Last Wednesday, Growth Folks hosted an Online Panel discussion on ‘Marketing in a COVID-19 World’. We discussed the current marketing scenario that brands are facing and how effectively one could optimize it. We had with us a crazy panel of marketing experts, most of them having more than a decade of marketing experience. A quick look at the panel:

1. Sudeep Charles: Ex-Director Product Marketing at Near

2. Abhash Kumar: Head Of Marketing at Springworks

3. Anish Thambi: Director Field Marketing at Automation Anywhere

4. Yaagneshwaran Ganesh: Marketing Manager at Reve Marketing

So without any further delay, let’s just get right into the conversation!

Nanda (Host): Just a bit curious to hear from you. Why should marketing teams take this COVID-19 situation seriously?

Sudeep: Discretionary spends both in the B2C and B2B spaces has been reduced significantly.

The Marketing Mix, the marketing budget and the go-to markets in the interim periods have all been impacted. And I won’t go too much in-depth into all of that, because the reason we are all here is that we feel those pain. Instead, I would want to point out the three trends that we are seeing that could potentially start as a result of all of this disruption.

  • A Movement to inside sales as a sales model. (Especially for large b2b companies, you’ll find that your sales guys going and meeting customers in person. You will find at least, in the short to medium term that there’s going to be a heavy reliance on your inside sales model. And that model is what’s going to get you most of your revenues, in the short term.
  • Better sensing of buying intent remotely. (You have to be able to sense what the prospect is talking about this company and is s/he intent on buying your product or service offering. By the way, all this should happen remotely.)
  • Building a community prior to on-boarding. ( All this while what we’ve seen is that across marketing, community building happens post onboarding, that is going to change now because you’re going to potentially build community before you have your prospects on board.

Marketers are all very well positioned to influence all the above areas and hence the COVID-19 situation should be taken seriously.

Anish: I feel this is a great opportunity for every company to figure out what the value proposition to the market has been and revalidate it. The best way to validate the value proposition of your product or services or your offerings is during the time when people are stretched with their budgets. Again, I think it’s a great opportunity for a lot of businesses that are high touch having a high cost of sale. This is a great way to experiment and figure out, do we really need that kind of high touch business model wherein we need servicing customers on-prem or you need to do most of your selling with an on-prem model with sales teams or have a very heavy sales thing so I think it’s going to challenge business models and also going to challenge the way we sell. It’s also going to be very important for companies to validate their proposition to the market. I think it’s just interesting times, it’s different from the way people used to do business. But again, people are going to need products and services and they will figure out a way to buy. So, we just have to give that space for that opportunity to come to us.

Shiva (Host): Thanks a lot, Anish!

Do you see paddles between what happened during the 2008 Economic meltdown and what’s happening today with COVID?

Anish: This is not something that has happened since World War Two. I don’t think anybody has seen this happening before or is there a guidebook of sorts to look back to. When this happened, the first thing that I looked at was, what did people do after what had happened in world war two? How did people come back and how did they deal with the situation?

I don’t think anybody in the recent past would have seen something like this happen, even

the economic meltdown had an impact on a particular economy only and it had ripple effects across. But this is totally different, major economies will be decompressing by 25% and that is going to have major impacts. I believe we just have to think that we are born in this age and if this were the parameters in which we were to do business, how would we go about doing it and act accordingly.

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Shiva (Host): Thanks a lot, well said! So the next question is what are some of the actionable steps Marketing Leaders should take to address the situation and to ensure that their brands survive the crisis?

Yaagnesh: First of all, do not start any E-mails with ‘During this crisis’, that itself might make you feel that you are making use of this situation and trying to use this as one of the prompts to talk about. This is not the time that we go and oversell something, we have to understand the customer’s priority and be empathetic. It’s also important not to overspend and remain calm during this period! As a marketer, you would have planned a lot of events/conferences throughout the year and because most of it is canceled now and there is more budget left you can think about where to invest that and how better you are going to use that in this situation.

And also, this is a good time where you can relook at the positioning of your product. A lot of companies have done that at this point, you can change the messaging to suit the current needs, you can give some of your products for free. I feel that this is the time where you can actually go on and say that I’m as human as me. And I think that’s the foremost what we should be doing at this point.

Growth Folks

Sudeep: In addition to what Yaag said, Evaluate your go-to-market strategy in the medium term. Should you be in be investing differently in education content? Can you educate your user on a new use case that your current product solves in the given situation? Definitely focus on the retention, relook at your interactions schedules (Customer success teams could E-mailers instead of calls, loyalty programs are also ones that you could consider)

The other thing that I learned also especially from the last crisis that we had, the subprime crisis in 2008 was that you want to get instrumentation into your campaigns, which means you really want to measure how well you engage with your customers. There are different providers like Mo-Engage, CleverTap, Brace and a bunch of people that offer you the ability to reach out to your customers to measure that engagement and all of this doesn’t cost a ton of money.

You have time now, and also customers have got more time to spend online which means one can also invest in lead magnets like E-books and Webinars (Don’t overdo it though).

And finally, you should consider freemium opportunities for your product, because there is enough time to make your customers try you. So adoption as a metric could be something that you could also look at in this space. These are very concrete things that marketers can do, and Marketing Leaders should do in the situation that we find ourselves.

Anish: I think now is the period when the customers or the people who are trying your products and services are the ones who want to be stable, who will be with you most when the dust settles on, I think this period where we see a lull in growth and obviously there is a change in GTM, companies will figure out or recalibrate themselves as to how they are going face these coming months ahead of us and marketing being a business function and normally a leading indicator of things to come. We should tackle that based on the business plan. Coming to things not to be done, don’t try anything extravagant, keep your customers in mind and provide your product/service in such a way that they can consume it during this time. (If you can help your customers in these tough times, they are going to be with you for long for sure!)

Growth Folks

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Nanda (Host): Thank you for such amazing insights! We’ve got recommendations on what to do and what not to do.

Taking this discussion a little ahead, what are the positives or opportunities that you see arising amidst the situation and how should any business adapt to catch the opportunity?

Abhash: So at Springworks, What we basically were doing till now is pre onboarding so that means getting you to set up your profile to apply to jobs, do background and verification checks. And we recently also launched spring recruit which is like an ATS. So we were not doing anything post onboarding like how do you engage your employees, how to reward them, how do you find the pulse of the company, basically what the employees think about how things are going at the company.

We had planned to do these things further down the line, maybe one year from now but with the current situation that context has changed completely, so now we are talking about people who are doing remote work, which means companies and employees are not seeing each other face to face. So employee engagement, employee onboarding and starting with employee onboarding, how do you onboard employees remotely, if someone is joining during this time, how do you know if your employees are engaged, maybe you have a hundred employees all of them working from their homes. The whiteboard sessions are now out of the window, tapping someone on the shoulder and saying if you have a new idea or you want to ask a question about something is all of that is out. So how can we ensure that there are tools and products that there are tools and products to have those conversations in this remote setting. So that’s why we have accelerated the building of those products. so we have started building that right now, meanwhile what we also did is 3 or 4 initiatives. I am a very big of side project marketing

So we started a back to work project which was basically we floated out a form saying that ‘hey have you been laid off recently due to the COVID crisis? Fill up this simple form, we will connect you to recruiters’. On the other side to the recruiters we wrote that ‘hey there are so many people that are getting laid off, they are very talented and are looking for new opportunities and I’m sure some of you are hiring. Would you be willing to take a look at these candidates?’ and we got like 500 to 600 candidates within a week. 60 to 70 companies, 400+ recruiters looking at these candidates. So those kinds of things added value to both sides! As marketers, we can also think about something like everyone is in a remote setting right now, so how can we help? How can we add value to these people? And we can by building those products but that will take some time. What can we do that takes maybe three or four days to build. The beautiful thing about this is the context is the same for everyone. This is maybe the first time in our lifetime, where everyone has the same context, everyone is thinking about the same thing, everyone is working remotely, everyone is concerned about the health of their family members, and of course, so on and so forth. There are so many things that people are thinking about, but they are the same things that people are thinking about. So just think about how you can add value to that point by building valuable tools and products.

Growth Folks

Sudeep: So I think Abhash kind of dwelt on the internal opportunities as it were in terms of internally within a business, what is it that we can do to make things better? I’ll focus a little bit on what we can do externally for the top line. The last few crises have taught us one thing. If you continue to spend on the right set of marketing initiatives, you will gain market share, once the disruption passes. And this has happened in the last five or 10 years, so as long as you don’t mindlessly spend your marketing budgets on all campaigns that you have, you should be able to kind of figure out what is working best for you and then spend on just those. The second one that I would recommend is taking a closer look at your top of the funnel, understand that this is a time where your closures are going to be fairly low, but your CTR”s are going to be very high. There are people who’ve got a larger amount of time that they’re going to spend online. Could you do something to keep them engaged in this period when there is a lockdown? The third area that I would say is a good opportunity is, if you could put together a very small team of people right within your company it could be the product team, your sales team or your customer success. And you as a marketer, just try to answer a bunch of questions and don’t have to be anything elaborate. What is it that our customers are saying that they like about our product? You will at this point because this is a time where there are a lot of constraints that are being placed on the broader market. And this is the same constraints that have been placed across the board. So if your customers are saying they like something about you that is something that could potentially be unique, or something that could really bang for the buck, that your product, service or offering is offering. Right. What is it that our customers are complaining about? And this doesn’t necessarily have to be brought up. This could be a broader problem that they’re facing. Could this be a new challenge that you could solve with your given offering or complaining about what our customers wish that we had done better? These are areas that for example if you have a social media tool that can look at sentiment, for example, I know that all customers and companies who do have this are a fairly expensive investment, but if you do have them, understand and see what is your customer sentiment like what is it that they are saying about you, What is it that your competitors are saying, from a marketing/corporate perspective, not necessarily a product, perspective. Overall, what is it that they would like to see you as a company do, and more importantly as a marketer. Consider the question, if I were to eliminate this marketing channel. What would I achieve if I improvised without this being done so basically you are gaining value by subtraction, as it were, that you remove for channel and say, Hey, can I still do better without this channel, and then see whether you can actually improvise them? Lastly, and most importantly, and that probably this is something that, you know, each one of us on the webinar can take away is investing in yourselves. We tend to, try and do a lot of things, for companies, for our broader and bottom lines, but understand there are a bunch of courses that are free, we all know Coursera and a bunch of others are offering a whole boatload of stuff that’s free, but as marketers, there are specific sites that are offering things that we can benefit from, so definitely do your research and invest in yourself.

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Nanda (Host): Thanks, Sudeep and Abhash for your wonderful insights. You have given us amazing actionable to how marketers can leverage this opportunity.

Shiva (Host): Are there any new channels you see opening up especially in the B2B space? Or old channels that are showing an uptick in the engagement and conversions?

Sudeep: That’s a great question. So, unfortunately, while I would like to say here there is this new exciting channel that we can use, it’s unfortunately not true. For the most part, we have to deal with existing channels. And in fact, we are going to be constrained with these channels so In-person meetings, events all of this is off of the game. We’re not going to be able to do that. What we do see happening is the over purposing of existing channels. So, for example, your customer support channel or even customer success as a channel will not just serve to help your customers, support your customers in supporting DIY business as usual. But it will also be a channel for you to help position different things that you could do with your customers. At this point, reaching out to prospects is going to still be, by and large, digital-led, and it will only be more education content-led. It’s not going to be a case where you’re running these LinkedIn ads with very different calls to action and definitely putting these prospects in the funnel as it were. So, summarise, What you’re going to see is you will be using existing channels to do more than what you’re usually doing, and specifically so your customer success, your customer support teams will be the ones that will potentially help you to upsell!

Growth Folks

Abhash: Sure. There are a couple of things that you wouldn’t have had time for in a usual setting because you’re doing thousands of things, for example, like probably Sudeep said we’re not going to be able to do any of that. And there are a certain set of things which always takes a back seat. So for example, what we have started doing is or anyone can do, if you are a B2B company G2 crowd reviews always help. So, now would be a great time to reach out to your customers and because everyone is in the same boat right now, they would be more willing to help. You can do a T-shirt campaign to get more reviews. You can ask your best customers to give you referrals, that could be another thing that would be a little more difficult in a normal situation, but given the fact that everyone is sitting at home right now, not busy with random meetings at the office, you can ask them, ‘Hey, can you just take out your phone, switch it on and give us 30 seconds review/testimonial for us’? Everyone’s got enough time, it’s time to double down on content, all those things which had kind of taken a backseat during the normal time, it is time to do those things right now which will help you in the long term.

Nanda (Host): Thanks a lot! Moving on to the next question. What are some of the brands you think have done well during the crisis? What are some of the lessons that we can learn from them and any takeaways on how smaller brands and startups can offer innovative solutions?

Yaag: I’m loving what Zoom is doing at this point for example but for me, the biggest learning or the biggest takeaway is that this is a good time that we can actually minimize our asks as much as possible!

Sudeep: So typically this falls into the area of doing something that’s socially responsible. Because understand while marketers might not necessarily impact given that they have smaller sources, brands can simply broadcast something as simple as saying ‘Hey! these are the practices that you can actually take to ward off catching the virus with your logo somewhere below and there are also different zero dollar promotions that marketers can do, partner with the government and so on, while it doesn’t impact your top line, it certainly does impact your impressions!

Shiva (Host): Nanda, I would like to add a couple of points here, while I understand smaller brands obviously have fewer resources I think we can also take this opportunity to speak about how bigger brands have done well and probably mimic that. One of the things that I was going through, the American Hotel and Lodging Association have teamed up with Mariott Hilton and they created incubation and isolation centers in all of their 5 star or 3-star hotels. So this ensures in going a long way and makes sure that the brand stays front and center and also builds a lot of social credits that they can cash in on at a later time. Also, I particularly like what Louis Vitton is doing right now, they have converted all of their perfume manufacturing units into producing more hand sanitizers. A genuine gesture of empathy is the need of the hour and brands that do it will thrive in the future.

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Shiva (Host): Examples of how some of the brands are pivoting the core offering and entering into new markets: ex — Meesho entering into groceries and ola entering into the food segment. Who should consider pivot?

Abhash: Although not exactly a complete pivot but given the fact that this is the one brand that we all talk about, a lot I think many of us might be using them as well is cure fit. And if you see, it almost looks like they are prepared for this crisis. If you look at it like I said, not exactly pivot but given the fact that their old proposition was more of people in the group offline, coming together and all the energy they showcase comes from being in that same room. And now if you look at it, with the fact that gyms, of course with the lockdown btw, I think even three to four months down the line gyms won’t be allowed to be open, just look at how beautifully they seem to be prepared for it, Live workouts. If you open up your camera they give you live scores and how energetic you were giving you rankings. They’ve also started cooking at home channel! All of this as they are a very critical part of this whole thing because health and mental wellness is something which is going for a toss. So, this is one example which I see is, a brand that has done really well with all their live sessions on Instagram, the psychiatrists and so on! So, really really well done!

Yaag: I would say that, looking outside of brands, when I look at what’s happening very close at home, in fact, offline marketing. What I’m seeing is that these Kirana shops that are next door, these guys have quickly pivoted. We always think that organized marketing or organized stores are the ones who’d adapt to the situation but when you look at it Kirana stores have done far well, for instance, they have quickly changed the setup and they’ve become stores that can deliver water, that can look at current situations and current things that are needed. Similarly, newspapers, for example, they’re pivoting to coming up with stories that can entertain children at home. So there are several opportunities that are present right in front of our eyes and it’s up to us how we can look at these and how best we can deliver our services to what opportunities are available. So I think that’s something that we all should take away from what’s happened.

Sudeep: If I could add to it, there is a trend that’s emerging from what’s happening, pivoting is not for everyone. You can pivot, if you are sitting on a pile of cash or if your use case is not working, it makes sense to pivot. But pivoting is something that I definitely wouldn’t suggest, but look at what’s happening in the last 24 to 72 hours. Uber has entered into the last-mile delivery segment with Flipkart for essentials. Flipkart has partnered with a big basket and Spencer’s retail for basic groceries and such like. Myntra and Wildcraft have partnered to offer masks. So, the point I’m trying to draw is that you see partnerships as a trend or a theme that’s coming off and symbiotic partnerships, basically, one company has a certain capability the other has another and they are coming together to deliver value that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. So if you were to look at adjacent spaces. partnerships would make far more sense than just pivoting so this is true with the case of even SAAS based firms as well. But, just doing those partnerships ensures that your overall product or service offering is much more effective, even in these times. So, my short answer would be given the symbiotic capabilities that exist, partnerships even with smaller and medium-sized companies make far more sense than just pivoting.

Growth Folks

Nanda (Host): Thanks a lot for adding those wonderful insights. I think most of us who are coming from different backgrounds can resonate with it a lot. So the next question is

What advice would you have for marketing teams that are used to working closely in an office environment and are now forced to transition to remote work?

Yaag: So, there are a couple of things that come to my mind on the top, one is that because you’re not working with these people in person, it is very difficult to understand the emotions and expressions behind a conversation so I think this is the time when we collaborate, we have to show more trust and for starters, if you are managing a team, it is extremely important that you don’t micromanage during these stages. That’s number one! The second thing is that you need to start communicating far more clearly to make sure that there is no room for ambiguity and you have to be very explicit, and you have to give the context because since you’re not working in person, there’s a good chance that you’re missing the context of what is happening with these people on a daily basis and what are the other set of things that these people are working with. So, be as explicit as possible and as everybody who has just begin to work from home, everybody would have noticed that there are a lot of distractions. So you have to do everything from your mopping your house to attending calls to doing your work. So I think the least that we can all do is keep minimal tabs open on your respective browsers and make sure that you’re only having things that you’re focused on. And equally, it’s important to have more meetings. More face to face meetings, at least once or twice a week where we show each other that we are around to discuss anything and everything and make our presence felt. So it’s important to show that camaraderie and keep the team sprint going on!

Abhash: At the start of every day, each person from the marketing team posts their respective tasks(on slack). This is to ensure that communication is the most difficult thing between all people. In this under the same. In fact, in our culture Manifesto, which even came out before this COVID, one of the points that we have is that Err on the side of over-communication, and what that means is tell people as many numbers of times what the status is on something.

And also what we also do, not just the marketing team on zoom every day is at 5:30, we do like a Chai time and what happens there is we play games, we have also decided that any time there is a thread going on, a thread of conversation going on. If it goes beyond 10 conversations, you have to switch over to a call. Because if not, you’re just wasting time going back and forth, it will be just easier to get on a call on zoom or slack whatever works for you. And that makes life easier for everybody.

Growth Folks

Sudeep: So I just wanted to add one or two pieces of comment to this, so one is, it’s better to stick to tools that we know, it’s easier because the learning curve is easier, there’s already enough to go around. Two is considered plugins to your existing tools. There are a lot of plugins that are available, for example, Standuply is a plugin for slack that will help you manage your standups on a daily basis. The Google suite itself offers quite a number of collaborative tools that you can do. So the point being using your existing tools, see if you can expand capabilities with plugins and that should at least smoothen out the situation in the short term.

Anish: Quick point on that, in my organization, we do a daily 30 minute catch up. Everybody just brings in their points and we use it on Fridays to have some fun as well, we play some games, try to have some fun things done just to keep the tempo going, and then the spirits up. What has helped really really well is, I think we just do it the old fashioned way, just pick up the phone and call people, and that that has helped very well, we do WhatsApp calls sometimes, we do group calls, but a lot of things get solved when you see and get things done together, group communication tools like Zoom and Ringcentral have really helped us!

Nanda (Host): So thanks to all of our panelists for giving us your time and being on the Webinar. Thank you, guys. Will see you next time.

I believe all of us have definitely got some actionable insights on how to sustain your marketing efforts during this COVID-19 period. As said earlier partnerships are something that will keep us going. So let us stay united and get over this asap. 🙂

A special mention to my team of avengers who were on it right from the word go. Thank you Sujith, and Shubham for helping this cover and present it beautifully as a blog. More powers to you guys!

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Also Read: 5 Major Challenges Marketing Teams are Facing During COVID-19