The government’s further easement of lockdown on the 23rd of June has been a welcome announcement for business. For many of us, the last three months have felt like a mad, nightmarish Hokey Cokey… we’re in lockdown, the key workers are out of lockdown, then some of our children are back to school, and then the government turns around and most children are not going back until September.
With swathes of the population in turmoil and most areas of the economy at a standstill, getting back to business can feel insensitive. However, as numerous publications are reporting, the implications of lockdown are likely to have been as harmful as the virus itself.
As we move forward, we’ve had to consider that something else also happened during the lockdown. Our attention was directed, with laser-like focus, to consciously consider which services and products are truly valuable and essential to our lives. In this vein, let us try to take a step back for a moment and have an objective look at how this has affected the marketing sector.
As hard as it is to discuss, many companies have been fighting for their existence. Fundamentally, whether we are conscious of it or not, we are seeing something equivalent to the 2010 Coalitions’ ‘pruning back’ to allow for new shoots of growth.
What has this got to do with Marketing?
It is our belief that this has filtered into marketing campaigns. While criticised as unoriginal by some of the most innovative marketers, companies using the ‘we’re all in this together’ tagline as a marketing tool sent out the alert. Many of us will associate the tagline with David Cameron’s speeches and his government’s handling of the recession which arose from the 2008 financial crash. Whether the tagline originated from High School Musical, the movie Brazil or elsewhere (if you know its origins, please do share), it sends a very particular and effective message when used in the context of lockdown because it resonates on an associative level. It reminds us; we are in crisis and we need to remember the lessons we learned. And while the phrase certainly seems outdated when we consider that lockdown has highlighted the extent of the wealth gap, it has been very effective in not only highlighting this but also signaling that it is time to take cover, help each other as best we can and prepare for what is to come.
Where have we seen marketing campaigns showing that their companies add value?
When the full extent of the damage is uncovered, it is likely that we will be looking at a smaller economy, less disposable income, and higher prices.
Consumers may splurge through the initial relief of relaxed lockdown. But once they tighten their belts again, brand competition over the items and services which proved to be ‘non-essential’ will be high. Consumers will also remember which companies treated their employees well and appeared to add value through their contributions during the pandemic.
The companies that are perceived to have responded well are those who have been quick to realise this. They have positioned themselves early by ensuring that their campaigns demonstrate how they ‘add value’ and have also taken up cause marketing.
Companies such as Pret, Uber Eats, and other food businesses offered free items and discounts to NHS staff, adapted deliveries to ensure contact-free service and adhered to the former 2-meter rule. Manufacturers repurposed to produce ventilators and hand sanitizers.
SMEs, particularly those in food production, found themselves with excess produce and quickly redirected their supplies to their local areas when supermarkets were unable to meet demand. Their marketing throughout this was efficient and demonstrated their value and cause.
Our own clients have been doing some amazing work too. GFC recently launched their 24-hour virtual summit which enabled 50 markets across the world to come together.
Impressively, Informa launched its FasterForward programme in 2019 (pg 4 and 7, Informa sustainability report). It is a brilliant example of bringing sustainability and cause marketing together to improve their business. They aim to be net-zero carbon and waste by 2030 and fully deserve recognition for leading the way in supporting the UN’s sustainable development goals. Furthermore, they have also launched their AllInforma Rainbow Community. We love that this is a community set up within the organisation to support their LGBTQIA+ members and celebrate Pride. In support of Pride, their teams across the world held events to raise donations for charities such as their local LGBTIA+ Homeless charity (pg. 22, Informa sustainability report). Do read Informa’s sustainability report for the full information as they really are ensuring that these goals permeate through their entire business and marketing strategies.
What can you do to add value?
If you have been one of the companies to respond quickly, thank you. If you are a company that has just started to think about how to adapt your marketing, it is important to consider if cause marketing is right for you at this time. Of course, we all need to get through this but if the motivation is self-interest, consumers will soon see through this. A 2009 study demonstrated that cause marketing is only really effective if it is a part of a corporate responsibility initiative rooted in social and environmental responsibility like Informa’s. While small to medium-sized businesses might not be able to go all-in, there are other steps you can take such as:
Partnering with a not-for-profit organisation
Adapting your company culture to encourage sustainable initiatives – maybe the cycle to work scheme if you haven’t already
Updating your diversity and inclusivity policy to ensure support networks among work peers
Improve customer service
Discount selected services or offerings
Preparing your marketing team for the new normal
As countries around the world lifted their lockdowns, the WHO announced that it was time to prepare not to celebrate. This is because there may well be the second wave of Covid-19. Now that the UK has further lifted the lockdown, it is definitely time to prepare. While it is absolutely vital that we all have robust hygiene measures in place, we must also ensure that our marketing strategies are robust too.