Black Friday Sales taking place this month are taking their toll on Cairo’s e-commerce sites. The sales rash is contagious, not only to consumers, but also to marketers. The season is a win-win, where customers need to leverage this one-time opportunity to buy their needs at discounted prices, and merchants get to acquire customers and increase their brand visibility. With the COVID-19 situation, marketers face unprecedented challenges to pass a be-or-not-to-be test of their marketing capabilities. A recent study by Newscred highlighted two main challenges to marketers during Covid-19, but those that can be nevertheless used as opportunities.
The first challenge is managing shifting priorities and strategies. Brands that were planning participation in conferences or hosting trade shows had to quickly navigate with virtual events. The second major challenge is to reorganize budgets according to the new priorities. Virtual event creation became the number one budget priority for many companies, followed by web content, webinars, social media, blog content and video channels. Marketing agencies and freelancers have a greater chance to serve business with creative services and ideas.
To identify the “new normal” features taking place after COVID-19 is not an easy task to do, as these features are not limited only to fashionable masks, online ordering of grocery items or children being the backdrop in online meetings. Earlier this month, the AUC School of Business held its first marketing summit, moderated by Ibrahim Al Sahouly, assistant professor of marketing at AUC School of Business. The summit explored the marketing challenges and implications brought by COVID-19 and how to transcend them. Business Forward brings you highlights of the summit and the insights from various regional and global practitioners.
Making things work in challenging times
Changing customer sentiments during the past year has contributed largely to brand loyalty and perception. “The 4 Cs: crises, customers, content and channel, represent the main points that marketers need to consider to transcend COVID-19 implications,” says Tahir Rashid, senior lecturer of digital marketing at the Salfrod University School of Business.
Rashid explains that “marketers need to be aware of paradigm shifts in consumer choices’. Shoppers now need to use a mix of digital touchpoints along the buying journey on social media channels (LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube) to navigate possible difficulties. In addition, educational content on the COVID-19 virus facilitates engagement with customers to help them feel listened to and taken care of in the phase of the new normal creation.
One sector that has been deeply affected by COVID-19 is the tourism sector, for which the imposed lockdowns have frozen all activities. Todor Dyankov, lecturer at the University of Economics – Varna, highlighted the challenges faced by the tourism sectors worldwide during the pandemic. Global protocols issued special criteria systems that defined the “new normal safety standards”. They were adopted by several countries which served as a reliable basis to secure a safer, unified, standardized and developed tourism business. It helps potential travelers around the world to recognize locations that applied strict certain hygiene standards to protect them from possible COVID-19 infections. Marketers in the tourism business who work for hotels, airlines, restaurants and transportation companies used this global protocol to make customers more confident about the touristic sites they plan to visit. Local tourism in Bulgaria, for example, flourished in the recent months, as one of the countries identified as international “safety zones”.
Chemicals for Modern Building Group (CMB), a company that offers chemical solutions to construction and automotive products, was one of the summit participants with a successful experience during COVID-19. The company that usually sells its products through wholesalers, retailers and stores faced huge challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak. With a big drop in turnover, major logistics challenges, closure of warehouses and cancellation of major exhibitions in Egypt and abroad, Karim Mostafa, the business development manager of CMB mentioned that his company had to increase the budget for digital marketing activities. CMB worked on improving the customer services department, expanding the customer service personnel and learning more about customer needs. They also increased the number of videos explaining the process of installing CMB’s products – increasing paid adverts and initiating price competitions were the main strategies adopted by CMB.
Marmox France – a supplier of insulation boards, underfloor heating and waterproofing solutions – enforced flexible logistics strategies to make up for the physical distribution challenges arising for such a retailer-oriented company. Damien Dreher, president of Marmox, mentioned that the lockdown enabled opportunities to his company with more customers initiating home renovations, resulting in increased sales of Marmox’s products. Increased sales deals helped overcome the drop in the turnover percentage that was caused by the closure of several logistics warehouses and infections among staff.
Discussing how sales strategies have changed after COVID-19, Habiba Mokhtar, commercial sales manager of Petromin Corporation, shared how her company has achieved higher sales targets with the successful implementation of selling directly to end users. Petromin is a lubricants and automotive services company operating in lubricant oils, fuel retaining and car servicing industry. The company started to sell their products not to regional distributors or wholesalers only but it also reached directly to end users, capitalizing on their concern for family safety. Trade promotions and free gifts of face masks and alcohol sprays were distributed to the company’s customers reassuring their safety as a priority to Petromin.
Startups, just like corporations, also faced a number of challenges. Capitalizing on the opportunities of the huge demand for grocery shopping, for example, is a typical example of becoming adaptable to the post COVID-19 era. Avoiding to become emotional and establishing the willingness to change core operations is strategically sound to do in these tough times, according to Mohamed Bakry, founder and growth officer of 10Fold Innovations. 10Fold Innovations is a startup mentoring company offering exponential growth consulting to startups based on innovation strategies. According to Bakry, it is best to apply the concept of minimal viable product, entailing testing a usable version of a product with early customers and using feedback for future product development. Understanding the customer, how their habits have changed, and whether the marketing mix is still relevant, are all recommended strategies to apply innovation to marketing strategies.
How marketers can transcend the post COVID-19 phase
Agility is a keyword in COVID-19 marketing discussions. Ibrahim Hegazy, professor of marketing at the AUC School of Business, recommended four strategies to transcend new challenges.
First, marketers need to be agile and flexible to adapt to new changes. They need to reshape and redesign their marketing strategies to the so called “new normal”. Second, they need to enforce online presence on social media to understand the new consumer habits. The third strategy is to review the customer experience and adjust it to gain new clients and retain existing ones in the process of building the company’s brand. Finally, the fourth recommended strategy is to elevate the corporate responsibility role to benefit society, protect employees and maintain trust of all stakeholders during the pandemic.
As a matter of fact, COVID-19 is just an accelerator of the fourth industrial revolution. As Sherif Kamel, Dean of the AUC School of Business mentioned, digital transformation might have been viewed with skepticism, but it had saved the day in other ways. Information technology managers had been trying to push for large shifts in digital transformation until finally witnessing how COVID-19 achieved this in two short months. This acceleration of change can be observed in major directions from consumers towards online shopping, working from home and the increase of contactless digital payments. The concept of ‘physical distancing’ as opposed to ‘social distancing’ caused a boost in the numbers of e-wallets, credit cards and more digital payment solutions. Focusing on self-improvement and the well-being of the consumer became a priority to marketers during the pandemic. While digital migration took place in most institutions, an acceleration is still expected in the coming time. Adaptation and relevance are the keywords to transcend marketing challenges after COVID-19, according to Kamel.
Finally, sustainable development also comes up as an important pillar in brand building. Waleed Sadek, co-chair of the Sustainable Development Commission of the United Nations, discussed how marketers need to use the notion of using innovative technologies in fulfilling today’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations to build strong and valuable brands.
As the second wave of COVID-19 started so unsurprisingly quickly, it is up to marketers to make the best use of the lessons learned from the first wave. Doing business online, investing in digital marketing, and building customer relations, understanding new needs, and the new normal are the main strategies recommended for marketers to adopt during the current wave of COVID-19, and in the post-pandemic era.