Diving into the Deep End

Diving into the Deep End

My daughter craves the water. Swimming pools, that staple of Australian family life, have been shut in Singapore ever since the first wave of Covid-19 cases, and on most days she’s been asking me when we can go for a swim again. With Singapore easing restrictions as it enters “Phase 2” of its reopening, I’m glad I can finally tell her that we can return to the water soon, at least for now. But it leaves me thinking of the past few months in isolation, and wondering – are we ready for what’s next?

In Singapore and across Asia, marketing has taken a bit of a back seat as businesses scramble to make far more sweeping changes to ops and HR. In Singapore, we’re seeing headcounts and budgets under threat across all sorts of industries and business sizes without exception, while in Nepal (where our partner, Business Brainz is based) the record-breaking lockdown is on the verge of choking off SMBs and forcing larger ones to reassess their very fundamentals. Where activities have persisted, they’ve largely been reactive and tactical – catching up to, rather than actively shaping, the far bigger narrative that’s surrounded all of us.

Even as some restrictions ease we know the “new normal” will likely look very different, and increasingly unpredictable, for marketers across Asia – and that a return to the past few months is only one outbreak away. I feel like most of us feel like my daughter has been: raring to dive back into things, yet still gripped by that wondering of “will everything really be okay?” We may not know what’s waiting in the deep end but we can certainly get ready:

1. Prepare a tactical toolbox.

Even if we don’t know what the “new normal” may look like exactly, we can at least plan for various likely scenarios – and develop tactics to spin up or pivot back into demand generation as economies start to recover. Understanding the market and our customers can help guide what we put in this tactical toolbox. Business Brainz’ research on the FMCG sector, for example, suggests that consumers were already moving away from monolithic brands towards smaller labels with more customised experiences well before Covid-19 hit – something we’re now seeing amplified with grassroots movements championing small businesses and “local heroes”.

Should marketers invest in resources that support these smaller businesses – like we did with American Express in Australia some years ago – or swing their messaging towards the trust and reliability that larger businesses are better placed to offer? It’s hard to say. But preparing a variety of tactics that can quickly go live, tapping whatever infrastructure’s already in place, can give marketers some quick wins and a valuable window of opportunity for longer-term preparations.

2. Think long-term, right now

The current downturn gives marketers a chance to step back from business as usual, and that’s an opportunity we can’t afford to squander. One of our Asia-Pacific customers is using this period to reassess their overarching content methodology and go-to-market strategy – something that would be much, much harder to pull off at a normal cadence of business. Another has combined more immediate discounts and collaterals (part of their tactical toolbox) with helping the education sector map out the potential technology and process options as they grapple with not just what the “new normal” may look like, but the “next normal” of potential disruption after that.

To some extent, we can already see many agnostic changes taking hold across industries, like going overweight on digital platforms as part of the omnichannel mix. Insights into specific industries and markets can help fill the gaps. Wherever marketers can, we should start considering what bigger and deeper shifts we’ll need to make for messaging, strategy, and platform – the faster we can acknowledge that “business as usual” is in the past, the better.

3. Learn a new stroke

For these longer-term strategies or changes to work, many marketers will need a few new skills under their belt – anything from analytics and insights to greater proficiency with digital platforms. Or we might better understand what motivates customers to buy, or keep buying – investing in those 1:1 conversations or satisfaction audits that we’ve been meaning to get around to, and building some valuable goodwill along the way.

Often we’re simply swimming way too fast to take stock of what else is going on in the pool, let alone learn a new stroke that might get us moving faster. Now that Covid-19 has effectively called a time-out on us, we’ve a chance to develop more meaningful and dare I say it, adaptable marketing strategies. Even at McCorkell, we’ve been trying new things like our partnership with Business Brainz – pulling together big strategic thinking and well-reasoned market insights to prepare for whatever the future holds.

A lot of that comes back to basics like learning, questioning, and building relationships that matter – including those between father and daughter as they’re waiting for the pool to reopen. If there’s one thing this season’s taught us, it’s that no matter how scary the deep end seems, it’s not so bad when we jump in together.

Written by Matt Stapleton