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The pandemic is disrupting marketing as we know it

Ibrahim Sirkeci, London | 22/04/2020

From Regent’s Review

We will perhaps never be sure of the origins of COVID-19 pandemic allegedly spread from Wuhan in China ‘across the grids of global human mobility’. While the registers of the infected, hospitalised, and deaths are on the news constantly, we are yet to see what has been changing dramatically in our lives. Lockdown measures against the virus and the ways in which these were announced and managed varied across the world.

Every nuanced change resulted in shifts in consumer behaviour and marketing strategies. There will be paradigm shifts leading to drastic changes in the ways we do business.

Marketing theory offers some insights into the potential impacts of such disruptive events. The COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns across the world, has definitely had an impact on brand loyalty, switching consumers’ behaviour and sustainability concerns.

Organisations suddenly felt forced to switch to digital, fully or partially depending on their sector, products and services. Hence, this is a process that tests resilience. We will see some brands and organisations disappear while others shine. More agile and resourceful organisations are likely to survive and succeed, whereas those with limited ability will take the hit.

Airlines, tourism, out of home entertainment and hospitality industries have slumped under lockdown measures. It is important to recognise that lengthy periods of lockdown are likely to lead to more substantial behavioural shifts. People will develop different interests and habits, although the current evidence is not conclusive. Once loyalty is broken, customers’ return to the products and services they used to are not guaranteed.

Broken brand loyalty is the biggest barrier for organisations to recover.

We are adjusting to the new reality or realities. The outcomes, reactions and responses are varied around the world. This is clear, for example, according to a McKinsey report, consumer optimism wildly varies between countries such as Japan and India. One sideline story here is the resilience of regional and national cultural differences. This will be reflected in performances during and after the pandemic and very likely to have a long-lasting effect.

Mark Kitson of Marketing Week urged marketers to prepare for such long-term effects. Another McKinsey report rightly pointed out the need to tap into consumer pulse, reactions and insights, to prepare for the future as the sense of trust and loyalty will be hard hit while consumers shop around in a rapidly changing marketing environment.

Thus, many brands have rushed to get where their customers are: associating brands with ‘good’. For example, in the UK some companies joined the effort in supporting the National Health Service (NHS)

Communication channels are likely to shift for good too. Although a big switch to online and social media marketing is expected, it will remain an open question until it happens. Currently, we know that COVID-19 crisis has forced about 85 per cent of marketing campaigns to change.

Many marketers around the world have been working remotely from home since early February 2020. This is part of the new reality.

Marketers are pondering questions about the ways organisations now should be talking to their customers.

They’re questioning where to spend marketing dollars, how to organise work across teams, keys to stay in business, and their stances over the sustainability of the planet, clients, consumers, businesses, communities and families. One thing is for sure: much more marketing research and thinking will be needed to assess the new reality and develop appropriate strategies to deliver in this environment. As Zoe Cheng, head of growth at Shanghai-based Cosmose stated amid this crisis: ‘there is no need to stop marketing.’

This is an extract from the editorial article in the Transnational Marketing Journal: DOI: https://doi.org/10.33182/tmj.v8i1.954

References
Balis, J. (2020). Brand Marketing Through the Coronavirus Crisis. Harvard Business Review. Available: https://hbr.org/2020/04/brand-marketing-through-the-coronavirus-crisis. Accessed: 6/4/2020.

Sirkeci, I. (2020). Editorial: Marketing and Consumers in an Era of Disruption Caused by COVID-19 Pandemic. Transnational Marketing Journal, 8(1), 1-6. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33182/tmj.v8i1.954.

Sirkeci, I., & Yucesahin, M. M. (2020). Coronavirus and Migration: Analysis of Human Mobility and the Spread of COVID-19. Migration Letters, 17(2), 379-398. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33182/ml.v17i2.935.

Tucker, C. E. and Yu, S. (2020). The Early Effects of Coronavirus-Related Social Distancing Restrictions on Brands (1 April, 2020). Available at SSRN. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3566612.

Original article was published in Regent’s Review on 20 April 2020.

By Ibrahim Sirkeci

Ibrahim Sirkeci is Professor at Regent's University London and writes a weekly column for BirGun daily newspaper.

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