WARC’s push, pull, pause or pivot: strategy in the time of COVID webinar

We are over four weeks into Lockdown. The numbers on the news are soaring and our ability to gauge a two-metre distance has never been better. The initial panic in adland has passed as clients have pulled, pushed or pivoted activity in the short term and we are now faced with the big question: what now?

There still remains however so much uncertainty regarding when this lockdown might end and what the recession will look like following it. Therefore, it has never been more important to adopt a strategy and formulate a plan of action.

Faris and Rosie Yakob from Genius Steals Consultancy recently held a webinar via WARC on strategy and they defined it as “Making informed decisions, about allocating resources, to achieve objectives, in situations of uncertainty”. Strategy accounts for, and has always accounted for, uncertainty and helps us to translate it to risk i.e. a known and measurable entity, something we can work with.

The first step is to assess what we know.

  1. A global pandemic such as COVID-19 has been cited as the #1 threat to our economy since 2008
  2. We will be in lockdown for another period of time. Even as restrictions are lifted a return to normal movement will be slow
  3. Consumer spending drives 75% of the economy and unemployment is rising
  4. All Mckinsey scenarios of economic impact show an initial steep drop – recession will happen and we will have to deal with it
  5. Adspend will drop and we will need to look for more flexible alternatives (especially digital)
  6. People will still want brands, they will crave comfort and safety which will spill out into their purchases
  7. There will be short-term winners (toilet paper and flour) which will not benefit from sustainable growth, but there will also be long-term winners, brands and products that play into the basic needs – home, family, culture categories
  8. Things do bounce back. We have been through recessions before and no doubt we will again

Following this we need to assess our insights. An insight needs to be informed and non-linear. It needs to create asymmetric information about system dynamics which lead to a competitive advantage. If everyone else has the same insight, it’s not an insight. These will help to apply boundaries to uncertainty. Now is the time to look at historic data and scrutinise real-time information: how did the industry respond previously; what are our audience talking about on social media; how successful were previous media splits; how did different channels contribute to ROI?

From a media perspective, it’s also a great opportunity to go back to basics. Assess what works and what doesn’t. Refine targeting and messaging. Make sure that everything that is on plan is working as best it can. This gives any brand a solid foundation on which to begin to rebuild that comms platform with their audience.

From here, we can apply OODA – a modern military strategy which works pretty well when applied to our current situation!

OBSERVE: This takes into account all of the work we have just done. Gather all of our info and get our base in order

ORIENT: Put this information in context and assess the culture and society we are now working in. For example, TV and Radio figures are booming, people are spending more time online and on social media but people are also pulling away from brands that are trying to go above their station and preach about COVID-19 but can’t actually add any value

DECIDE: Agree initial investment, the timing, the messaging and the approach. We can set boundaries to that uncertainty by scenario planning and considering flexible media options which we can deploy when ready

ACTION: Set the plan in motion but most importantly, at all points on this journey feed information back into the observe phase and repeat the process, always checking to see if things need to change and layering up activity as and when the timing is right to do so

This strategy is constantly learning and evolving but using this clear framework allows us to start moving forward with confidence.

We know there is a need to begin to rebuild our comms and retain SOV, the IPA research has proven time and time again that we need to do so to future-proof a brand, but this often forgets that there are other things at play for businesses above and beyond the marketing department, and saying the wrong thing right now could be more damaging than saying nothing. Adopting this strategy allows us to take a phased return approach and layer up our comms over the short term and the longer-term period.

The final piece of advice here from the webinar that was particularly useful was that in times like these, we should “move at the speed of trust”. The one thing we can’t forget right now is that we need to put people first. Kantar research shows that people are looking to delay big purchases but not necessarily cancel, let’s not rush them and practice the art of patience! People are being furloughed, families are stressed, others are really lonely and overall people have had to take stock of what is actually important right now. We need to take things slowly, ensuring that all advertising is considered with a sympathetic tone and authentic voice, factoring in that additional time and support people will need. That will be key to come out the other side of this and to pave the way for a return to form.

If you would like to speak to us about your marketing strategies during these turbulent times, please get in touch with a member of the team.