“Many of us have been in the industry for a while. We’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing now. And we will likely never see anything like it again, at least as long as we’re alive. While we’re still here, we want to make a difference, because this world has changed and will need to change going forward. We believe that our industry can make a big difference.” ~Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer
Pritchard’s statement could be about the pandemic. It could be about the resulting fear, uncertainty, creativity and ingenuity. This quote could relate to the need for CMO to promote the shift to digital to augment in-person engagement. It could be about ongoing racial tension triggering protests and prompting brands to change their logos, reassess values and reevaluate business actions.
CMO are facing change on multiple fronts. Predicting it is impossible. Bracing for it is insufficient. Where does this leave CMO? What do you do when everything around you is changing?
CMO need keen ability to cut through clutter and focus on what is relevant right now. Relevance beats yesterday’s plans or tomorrow’s futile attempt to build long-term plans that are sure to change. What is relevant now is defined by:
- What is meaningful to stakeholders, not just shareholders
- How customers’ needs have shifted and the factors driving their behavior change
- What is authentic for your brand, because that is what will last beyond the current news cycle
Manage to Wall Street, but Remember Main Street
Delivering shareholder value matters. But CMO ability to deliver lasting value is based on the value of the brand. The value of the brand is tied to what it stands for in the hearts, minds and wallets of customers. Your business’ ability to meet the needs and expectations of its customers, even as they change, depends on corporate commitment and employee engagement. Employee engagement demands trust.
Instill trust in employees, customers and shareholders by striving for authentic alignment between brand messaging, company core values and business decisions. For example, in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought issues of diversity and inclusion to the forefront. Forty percent of consumers say that they expect brands to respond by enacting their own diversity initiatives.
Don’t merely use marketing to send a message of support for Black Lives Matter. Look inward, as Procter & Gamble is doing, to determine where your company needs to change to policies or leadership to make a demonstrable commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Don’t Just Build a Plan, Develop the Ability to Change Plans
If you had a rock solid plan for pipeline growth as you entered into 2020, yet that plan depended on a global salesforce and in-person interactions, you’re now incredibly vulnerable. This isn’t due to a failure to plan or inability to forecast what no one could have forecast. It is due to the dependency of your plan on a stable environment that no longer exists and your inability to change, quickly.
When everything around you is changing, focus on what matters most. In this example, what mattered was pipeline growth and marketing’s ability to pivot into available channels and tactics when traditional paths failed in order to continue to sustain or grow the pipeline. Develop the ability to deftly identify and cut loose what doesn’t matter. Resist the urge to hold tightly to the things in between.
CMO should still lead strategic planning, but the goal should be to develop adaptable plans by:
- Knowing what parts of your plan and resource allocation are fixed or flexible
- Increasing flexibility where possible, such as through more frequent review of media allocations
- Contingency planning for areas where you lack the ability to absorb change, such as leveraging contractors to augment staff
Identify or confirm a discrete set of objectives, understanding if those objectives have changed. Knowing what to prioritize and protect gives you the freedom to deprioritize marginal programs. Reiterating the objectives to you team reminds your team to focus on the outcome and gives them license to be creative in how they reach the outcome.
Manage Costs By Making Budget Shifts Not Cuts
The early part of 2020 was marked by cost cutting to preserve cashflow and prepare for recessionary conditions. While current CMO priorities include ongoing cost management, they also involve reinvestment in areas that are key for growth. The latter is, frankly, the hardest. Reinvestment means letting go of what was, imagining what could be and taking a chance on an uncertain future.
In some cases, this means spending to upskill talent by making that critical hire, shortly after laying off other employees. For others, this means spending on martech to improve the use of data while retiring tools your team wasn’t fully using. Many companies are doubling down on digital to quickly catch-up and keep pace with buying behavior, while that behavior is still subject to more change.
Future investments will require greater focus and discipline to avoid waste. But they will also take courage to pursue innovation amid continued market uncertainty, at times disrupting what was once core to your business to bet on what could be the next growth engine.
Enlist the Help of Others, Internally and Externally
Now is not the time to hunker down. Instead, it’s the time to find allies among your peers and be an ally to others. This is true across c-suite relationships. Adapt marketing strategies and resources in partnership with the CFO. This beats a cycle of trying to react to the latest round of restated budgets and revenue targets. If you need to upgrade technology or integrate systems, start by building a shared technology vision with the CIO or CTO. If the shift to digital is a priority, work toward this in collaboration with the CDO not siloed within marketing.
Nothing could have prepared us for all that has taken place in 2020. Yet, 2020 can prepare us to better handle what lies ahead.