Facing COVID-19: A practical guide for CMOs to navigate business continuity

Nicolas Algoedt

Mar 24, 2020

Facing COVID-19: A practical guide for CMOs to navigate business continuity Featured Image
Nicolas Algoedt

Mar 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is tightening its grip on the world and is spreading rapidly. With new updates flying in every minute, many businesses are unsure of what steps to take to mitigate risks, protect employees and support customers. 

The impact of COVID-19 is also taking a profound and serious toll on the global economy that has pushed global policymakers to explore effective ways to respond. As the global cases are increasing at an alarming pace, many countries have taken serious measures of going into complete lockdown. Leaders across the globe are working towards devising a stimulus package worth billions of dollars that will aid people for survival and to ensure business continuity during this pandemic. While there are industries that are experiencing losses, there are also businesses that are seeing a surge in traffic. Many offline businesses had to cease their brick and mortar operations. As a result, quarantined users started relying heavily on delivery services and online shopping behaviors are changing. 

On the bright side, China has successfully managed to reduce the number of cases and are now resuming their business operations. Businesses will be on the lookout for learnings from China on how to bring business operations back to normal.

According to Google, since the first week of February, search interest in coronavirus has increased almost by +260% globally. While the spikes in google search trends are common during any kind of events of this scale, there has also been a massive surge in traffic for related products and topics that are in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last couple of months, consumers have grown increasingly concerned about the COVID-19 crisis. Store shelves both online and offline are depleted of daily essential goods like toiletries, hand wash, hand sanitizer, and a few other daily essentials. As the news of COVID-19 being a pandemic spread, we saw how people responded by stocking up. And during the social distancing period, people’s shopping behavior changed from bulk-buying to online shopping. It has also changed what people are shopping for, when, and how.

While the company CEOs are taking necessary steps to ensure safety to their employees, it also becomes imperative that you as a CMO to incorporate certain actions that will ensure business continuity during the COVID-19 crisis.

Table of Contents
  1. How to handle COVID-19

  2. Before You Go…

How to handle COVID-19 

As a CMO, you could not have anticipated the magnitude and the threshold of problems and its severe consequences that come with such black swan events. But, you can take action to minimize the problems and protect your brand reputation and customer relationships.

Here’s a series of recommended actions that you can leverage as a CMO and act upon to ensure business continuity:

We have categorized these actions into three phases:

  1. Preparing and Scaling Your Team
  2. Building Long Term Relationship with Customers
  3. Foolproofing Your Business

Preparing and Scaling Your Team

It is very crucial to train your team during the COVID-19 crisis as this will set the tone for your marketing for the next quarter. Leverage these recommendations to prepare a workflow that will help you prepare and scale your team in no time.

Establish Remote Working Environment and Set-Up Processes

In order to safeguard the employees, companies are adopting to work from home. For teams that are already remote, it will be easy but for teams that aren’t, it might be a bigger challenge. As a leader, you are responsible for establishing operations, processes, and procedures that will make the remote working transition easier.

For example, here’s a process workflow:

  • Decide on working hours
  • Make micro teams if your team count is more than 20 to be more agile
  • Identify team leads who will report to you every day on daily marketing tasks
  • Create a marketing plan and a calendar so that everyone remains aligned
  • Decide on a remote working stack
  • Review and finalize your marketing stack
  • Be clear on what each team member is responsible for, and brief their tasks and responsibilities
  • Create workflows to ease decision making
  • Decide on a weekly review cycle of the overall marketing performance

It is also crucial to ensure your team that you will support them and be there for them when they need your guidance both professionally and personally.

Building Long Term Relationship With Customers

Customers are bound to get anxious during these circumstances and it is crucial to ensure that the business caters to their needs and maintains steady communication with customers. Use these recommendations to sustain a long term relationship with your customers.

Analyze Customer Trends, Online Shopping Behavior and Adapt Your Strategies  

Customers are trying hard to adapt to the changes that your business is making in accordance with the government policies. Concentrate on social listening since the needs of your customers might change in the coming months. 

Along with social listening, come up with a process that will help you obtain customer feedback and a taste of how their shopping needs and online behavior is shifting. Also, maintain a streamline of communication with your sales team and customer success team since they are mostly on the ground and are in touch with prospective customers and existing partners. 

This will help you in analyzing customer psychology and their needs to implement customer-need driven marketing initiatives.

Extend Your Support to Customers by Empathizing With Their Needs

Your customers are looking for constant support and empathy from the brands they trust during this time.

Create an external communication narrative on how your company is empathizing with your customers and is ready to help them during these uncertain times. Share this narrative with your internal stakeholders—HR, Sales Team, Customer Success and Finance—so they can relay this to their respective customers and partners.

Educate Your Customers About the Pandemic and Help Them Stay Safe

While the governments are taking measures to spread awareness about COVID-19, as a brand it shows that you care about your customers and prospects when you educate them about COVID-19 and encourage them to stay home and stay safe.

Develop a personalized omnichannel marketing plan and communicate with your customers on steps to avoid contracting COVID-19. This will strengthen the relationship with your customers, build trust and similarly show that you care for their safety and well being.  

Communicate Your Operational Changes to Customers

One cannot guarantee the uncertainty of business operations during this period, but you can communicate your operational changes to customers clearly so that it doesn’t come across as a shock when they are anticipating a response from you.

Put a communication strategy for COVID-19 related operations in place to communicate any uncertain changes affecting your business such as order cancellations, delays in delivery or even indefinite cease of business operations.

Extend your plan of communication to external constituencies including vendors, strategic partners, relevant government agencies, and members of the media.

Equipping Your Team to Foolproof Your Business

As it is not possible to know when the lockdowns are going to end, it is critical to establish a plan that will ensure business continuity. Foolproof your marketing plan with the following actions. 

Prepare Q2 Marketing Plan from Q1 Learnings

Almost all businesses across the globe have seen an unexpected turn of events. For the marketing teams Q1 plan might not have been effective but the learnings are crucial for you to come up with an effective Q2 plan. 

  • Evaluate your Q1 marketing plan and identify how much has changed due to the COVID-19 crisis and come up with a foolproof Q2 plan that will help in positioning and messaging for your brand, and media strategy that got affected due to this event.
  • Reassess your Q2 plan on how it will impact your marketing contribution and review best practices with your team. 
  • Prepare your weekly and monthly marketing calendar to streamline tasks and communications across your team.
  • Measure your marketing budget and identify how much of your planned budget is committed vs. reserved. 
  • Decide on how much you will spend on ad campaigns, awareness campaigns, online events, new tools etc.
  • Identify the events that you’ve paid in advance and see if you can recover the costs to add to your relocation budget. You can check it with a moving cost calculator.

Prepare Your Team For Contingency

In this challenging period. It is important to come up with a plan B that will support your team in case your plan A doesn’t work or is not effective.

Brief your team about plan B, how and when to recalibrate the marketing plan. Be it messaging, ads, events, promotions or social media campaigns, all your activities need to be monitored and measured rigorously and change with the trend.

Also, prepare your team on crisis management and the actions that need to be taken to mitigate the risk. Customers turn towards their trusted brands and their leaders to see how they react to situations like these.

Prepare Your Social Media Team to Anticipate Rise in Online Interactions

If there has been an increase during coronavirus in anything other than stockpiling of toilet papers, hand washes, sanitizers and masks, it is the sheer volume of social media interactions about COVID-19. A rise in real-time interactions between your brand and your customers should be foreseen and your team should be ready to respond. 

Prepare your social media team for a reactive and proactive response that is in line with the current situation of COVID-19 and is supported factually. Develop a one-to-one interaction strategy to handle customer concerns and queries effectively. Your entire team should be equipped to address the situation and support your social media efforts during high volume interactions.

Before You Go…

COVID-19 is tough and we all are living in an unavoidable flux.

Your customers are trying their best to adapt to these strange times without a lot of footholds and adjusting their shopping behavior as a result. As a CMO, you are facing much of the same uncertainty yourself as you try to support your team and customers.

Based on your audience, your response to this ever-evolving crisis will change. You know your customers better than anyone. We hope this blog post has helped you understand some of the crucial actions, and you can continue to serve your customers in the best possible way. 

Nicolas is VP of Marketing EMEA at Insider. Passionate about new technologies and e-commerce, Nicolas has held various position at leading e-commerce and tech companies including Groupon, Microsoft and Bwin.