- CMOs and marketing leaders must be "aggressively proactive" in preparing their organizations for the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, Augie Ray, VP analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. The uncertain and rapidly evolving situation brings greater risks but also creates opportunities to build customer loyalty, per Ray.
- CMOs must monitor customers for unexpected changes in their behavior and buying activities, and be ready for disruption to budgets, plans, campaigns and strategy amid the crisis, according to the management consulting firm.
- "The key to managing risks and finding opportunities in such a period of significant uncertainty isn't to predict a single likely outcome, but to recognize the range of possible scenarios," Ray said in the announcement. Gartner published its recommendations in a report for clients and gathered a collection of free research reports and webinars to help organizations respond to the pandemic.
CMOs and marketing executives already have had to adapt to significant changes in consumer behavior as e-commerce and digital media shift the way many people shop and see advertising. The coronavirus pandemic is adding greater uncertainties as government authorities impose travel restrictions or order the shutdown of public gathering places like schools, restaurants and theaters. Many retailers have closed their stores to protect their employees from possible infection, and it's unclear when they'll reopen.
Amid this uncertainty, Gartner recommends marketing professionals take four actions to prepare their organizations for the COVID-19 crisis, which already has threatened travel-related industries like airlines and hotels with bankruptcy. The first step is to develop a plan that lessens risks associated with the pandemic and identifies possible opportunities. That plan should include three scenarios, ranging from best- to worst-case, and consider their effects on customers, employees and marketing strategies. Marketers should coordinate their efforts with other parts of the organization such as legal, finance, supply chain, IT and operations, Gartner recommends.
The second action includes monitoring, reporting and reacting to shifts in customer behavior. Keeping the focus on customers is most important as their needs and expectations change. Gartner recommends marketing leaders monitor customer values and sentiment worldwide, while improving "real-time listening" to detect shifts in customer sentiment and react immediately. Marketers must weigh the short-term interests of customers against longer-term relationships with them, per Gartner.
The third step is to prepare marketing teams, including external services like ad agencies, for interruptions and challenges. That includes anticipating how business disruptions will affect operations and develop a strategy to protect and adjust marketing budgets. CMOs must evaluate the needs of employees and prepare for the possibility that many of them will work from home. As many consumers also stay home, at-home and digital delivery of products and services will become key areas of focus for marketers. It's important that marketers empathize with customers and change procedures and policies to meet their needs.
Finally, Gartner recommends marketers review their plans and measure their effects as the COVID-19 outbreak disrupts the timing of new products or campaign launches. Their planning must consider how restrictions on travel and live events will affect their activation plans and messaging. Failure to anticipate drastic changes to campaigns, promotions, event marketing, sponsorships and other strategies will put marketers in a more defensive and reactive posture. To avoid that, CMOs and marketing leaders need to be agile about changing their campaigns and avoiding reactive budget decisions, according to Gartner.