Sales and marketing, Sales and marketing

5 Marketing Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis

Author: Avanade CMO Stella Goulet
Author: Avanade CMO Stella Goulet

Like most marketers, the marketing strategy we put in place at the beginning of the year is no longer relevant in the current environment. Everything has changed. What do clients and employees need today? What’s the best way to reach and serve them? How do we adapt our marketing approach to ensure we’re meeting those needs?

At Avanade, we’ve encouraged our clients to rethink their business and focus on key priorities to help balance operational efficiency with employee and client needs. These priorities include talent agility, customer care, products and services, cost containment and resiliency. We’re doing the same thing within our own marketing organization. For each of these priorities, I’ve learned key lessons about how marketing can help employees, clients and our company get through a crisis.

5 Marketing Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis

Talent agility

Lesson 1: The human impact takes precedence. First and foremost, we’ve focused on empathy, communication and community. We’ve addressed concerns about safety and well-being and helped our team adapt to the stress of juggling home and work responsibilities while working remotely.

Our marketing leaders check in regularly with their teams to offer support and ensure people are doing OK. We’ve also encouraged people to take time away. And we’ve looked for positive aspects. Our #SilverLining internal campaign encouraged our marketers to celebrate the benefits of working from home. We saw great engagement, with people sharing photos, videos and stories about their children, pets, art projects and much more. One of our marketers was able to see her child take his first steps; another shared some of his favorite recipes.

Authenticity in communications is also critical in a time of crisis. We’ve kept employees informed about the big picture, the actions being taken by the company, and where to find information and resources. These efforts have paid off. In our recent company survey, nearly all of our employees felt well informed and cared for over the past few months in the midst of the pandemic.

To help strengthen the sense of community, we expanded our volunteering hours and broadened our volunteering program. This enabled employees to contribute to their communities in more ways, including donating blood, helping elderly neighbors and leading virtual career workshops for students.

Customer care and operations

Lesson 2: Empathy, communication and community are equally important when helping clients address their new challenges. How you treat clients during a crisis situation can make a big difference in how they feel about your brand going forward and can play an important part in establishing or strengthening a long-term relationship. The focus of our immediate outreach to clients was “How can we help?” That included providing information and training on crucial topics like remote working and collaboration tools.

In addition to asking our clients and prospects what they’re looking for at this time, we’ve also used intent data, search engine data, and website and social media analytics. The resulting insights, together with existing investments in our martech stack, have enabled us to deliver more personalized, relevant content to our clients – quickly, efficiently, at scale and across multiple channels.

Nonprofits have been particularly challenged during the pandemic, so we’ve focused on how we can help our nonprofit clients. For example, we worked with JA Europe to turn one of its flagship live events into a successful digital experience using Microsoft Teams.

Products and services

Lesson 3: The products and services that clients need now may be different from what they needed previously. Helping clients respond quickly and offering guidance on how to reset and renew their businesses are essential elements of our client communications. To ensure we were responding to those new needs, we shifted our efforts to focus on solutions like remote working, cloud migration, field service remote assistance and contactless commerce.

Client interaction has also changed. Digital channels and digital marketing are more important than ever. We’ve used our website and social media to provide key information to clients, and, with physical events canceled, we expanded our use of interactive webinars to deliver content in a different way.

Cost containment and optimization

Lesson 4: Pick your bets and make hard choices. It’s not easy to do, but it’s imperative in the current environment in order to optimize costs. For instance, we’ve paused the use of many agencies and are working more with our own digital marketing and experience design teams in different ways and testing new approaches.

While these activities help contain costs, they can bring additional benefits. For example, without the reliance on agencies, our marketers and campaigns team, working together with internal groups like our Digital Innovation Studios, have developed bold ideas like our Rethink campaign.

The resilient core

Lesson 5: The ability to adapt, refocus and take advantage of new opportunities is a key success factor. We’ve been using agile marketing principles for the past few years and they were central to helping our company be resilient over the past few months. Cross-functional agile teams, including marketing, IT, HR, crisis comms, market units and others, came together to respond to new client needs and communicate key information internally across the company.

In addition, the fact that we’re cloud based underpins our resilient core and made it easier for us to adapt to full remote working and virtual collaboration.

Temporary solutions may become permanent approaches

Some of these lessons and experiences may be short lived. At some point, for example, we will likely go back to live, physical events and conferences. Others will have a lasting impact on how we work going forward, such as agile approaches and remote working tools. Most importantly, how we engage with one another, how we build community – within our teams and our company, and with clients and partners – is a lesson for the long term.

Author Stella Goulet is chief marketing officer at Avanade. Read more from Avanade here.