Monday, June 8, 2020

Marketing Matters: Lessons from the Disruption

Originally published in Business North, June 2020

One of the first things I thought of when the quarantine/lockdown struck was Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive. The introductory blurb for this late 90s bestseller begins like this: “In Only the Paranoid Survive, Grove reveals his strategy for measuring the nightmare moment every leader dreads — when massive change occurs and a company must, virtually overnight, adapt or fall by the wayside — in a new way.”

The concept from Grove’s book that I remember most was the 10X concept. In one of the chapters he detail how there are a variety of forces that have a bearing on one’s business in one way or another. Cost of raw materials, cash flow, government regulations, legal matters, consumer trends, competition, etc. Grove asks, “What happens when one of these variables unexpectedly changes by a ten-fold degree?”

The full title of the book is Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company. The book is an insightful and candid account of a challenging period in the history of Intel, the company Andy Grove founded and led for many years.

We never know from which angle that 10X tsunami will come. We do know that adjustments will have to be made if we don’t want to be swept away.

Grove’s purpose was to make us aware that although we can be slammed by the unexpected, we can actually exploit these events to come out stronger and better.

Current Events
The Coronavirus Disruption is precisely the kind of 10X tidal wave that Andy Grove warned us about. You don’t see it coming. You can’t even determine what its full impact will be. And until the fog lifts, it waits to be seen all the things we will have learned from this.

One surprising lesson was discovering how quickly people were able to adjust from working at the office to working from home. In our contemporary hyperconnected world it seems to have happened quickly, and certainly would have been different in the 70s or 80s.

When it’s over many companies will be evaluating whether their people were more productive or less. It could change the way companies work. Already, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that Twitter employees can work from home forever. Fewer meetings, more time to make calls and get real work done. Less commuting also gives people more time each day.

Working from home can have distractions, however, and for some there’s value in getting out of the house.

Impacts on Marketing
A few weeks back I caught one of AimClear’s weekly Facebook presentations in which founder Marty Weintraub and Susan Wenograd discussed how crisis changes consumer behavior, specifically with regard to this currant pandemic. I found it fascinating because instead of having the media interpret data, Weintraub and Wenograd showed us the data that’s available to all. We were free to draw our own conclusions, though they also highlighted features that a novice might not catch. The webinar was entertaining, something akin to Siskel & Ebert, except their banter involved explorations of marketing data as opposed to Hollywood filmdom.

What’s going on? Weintraub’s answer: Google can show you.

Follow the Data
As every marketer knows, the world is awash in data. Google has made it its business to organize this information and make it useful, in a variety of ways. Google Trends presents a raw cross-section of actual search requests that people make every day on Google. The info is categorized and aggregated by whatever demo size you’d like, from global to local baskets.

According to Weintraub, “Marketers use Trends to measure trending search interest for keywords and related keywords. Nimble marketers can use Trends to:
• Spot rises and losses in brand interest for their brands and competitors
• Note fluctuations in keywords related to: shopping, information, and/or interests
• Craft sales and competitive strategies
• Explain corollary trends in site traffic and revenue
• Categorize and subcategorize search interest
• Understand geographical distribution of search interest”

For example, if you go to Google Trends (Google it if you don’t know the URL) and type in the words “home delivery” in the Search bar, you’ll see a relatively flat line for the past year until March when it dramatically broke to the upside.

Another one is “curbside pickup.” How often have you Googled that in the past 20 years? It’s spiked big time these past two months. Do you deliver or do curbside pickup? Is it on your website?

There are a variety of ways local marketers can use this information. And best of all the tool is free. (To learn more about how to use Google Trends as a marketing tool, ask Google.)

Should You Pull Back on Advertising?
You miss a lot when you don't stay current with what's happening. This woman
missed the Industrial Revolution, returned just in time for the Internet.
She is now the brains behind the Google Algorithm.
According to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) nearly 90% of all large multinationals have deferred new ad campaigns while more than half are holding back for six months or more. Is this a good move for you though?

It is generally agreed that brands should not “go dark” during the crisis. In fact, history has a number of interesting anecdotes regarding gains and losses in market share during recessions.

During the Great Depression Post cereals cut their advertising while Kellogg’s doubled down and even introduced a new product, Rice Krispies. Kellogg’s profits increased by 30% and the company overtook their rival in market share.

In the 1990-91 recession McDonald’s cut its ad spend, confident of its leadership in the fast food space it dominated. Golden arches were everywhere. Maybe they thought this was enough of a reminder to keep lovin’ it. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut took a different approach, pushing aggressive campaigns that respectively earned them 41% and 60% increases in sales. McDonald’s sales decreased by 28%.

Summing Up
As Thomas Paine famously wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Arguments can be found to support nearly any action you take. If there’s ever been a time to step up our game, this is it. Only the paranoid survive.

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Large Multinationals Tighten Ad Spend; WFA press release, 13 May 2020.

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