Can marketers prepare for uncertain months ahead?
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Can marketers prepare for uncertain months ahead?

Change has been afoot since the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, but we may have yet to enter the most turbulent times. How prepared are marketers for what is to come? 

Back in the day, I was a Girl Guide. You don’t have to have had much of a relationship with the Scouting Association to know that their motto is ‘Be Prepared’. It’s something I’ve always had a haphazard relationship with. I’d remember the bandage but leave out the plasters, have the torch but forget the batteries sort of thing.

I wonder if there are many marketers who are Scouting alumni, and whether this is of any help to them today, during this mid-pandemic uncertainty.

We are entering what I feel could be the most precarious period of the pandemic for business. Lockdown has eased for many nations and with it much governmental support. Companies are once again on their own and at the mercy of market forces.

It is difficult enough to emerge from a sudden economic shock without the prospect of having another looming on the horizon. Barcelona, South Africa, parts of China and Leicester have already faced sudden re-lockdowns.

Businesses that had put weeks of effort into preparing to re-open found they had a scant few weeks of trade before having to shut up shop again. For the centre of Leicester, some didn’t even get the chance to open. The second time around there is little in the way of state safety net to protect jobs, replenish stock and keep rents up to date.

What is the marketers’ role in all of this?

For those in the South African wine trade, for example, it may be a question of looking to boosting export trade, given that a domestic alcohol ban is a key element of their lockdown. Marketers in the UK pub trade might be looking to repositioning the drinking experience, focusing communications and offers on pre-packaged beers.

Why? Cask ale has a short cellar life and a lockdown of more than 5 days could render a pub’s stock unsaleable. During the longer lockdown, a number of breweries pledged to replenish stock free of charge but I’d question if this is sustainable in the long term. Switching to bottled beers protects pubs against loss. Of course, there are also insurance products but again, we have seen many challenges in the insurance sector in dealing with Covid claims.

Marketers have a pivotal role right now. They need to keep their organisations up to date with the realm of what’s possible – how to switch to new services, what compromises might be needed to weather any sudden legislative changes. But they also need to work hard to manage consumer confidence.

They need to reassure customers that their experience will be positive, orders will be fulfilled, products of expected quality as well as joining the collective effort to boost the nation’s mood. While stories of imminent vaccine success are cheering, the prospect of McDonald’s and KFC re-opening their drive-throughs had an almost equal impact on public morale.

“It’s about the tonality,” explains The Wine Show’s Joe Fattorini who has been producing a mini-version of his TV series from his attic during lockdown. Having recently experienced redundancy from his role as head of the sales team at wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, although not pandemic-related, he has also had to adapt and seek out new opportunities.

“With nothing better to do and wanting to be reasonably altruistic, friends who were wine merchants saw supermarkets regularly drained of wine and no-one knew they were there. I found a podcast microphone, carted wine up to my attic and started talking for 20 minutes. Turns out there are some 950 independent wine merchants, all of whom would like some airtime.”

Since we spoke to Joe in early April 2020, as of July his attic wine show was still going strong. To read more about navigating the new normal and how brands have to stay on their toes to succeed, hear more from Joe in A New Work Order, in Issue 3 of Catalyst, out now.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones Editor Catalyst
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