There’s no going back.

That was the clear message that emerged when five corporate brand leaders came together at Strategic Marketing USA, a recent Reuters event that brought together more than 5,000 virtual attendees. When it came to the enduring impact of the global health crisis on consumer behaviour, there was a consensus: the genie is truly out of the bottle.

Fawn Annan, President and CMO of IT World Canada moderated the panel that included Kevin McGurn, President of Sales and Distribution for Vevo, Tim Rickards, Marketing Director, Acquisition & Engagement for Charles Schwab, Cathy Taylor, US Commissioning Editor for WARC, Jason Teichman, Chief Operating Officer for WP Engine, and Carol Tran, Former Head of Growth with Dolby Laboratories.

Cathy Taylor opened the remarks with a description of WARC’s annual marketing toolkit report and examples of the transformative acceleration in e-commerce and impressive increase in buy-on-line-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) options. When asked by Annan whether these changes were fleeting, Taylor was quick to reply that even when the mall opens again as a safe place to be, there’s nobody who thinks that things will go back to the way they were before COVID.

Sell the solution, not the technology

On the small business side, Jason Teichman reported a preoccupation with the day-to-day concerns in running a business. “They don’t have time to think about what technology they need or the capabilities they have to have to be successful,” he said. As a result, WP engine has pivoted away from selling technologies and moved more to selling very simple solutions that help small business. Enterprise, he said, is the exact opposite, with the scale of their operations shifting the focus to technologies to ensure security and stability.

Like Teichman, Carol Tran reported that small businesses are more concerned with being able to catch up and compete in the new e-commerce landscape. Her advice is that they be as transparent as possible in their dealings with customers. People want to support their own local businesses because they contribute to the character of the neighbourhood, she said, but you have to be open about the details and limitations. It’s okay if it’s going to take a few weeks to get a product, as long as the customer has a clear idea of the arrival date.

Customer sentiment analysis

Whereas Teichman and Tan addressed consumer sentiment from the point of small business and the concern with finding help to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, Tim Rickards had a different experience in his role with a major financial institution. “This pandemic is a starkly individual thing,” he said, “and it’s affected by a multitude of factors. Just take the family unit for example: there’s economic strategy, geography, political orientation…race, gender, and education level. All of those variables come together to create customer sentiment.”

As President of Sales and Distribution for the world’s largest, all-premium music video provider, Kevin McGurn has a unique take on the way things are moving in the home entertainment industry. “It really has been a pendulum shift in the way networks and studios and distributors have driven their entertainment forward to the consumer,” he said. “If you had content that was being delivered on a daily basis, and fresh content that was able to be produced inside these various restrictions, then you were at an advantage.”

Picking up on a point made by Taylor, McGurn doesn’t believe the pendulum will swing back to its pre-COVID position. “I think that shift has accelerated what was already a declining television market, and already a declining film market in terms of people visiting theatres,” he said.

“This is the new reality and it’s not going away,” said Annan as she polled her five guests on their key pivots. Words of wisdom included being data literate, making personal connections, and putting some thought into how to incorporate the best of the old ways of selling into the new digital marketplace.

In conclusion…

Summarizing the session, Annan spoke positively about the way corporations are becoming more purposeful in their approach to brands. “COVID-19 has really humanized the brands and the people behind the brands,” she said. “Like most things right now, it’s all about human connection.”

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