As Chief Marketing Officer for SurveyMonkey, Leela Srinivasan had big plans for 2020. It goes without saying that this isn’t the year she expected.

“There was no playbook for a global pandemic, not for markets and not for leaders,” said Srinivasan, speaking recently at Strategic Marketing USA, a Reuters Event that featured some of the world’s most influential CMOs.

Srinivasan set the stage for her presentation with a look at the negative impact of the pandemic, touching on everything from widespread unemployment and a crisis in the aviation industry to mental health issues and growing despair among small businesses. Juxtapose this with a decrease in marketing budgets and an expectation that marketers will stretch the existing budgets to do more. “This is calling upon us to be at our most resourceful as marketers,” she said.

It was only a year ago that Srinivasan and her team were considering a brand campaign to underscore the fact that SurveyMonkey is an enterprise-grade platform and technology that is used by businesses of all sizes to answer some of the most pressing questions. Before leaping into an initiative that would entail wrapping buses and taxis from San Francisco to London, they did qualitative testing to determine the most impactful colours and imagery.

Change to conversation

Having this data illuminated how impactful the ad might be and also gave Srinivasan confidence that they were moving in the right direction. “It changed the conversation from being subjective – because everyone has an opinion about brand – to being one that was based on fact,” she explained.

The point of Srinivasan’s story was not how important it was to use data to drive decisions in 2019, but instead, how a data-driven approach to marketing is even more critical now as marketers are asked to make every dollar count. To illustrate this point, she shared an anecdote about testing the marketing claims put forth by three different brands of hand cleanser: one described as “anti-bacterial”, another as “anti-viral” and the third as “anti-COVID”.

You gotta be real

The anti-COVID hand cleanser performed worst when it came to overall appeal as the claim as was not seen as believable and the quality was called into question. The anti-viral cleanser scored higher, but was perceived as less believable and of lower quality than the anti-bacterial product, which received only positive attributes.

“What this means for me is that people want authenticity, they want real, they want value,” said Srinivasan. “They have always wanted those things, but I think this crisis has made them even more important.”

Switching gears, Srinivasan summarized what SurveyMonkey has been doing to navigate the pandemic. On the collegiality front, they have partnered with peers and other organizations that are doing great work. For existing enterprise customers, they have added value, offered free resources, and packaged solutions to address the most pressing needs, and at the organizational level, they have shared huge quantities of public opinion data to help chart a course for the future.

Finding ways to support employees has given Srinivasan a special sense of satisfaction. “I’ve personally never felt more involved as an HR leader in helping our employees get through this and stay strong,” she says. “The stories about how we are making a difference have really resonated widely with our employees and so it has become quite the virtuous cycle.”

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