Academic perspective: implications of COVID-19 on marketing and leadership

In April, Deakin’s department of marketing conducted a Zoom conference with a group of senior marketers and academics to understand the implications of the COVID-19 virus on marketing and leadership.

Before looking at marketing specific responses, some selected timeless general perspectives on crises are appropriate:

  • “Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
  • “There’s always an opportunity with crisis. Just as it forces an individual to look inside himself, it forces a company to re-examine its policies and practices.” – Judy Smith
  • “Through each crisis in my life, with acceptance and hope, in a single defining moment, I finally gained the courage to do things differently.” – Sharon E. Rainey

While most people believe that having a scarcity mindset can be a host of distasteful outcomes and pose threat to yield, revenue and practicality, Scott Gunther, general partner at IAG Firemark Ventures, argues the effectiveness and significance of adopting this mindset. “Adoption of the scarcity mindset is crucial as it alleviates how you gain more with less, how some businesses could ‘slingshot’ out of this pandemic situation, given that they look at cost optimisation from another perspective.”

“The scarcity mindset is important as it opens pathways to how to pivot business growth to capitalise on areas where the product or service will actually have greater need or value,” says Gunther.

Gunther is suggesting that a scarcity mindset makes room for questions that are ultimately beneficial for the business, such as: “How can I then re-shape our product roadmap, marketing budgets, resourcing efforts to capitalise on these opportunities? And in doing so, how can I do it with 25-30 percent less capacity than I have today, and aspire to end up with 25-30 percent more demand on the other side?”

As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the world, the time that would have otherwise been spent outdoors for work or recreational activities is now spent solely indoors. According to Nielsen reports, ever since the lockdown commenced, Australians are glued to media and spend as much as 87 percent more time online, seeking pandemic updates and related news and information.

“Media consumption has shifted with appetite for news increasing, through all channels. Content watched at home such as free-to-air TV (FTA TV), broadcast video on demand (BVOD) and subscription video on demand (SVOD) has huge upward jumps, while channels that target people out and about have fallen dramatically,” says Karly Leach, head of CMO Advisory, Deloitte.

Regardless of the kind of content consumed, consumers are highly reliant on electronic devices for information and entertainment – thus, creating a huge opportunity to engage a captive audience. It is important to consider the “creative execution” says Leach, to ensure that content is appropriate to the current environment. The best ways to create and maintain relationships with customers is with honesty and transparency.

While the views above represent the feelings and thoughts of senior marketers facing this crisis in Australia, we believe it is important to consider the views of specialist academics and previous studies.

From a marketing viewpoint, Dr Gini Weber from the Deakin department of marketing says, “with so much uncertainty, consumers will likely be more risk averse and cautious in their decisions. Other than a shift to digital, I expect more hesitation around spending time in busy shopping centres, and changes to consumers’ daily routines”.

The crisis has driven consumers to high levels of social media engagement globally. Over 42 percent of Australians are consuming more new coverage and 28 percent reported that they are spending more time on social media. At this time some consumers are looking to brands as a source of relevant information to get them through the crisis.

We have never been in times like this before – whether it is the lockdowns, social distancing, working from home or the imminent predicted massive global recession. Mike Harley, managing director XPotential, believes that this experience might prove extremely beneficial for people who will emerge as leaders of the future.

“These people are the ones who will be open to change, proactively seek new opportunities in the ‘new normal’ and engage with their community using processes that are open and transparent,” says Harley.

Marketers often pride themselves with the ability to adapt to customer needs, out-position competitors, take a long-term view and achieve internal consistency within organisational departments and functions. They will have never had a better chance to exemplify those aspects of the marketing philosophy.

Co-authored by Jennifer Harrison and Dr Michael Valos.

Jennifer Harrison is a research assistant in the Department of Marketing at Deakin University and is an associate at Wendy Brooks & Partners. 

Dr Michael Valos is a senior lecturer in the School of Management and Marketing at Deakin University.

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash.