Skip to content
8 min

What marketing looks like post COVID-19. Permanently.

by Kalev Peekna, Ryan Schulz July 6, 2020

There’s very little debate that the COVID-19 global pandemic has changed virtually every industry, probably permanently. Retail, education, agriculture, tourism, shipping/logistics, and entertainment all face very different and even uncertain futures. Marketing is out front when it comes to uncertainty across all industries. Buying behavior and consumption have made drastic turns in a very short amount of time, and many experts expect at least some of those behaviors to linger.

It’s important that we acknowledge the marketing landscape is forever changed with the global events of the last six months. Therefore, all organizations are faced today with these critical questions:

  • How do I reach my customers where they are now?
  • How does my product or service fit into their new world?
  • Is there anything new I should be doing or adding to my product or service as a result of the “new normal?”

These questions are relevant for the long-run, not just in the here-and-now. Marketers who can’t decisively answer these questions today need to figure it out, and quickly.

Here are four key areas that marketers need to consider when thinking about brand, product, and service experiences going forward:


Redefining the idea of “image” as the full experience you provide

The CPG competitive landscape will be very volatile and disruptive over the next few years. During this pandemic, consumers don’t always have the option for brand loyalty across many categories. If brand is measured by the difference in price that you can charge over competitors, how do you keep brand loyalists who are now “forced” to buy whatever brand of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc. they can find and afford?

Brand campaigns will have to redefine what “image” means, to account more for the experience of the product. Does it work? How useful is it? How practical is it? Does it noticeably improve my life? Consumers will have very little patience for talk if there’s nothing to back it up, and brands without a differentiated product experience will face severe price compression. Brands without a true story to tell will face stiffer competition than ever before.


Corporate responsibility will require action, not just money

People are paying attention to what businesses and brands are doing during the pandemic to help communities, and brands will be judged for community value more than ever. Furthermore, in the wake of recent events surrounding Black Lives Matter protests, brands are having to decide how to respond to monumental social issues in real time. However, statements made and dollars donated won’t be enough to elevate a brand’s reputation as a community leader. Companies will have to DO something—even those far removed from healthcare, retail, or other community connected industries.

Brands that are attempting to change the way they do business to have a positive impact on communities will see more gains than those who stay silent or act in expected ways. When it comes to COVID-19 responses, Jaguar Land Rover took the opportunity to leverage what its vehicles do best, and also help to solve a true need. During the launch season of its long-awaited Defender, the organization gave away new cars to non-profits, such as the British Red Cross and other organizations doing humanitarian work. Start thinking now about what your brand and organization can deliver to people—not just words and cash donations.


Delivery of consumer goods, not just packaging, will matter more than ever

The way we consume and shop for goods and services has been changing slowly over a number of years, but the pandemic greatly accelerated that trend. How brands deliver their goods—and the customer’s experience of that delivery—is now a primary concern for marketers. CPG companies should focus now on how to build the direct-to-consumer supply chain and what that experience looks like. Worry less about how you get good shelf placement during planogramming time and more about how you directly deliver to the customer.

Services companies—from dance studios to gyms, restaurants, and more—have had to twist themselves into pretzels to stay relevant during COVID-19, and some have successfully figured out how to turn their businesses into digital enterprises. That digital element won’t go away when we can get back to the gym, the salon, or the office. The winners will figure out how to pull that online experience together with the in-person experience most effectively so that it’s seamless. Those hybrid experiences will win customers’ hearts. Which leads perfectly into our next point.


Time to finally get digital right

It’s safe to say, the mobile/digital experience is finally fully in the spotlight. In many cases, digital is now even more important than brick-and-mortar. A website or app may never replicate the particulars of a brick-and-mortar experience, but it should deliver the same overall brand promise and value. It should be an experience that elevates, not just fulfills.

Whatever qualities you leverage to build into your physical experience—ease of use, premium design, fun, escape, etc.—need to be felt in digital, or else customers will quickly note the difference. Do you have a chatbot to help online customers find the right product when they can’t touch it or try it on? Are the online images of your products 3D, large enough, and descriptive? Can you support both the shoppers who know what they’re looking for, and those who might just be browsing?

Consumers aren’t going to have patience for unsophisticated brands. Every bad experience will be top-of-mind for the foreseeable future. Retailers—especially department stores, restaurants, and service businesses—will not survive long-term if they don’t up their digital game right now.

Finally, let’s take a look at how marketing organizations—both internally and at agencies—will have to change in this post-COVID-19 world.


Agencies: focus should shift to current customers, not new business

Agencies of all stripes, big and small, need to focus strongly on customer loyalty today. We challenge you to consider existing notions of how things are done and recommend that you closely reconsider how you respond to all RFPs. You need to become nimbler with smaller budgets and find new ways to show up for your current customers. Loyalty is more important now than ever before, and the agencies that focus on that over new business efforts will net out as winners over the next decade.


Corporate marketing organizations: get involved in everything and come armed with data

The marketing team, within both SMBs and large enterprises, will become more important than ever in the coming months and years and should be inserted into almost every conversation around the company. Marketers have long owned the “voice of the customer,” and, in periods of unpredictability, that information is more important than ever.

It’s critical that marketers work now to help shape the future success of the business as a whole, and the best way to do that is with data that points to where new investments are most likely to bear fruit. New highly disruptive businesses that we haven’t conceived yet—think of the next Uber or HelloFresh of the world—will appear out of nowhere over the next 12 months because of how the world operated during a global pandemic. Companies should be incorporating the marketing team NOW into sales, product development, IT, delivery strategy, services, etc. to ensure efficient investment and a cohesive brand and messaging plan for new products and technologies coming down the pike.


This article originally appeared in Target Marketing magazine and is being republished with permission.

Kalev Peekna
Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North. He brings a cross-platform, user-focused approach to innovations in brand development, design, data analysis and technology, and helps clients apply those innovations to their strategic aims.

If I were a vegetable: I would be broccoli. Because I have always wanted someone to call me “cruciferous.”

Most unusual job: Cocktail bartender at a Cabaret

Ryan Schulz
Managing Director, Chief Executive

Managing Director, Chief Executive at One North, Ryan is responsible for helping to shape and grow design solutions for clients. He works across practices to develop programs and capabilities that help clients fall in love with the future.

Key Takeaways
  1. Brand campaigns will have to redefine what “image” means, to account more for the experience of the product.
  2. Brands need to start thinking about what they can deliver to people and their communities—outside of just words and cash donations.
  3. The way we consume and shop for goods and services has been changing slowly over a number of years, but the pandemic has greatly accelerated that trend.
  4. The winners post-COVID will be those brands who can figure out how to seamlessly integrate their online experience with their in-person experience.
  5. Agencies of all stripes, big and small, need to focus on how they can show up in new ways for clients and encourage loyalty.
  6. Marketers have long owned the “voice of the customer,” and, in periods of unpredictability, that information is more important than ever.