A Conversation with 4 Top CMOs: How Has COVID-19 Changed Marketing?

Editor’s note: This article is part of Mission North’s new “Marketing Risks Worth Taking” series, an ongoing forum with marketing leaders who are sharing their perspectives about adapting to a new reality. 

On April 29, we gathered some of today’s top minds in marketing for a webinar discussion about the changes they’re grappling with during the historic event that is COVID-19. We chatted about marketing risks, authenticity, measuring success during an economic crisis and the tricky balance of advertising right now. 

We had dozens of attendees (thank you!) who shared their views as well. According to a poll we took during the event, 75% think it will be more than a year before things return to “normal,” and more than half said they’d changed the way they define success in this time. 

75% of participants in the discussion think it will be more than a year before things return to “normal.”

Indeed, marketers are adapting to a situation with deep effects that may go on for quite some time. How are they changing their mindsets and strategies? What opportunity do they see in this crisis? Here are a few of the insightful answers we heard from Amy Vale, CMO of cash-back app Dosh; Kevin Scholl, Director of Digital Marketing and Partnerships at hospitality brand Red Roof Inns; Chris Vitti, SVP Marketing at content-intelligence player Knotch; and Seema Kumar, CMO of facilities management platform ServiceChannel. Their answers have been edited for length. 

What’s the smartest marketing move that your brand has made since consumers started staying at home?

Seema Kumar: Our best marketing move was a non-marketing move: we brought our customers together and said, “Let’s help each other out.” We have businesses that are being heavily impacted, yet no one knows how to shut off hundreds of stores overnight because no one’s ever had to do it before. We brought the community together so they could learn and share, and then turned that content into blogs and webinars to reach and help more people. 

Kevin Scholl: We had to understand that we still have a viable product. But the usage and consumer profile for that product changed very rapidly. The standard user of our product—the business or vacation traveler—was not going to be with us for a while, so we needed to shift to adapt for a new type of consumer.

Chris Vitti: We stopped thinking about revenue right away. We’ll of course have to come back to it, but right now it is not the focus. We made really quick decisions about staff and strategy—not about cutting jobs, but actually adding headcount so we could focus on owned content, which we thought was most important right now. 

Are you measuring your success any differently compared to pre-COVID-19?

Chris Vitti: We haven’t necessarily changed the measures, but we have changed our anticipation about what the results will look like. Will sales cycles take longer? Will prices need to change? For our content, it’s about putting extra emphasis on the quality of our content right now. Quality is much more important than quantity right now. 

Seema Kuma: It can be demoralizing to see the pipeline number stay flat, but other metrics show progress: engagement and participation that come from training and giving new ideas. We’ve had big success with SDRs (sales development representatives) getting meetings with CEOs, and we’re looking at wins like that to keep the team motivated right now.

With so many more people online during the day, does it change the way you are advertising? 

Amy Vale: The big shift has been around the messaging. You have to view things through the lens of how people can respond and react to things very differently in this time. We’re being really thoughtful about the messaging: Don’t just go back to “in these times” but instead think about the real value you can create for the customer. As marketers, we have to ask ourselves: “Is our message really adding value for the consumers we’re trying to reach or just showcasing your work?”

In just a few or several words, what are the marketing risks worth taking right now? 

Amy Vale: Don’t be afraid to look ahead to the future and plan with optimism.  

Chris Vitti: This is the time to stop thinking about revenue. Take it off the table, come to terms with that, and focus on what people need right now.

Kevin Scholl: Don’t be afraid to shift your product to an entirely new audience.

Seema Kumar: Less polished, more authentic content. Do something simple and get it out there.   

A huge thanks to all our participants and attendees!