Challenges and opportunities facing marketers during the Covid-19 crisis
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Challenges and opportunities facing marketers during the Covid-19 crisis

Challenges and opportunities facing marketers during the Covid-19 crisis

Marketers plan with painstaking detail, and in these unpredictable times, flexibility and caution must be exercised

Gulf Business

What a year it has been! Hopefully a year that was more forgettable than memorable with all the Zoom fatigue, masked faces, worried eyes, one-size-fits-nobody sweaty gloves, working barefoot, home schooling, and children asking for parents to ‘take photos of the shopping mall’ as if it were a rare sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.

General life inconvenience aside though, where then does this unprecedented situation leave business, and more specifically the future-focussed marketer? Through a series of established marketing and management models (that take into account the environment, planning and marketing mix) which are applied to the contemporary marketing context, we can now unpack emergent practice, identify sectors that have fared well, as well as those that have suffered, and finally suggest key survival skills required by marketers and professionals alike in this brave new post-Covid-19 world.

The business environment where marketers currently find themselves has revolved at an alarming pace. In recent months the world has seen radical change and challenge in the political sphere; and the amount of time and resources spent on this and its media coverage is staggering. The economic status of the world is dire to say the least, with some industries all but collapsing under the strain.

The way in which the species socialises has devolved to a state where, with nascent technology, humanity can exist (not necessarily live) in an air-conditioned cell where work, provisions and entertainment can be delivered with the use of one finger, one eye and a limited (human) memory. Ecology is paramount in this current situation where advocates of the great re-boot could argue that contracted industry and its concomitant reduction in emissions are simply nature’s way of enforcing equilibrium. Legally, marketers, businesses and individuals see the rules and goalposts change daily; and rely on news alerts and WhatsApp groups to remain up to date.

Marketers plan with painstaking detail, and in these unpredictable times, flexibility and caution must be exercised. Businesses have to set up smart and constantly ‘updated due to Covid-19’ objectives. These then lead to strategy, or the long-term plan and resultant tactics, or the shorter-term plan.

Action, or to be exact – the who, what, where, when and why of marketing – as well as control or measurement, completes the cycle. Pandemial marketers will constantly have to review and update targets, operations and milestones.

The marketing mix integrates to form a deliverable to the marketplace. The product in recent months has become either what is digital, or what is essential and can be delivered to the door. The place, in line with this, has become the online marketspace and the price is what the customer will pay for this convenience in relation to the competition. Promotion has had to digitalise and deploy any means that can reach, convince and lock-in the individual, wherever they may be – usually online and at home.

The soft Ps of: People, that have increasingly become either robots or call centre staff; Process, once again digital in total lock-down, and Physical evidence or the ambiance (the feel, smell, touch, sounds and sights of the traditional store) have had to be adapted to the less sensory online experience to maximise effect.

The market sectors that have done well in the pandemic include technology, as all transactions have been ultimately driven by this, streaming services where entertainment seekers can experience from home rather than going out and delivery services, in all of their manifestations. One strong initiative during lockdown was the demand for home fitness, in an increased sedentary lockdown lifestyle, and some gyms took the pre-emptive initiative of renting out treadmills and other pieces of training equipment during gym closure.

With individuals missing company, markets also saw an upsurge in furry friends and pet supplies during the pandemic.

Marketing for travel and tourism has been decimated and the rise of virtual tourism and staycations has gone some way to balance this out. Small business has been hard hit, with restaurants depending even more on home delivery. Business attire has been in less demand with anecdotal evidence of professionals working from home in their pyjamas and then putting a business shirt or jacket on for Zoom meetings. Real estate too, already creaking under the strains of over-supply, has found it hard in these times of economic uncertainty and low consumer confidence.

What a bleak picture then? But we, as marketers and business professionals, must do what Gloria Gaynor champions, and survive. To accomplish this, we need versatility and adaptability in thinking of new ways to get the job done remotely, and look on the bright side of working from home – the drive to work is fantastic!

The very need for motivation, whether it be to get out of bed or off the sofa is paramount, not only for the individual but for the teams we run and the stakeholders we engage with.

The requirement of self-direction, focus and work/life balance is essential; by working from home, we never go to work, but we never leave work as it is always there in the home office or corner of the room; and as the Eagles once said, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.

With families confined in small spaces, and colleagues and clients in similar or worse situations, there is a real need for empathy and an understanding or tolerance related to the challenging times we face. Digital capabilities, communication management and the very notion of life-long learning have really come to the fore with three or more meeting platforms being used in a single virtual-day.

In short then, the way in which marketing is conducted has had to change, and change it has. A move towards digitalisation that was already happening before the pandemic has by necessity become the mother of invention. Will things ever get back to the way they were? Almost certainly not; and as marketers and business professionals we must embrace the learning and challenges if we are to emerge phoenix-like from the ashes of the old pre-Covid-19 world.

Dr Alun Epps is the programme director, MSc International Business at the University of Birmingham Dubai

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