Only a week ago the disaster facing CMOs was the sadness of not being able to air a new campaign that may have taken months to create.  The care with which the idea had been nurtured, the negotiations to get the best talent, the budget secured from the C-suite, all were about to be lost.  All that hard work, gone.

Marketers have now moved from grief to action over the last week as they grapple with the rapidly evolving COVID-19 crisis.

“Meeting the needs of your customer at a profit”, the famous definition of marketing from Professor Philip Kotler, needed rethinking.  What good is a highly paid celeb in your ad enticing you to buy your product if your customers are losing their jobs and can’t pay to keep their homes?  What are the needs of your customers now?  And should you be thinking about short term profit or lifetime value?

For the last few years, talking about brand purpose has been in vogue.  Last week was a great test for brands to stay true to their purpose and values.  How could these values guide decision-making?

On Tuesday, March 10th, TSB, NatWest/RBS and Lloyds Bank in the UK announced they would help customers affected by coronavirus with mortgage payment holidays and other measures.  These were the urgent needs that many banking customers had.  Yet in the US, it was Thursday, March 19th before announcements were seen that Bank of America would help customers to defer mortgage payments if they were impacted by coronavirus.

MESH Experience, the company I founded, is a small data, analytics, and insight business.  We work with big banks and other very influential clients in companies that can make a difference to the economy and the way society feels.  We added new questions to our UK retail banking study and by Thursday discovered that 49% of people felt that UK banks were doing enough to help customers during the coronavirus pandemic and 51% felt they were not.  Let’s see how this sentiment changes in the coming weeks.

Never has there been a more important time to live up to a company’s purpose!  And we have seen some wonderful examples from companies big and small over the last week.

Hyundai and Genesis offered up to 6 months of car payments for those losing their jobs due to coronavirus on March 14th.  By March 16th Ford pulled its national vehicle ads in the US and offered customers help with re-payments with Ford Credit Support.  And by March 19th Ford and General Motors were offering to make much-needed ventilators.  It is noticeable that Hyundai offered support in 2009, during the recession when owners could return their financed purchases or leases within one year if they lost their jobs, which created considerable goodwill.  Ford’s advertising shows how the company has helped during two world wars by creating planes and tanks.  Acting quickly, decisively and with a true sense of purpose can build long term trust.

LVMH acted quickly and on March 15th announced that it would be switching perfume production to hand sanitizer production.  Beer manufacturers, including Brew Dog in the UK, also began making hand sanitizers on March 18th.  Meanwhile, Guinness, a brand that has been around for 260 years, acknowledged that St Patrick’s Day 2020 was going to be “different” in its brand ads.  Quite rightly, it pointed out the importance of being with people you care about and hit the right notes with a touch of humor.  This weekend, Olive Garden TV advertising was suggesting to order online for those dishes you might be craving.

Spectrum Comcast and Cox Communications offered free internet for students now working from home.   Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are waiving late payment fees, increasing Wi-Fi hotspots or providing higher mobile data for their customers.  In the UK the BBC is providing a whole host of content offerings applicable for the times – not simply coronavirus updates, but educational programming for children, Health Check UK Live for people in isolation and virtual church services.

Personal communication via email has become much more important.  Those from companies severely hit by this crisis stood out to me for their customer focus, including some from Ed Bastian at Delta Air Lines and one from Arne Sorenson at Marriott International.  However, with Delta owning 51% of Virgin Atlantic, it was disappointing to see 8,500 employees being asked to take 8 weeks’ unpaid leave.  On a positive note some retailers, also severely hit, like Levi’s and Apple are reassuring their employees that they will be paid even if their stores are closed.

This last week was pivotal.  We need to quickly overcome the grief attached to well-laid plans for new campaigns and move on to action, guided by our values and purpose, in helping customers and society in the way that each of us, however big or small, can do best.

Fiona Blades

President & Chief Experience Officer, MESH Experience