’s persisted for the past few years.
- Improvisation and resourcefulness will lead to success. The COVID-19 crisis caught everyone by surprise, including marketers. The economic havoc has already resulted in a 9% reduction in marketing jobs with more likely to follow, suggesting departments will have to do more with less. The pandemic also drove home the importance of agility and resilience in the face of unforeseen events. Most marketers in the survey considered themselves and their organizations unprepared for the events that transpired and expect to invest more in training to develop improvisational (pivoting) skills, creative thinking, innovation and managing uncertainty within their workforce.
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