The CMO’s viewpoint: Marketing during a pandemic is not business as usual

The CMO’s viewpoint: Marketing during a pandemic is not business as usual
Claire Trimble is the CMO of Lastline. Claire is a Silicon Valley native with over 25 years of sales, marketing, and business development experience across Fortune 500, mid-sized growth, and early stage start-ups, and spanning security, networking, cloud, and enterprise software solutions.

Organisations are struggling to adjust to the new reality of the Covid-19 pandemic. Revenue is being impacted in retail, travel and hospitality industries among others. Companies are figuring out how to keep the business moving while employees are adjusting to working from home. And cyber criminals are having a field day feasting on all of the disruption and uncertainty.

So, what does that mean for marketers? Do we simply carry on with our 2020 game plan? I believe that would not only be unwise from a business perspective, it could actually damage your brand if you’re perceived as being blind to the situation or unfazed by it. So, what changes? How do we as marketers adjust and adapt?

Events are one example

CMOs across industries have been debating the marketing investment allocation for events with their sales and finance counterparts for years. Sales teams love the big events and tradeshows while finance argues the value they actually bring. As much as CXOs love to see their company’s name in bright lights at these tradeshows, they never love seeing the invoice that follows.

My favorite argument in favor: “if we don’t sponsor this event, the market will think the company isn’t doing well.” However, and let me state this unequivocally: the cybersecurity market is one of the noisiest markets in the tech sector today. It is nearly impossible to walk the halls of the big security tradeshows and understand both the solutions being offered by companies and the unique value of those offerings. The phrase of the moment, whether it’s “digital trust,” “zero trust,” “XDR,” or another trending buzz phrase, further confuses the market when every vendor claims they do the same thing. So, the value of large events from the attendees’ perspective has to change if it’s practically impossible to find needed solutions among all of the clutter, noise, and homogenous messaging.

Industry veteran and stalwart Anton Chuvakin, formerly with Gartner and now with Google Cloud summarises this perfectly in his RSA 2020 reflection, leading with “if anybody cares”. The next question then becomes, “was the event worth it?” putting every CMO in just about every industry on the defensive.

With recent events front-and-center, one of the questions on every marketer’s mind is undoubtedly: will large tradeshows continue to deliver valuable face-to-face interactions? I think the answer is still to some degree a “yes”… but it may never be the same. Do customers, prospects, employees, media, analysts, and others really want to wander a facility with tens of thousands of others, have long face-to-face conversations, and share mice, keyboards, touch screens, pens, scanners, and other standard tools of the tradeshow trade?

Marketers in just about every industry are scrambling to cancel, postpone, or transition their in-person events to virtual ones. Which is precisely my point, that marketers can’t see marketing as business as usual. We have to change, to adapt to today’s reality.

Delivering value to customers is always relevant, even during a crisis

The way in which a company responds to a crisis like Covid-19, regardless of your industry, can have long lasting impact on a company’s brand. Hundreds of cybersecurity solution providers have hustled to communicate and market how their solution solves the increased risk better than any other security provider. Companies might offer a short-term or long-term donation of products, services, or expertise to help. It is critical to pause and think carefully about the intent, tone, and sensitivity in making offers in response to a crisis like Covid-19.

Companies should not “give to get” in a crisis nor should they blindly cold call into industries or contacts that are hurting. Depending on the industry, it might make the most sense to hit “pause” and redefine marketing goals. This doesn’t mean all marketing stops; it does mean that applying predicative analytics, valuable content, and experiences with a bit of common sense has never been so critical to success.

Reassess marketing goals and mix

As employees around the globe are working from home, this presents the perfect time to pull together the team virtually to redefine marketing goals. Understanding your audience and answering key questions: “can we help during this crisis?” “Do customers actually want to hear from us?” “If they do, how do they want to hear from us?” are all critical when deciding how to make your investments. If there is one constant in marketing it’s knowing your audience. Redistributing marketing budgets and mix allocations based on the answers to these questions will be the key to growth and success. Listen to your existing customer base. Leverage industry advisory councils. Integrate their feedback into your strategy to ensure the right investments are made and you strike the right chord with your messaging.

Digital marketing is at the forefront of every marketer’s mind right now as we question whether the event industry will ever be the same. We honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that for the near future saving outbound messages only for critical communications is important – the risk of being seen as insensitive or tone deaf is very real. At the same time, the ability to offer your audience valuable solutions, experiences, and the expertise that is required in the short-term will have a lasting impact on company brand. It’s a fine line we’re going to have to walk when it comes to messaging. Finally, if it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. Applying common sense during a crisis like Covid-19 has never been more important.

The long-term global impact of Covid-19 is not yet understood, and it may not be understood fully for years to come. With all of these things in mind, the next 12-24 months in the world of technology marketing is going to be unlike any challenge any of us have faced.

Photo by Aljoscha Laschgari on Unsplash

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person? Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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