Marketing and COVID-19

Johannesburg, 16 Sep 2021
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Renschi Marais, Head of Marketing at Altron Managed Services.
Renschi Marais, Head of Marketing at Altron Managed Services.

Two key trends have impacted marketing during the COVID-19-associated lockdown, and these are expected to shape the face of marketing for years to come, says Renschi Marais, Head of Marketing at Altron Managed Services. They are the impact that technology has had on the way that marketing operates in a locked down world, and a dispersed target audience with people working from home.

All businesses have had to adopt digital over the past year and the marketing division is no exception. “One big change is that we’ve had to move from holding physical events to webinars. With digitalisation, everything has switched over to digital. This has also driven the adoption of e-commerce. People want the convenience and safety of doing most things online. 

South Africa’s e-commerce journey is lagging behind that of other countries, where it’s pretty much well entrenched in organisation’s business models, says Marais. COVID-19 forced local businesses to digitally transform in a matter of weeks, when they may have previously struggled for years to transform. Lockdown necessitated digital transformation as a matter of survival.

By this stage, most companies have e-commerce platforms in place. The trick is to find a way to stand out from the crowd and appear in prospective customers’ search results. This is where search engine optimisation (SEO), marketing automation and omnichannel comes into play, says Marais.

“Growth in the use of SEO, marketing automation and omnichannel has accompanied the e-commerce boom. Businesses are investing in SEO because their marketplace has moved from a brick and mortar presence to a virtual one and they realise that they need to rank higher than the opposition. As a result, out of home (outdoor) advertising spend has probably been reduced as marketing departments allocate more budget to digital promotions.”

Marketers also had to re-evaluate the way in which they engaged with their internal audience: the company’s employees. “While working remotely, the marketing team had to find new ways to increase engagement with a remote workforce. They’re unable to see posters and notices placed around the office building, so different platforms are needed to convey these messages,” says Marais, who advocates using multiple platforms to reach employees.

A key focus on customer experience (CX), user experience (UX) and the customer journey are all essential elements that can set your business apart from the competition. Not only do you need to establish e-commerce platforms, you also need to address CX and UX across all of the different touch points across all of the channels used in the marketing mix.

The challenge is to connect with people at a human level. During the pandemic, the social connection has been lost, people are struggling because social interaction is limited. This brings forth social issues that also needs to be addressed. “You need to humanise communications. Video storytelling helps connect with people’s hearts and minds, and that’s what people need to cope with their current reality. It’s key to connect with the human side of people. This requires a shift from selling product and approaching it from a human perspective.”

However, cautions Marais, some things are difficult to recreate on online platforms. She cites the example of creating a mindmap on a whiteboard. “While technology on online meeting platforms does, to some extent, permit this type of activity, it still can’t completely replace human interaction.”

The pandemic has forced everyone to adapt to using different technology, while also highlighting that it’s possible to work remotely and that you don’t have to be in the same geographical space to deliver solid marketing work. This meant that marketers had to remain resilient and up to date with the latest technology. They had to rethink and realign not only their brand’s purpose, but also the way they communicate both internally and externally.

It’s also placed more emphasis on the fact that marketing initiatives need to be sensitive to people who may be struggling with the current situation. Now, more than ever, it’s vital to deliver on company values from a marketing point of view.

Marais says that with all industries keeping an eye on budget across all divisions, marketing initiatives really have to deliver on ROI. “Fortunately, online marketing is often more cost-effective than other types of marketing, but we really need to consider where budget is spent.”

Marais says she believes these shifts will shape the manner in which marketing is done for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think we ever will go back to how we used to be, marketing teams need to get used to targeting an audience that’s both office-bound and work-from-home – the new hybrid way of work. Businesses are so invested in the remote workforce that they’re creating their own chat applications so they can interact with their staff. I do believe this will be the future of internal communication.”

She concludes: “Marketers have had to become resilient, leading by example within the business. Marketing has to fly the flag of hope and be ambassadors for the brand. It’s vital to be empathetic and show people you understand their journey. And while technology connects us and allows us to work remotely, we must remember to touch base as humans regularly.”

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