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Being strategic during the pandemic – The American way

There are vital lessons to be learnt from the proactive approach of U.S. companies during the pandemic.

In the baby market, the questions that have been asked of companies during this period are similar to those being faced by other industries:

How can we provide a version of our services/products through online channels? E-commerce is the low-hanging fruit right now – in fact, a recent FanFinders survey found that over a third of mums in both the UK and U.S. have made between 4 – 7 online purchases in the last month.

Can we modify our infrastructure to produce products/services that are in demand? We’ve seen companies completely pivot in their approach and allocate infrastructure to produce goods for supporting the global fight.

Finally, how do we increase production and distribution capacity of our products and services? Virus-fuelled demand has stretched supply lines and stock to capacity – and then far beyond in many cases.

Out of pure survival-instinct, the response to COVID-19 has primarily been one of two things: reactive and geared towards short-term targets; or passive and focused on maintaining a risk-free status-quo.

This has been true of marketing strategies too, but not everywhere.

An evolving picture

With mums in the same FanFinders survey stating what they wanted most from brands during this time was ‘easier access to online shipping’, ‘online discounts’ and ‘consistent product availability’, even the push towards e-commerce has seen certain divisions.

Some of the larger retailers, with a lot of cogs in the chain, have struggled with scaling up infrastructure.

Others have decided to cut their loyalty programmes and slow down on acquisition marketing in the baby sector, with the aim of driving more sales elsewhere through their e-commerce platforms.

The big corporates in the U.S., meanwhile, have taken this opportunity to streamline marketing teams and overhaul their entire approach to online sales channels.

These companies have looked into efficiencies, at where they can drive more sales and get uplift, scaling up everything from their email programmes, to producing content/campaigns to build confidence and driving people to buy direct from them, which ultimately preserves margins.

Then you have the smaller, more nimble companies, who have simply gone out and put their foot on the pedal.

Rather than waiting on partners or stockists who weren’t getting the online footfall or aren’t able to mobilise their e-commerce side quickly, scaling up directly has been easy for them. 

Sure, they have had to warn customers that deliveries may take a little longer than usual due to COVID-19, but in the end, that is a small price to pay for much larger rewards.

Looking beyond the obvious

Answering those crucial questions above and being truly ‘strategic’ is about creativity, a willingness to consider and address threats in different ways, and to see COVID-19 as a chance to embrace opportunities that may otherwise not exist.

So, where the real lessons can be learnt is by looking at those companies that are thinking about the future – a world beyond the crisis and evolving consumer needs – but making adjustments in the here and now.

We’ve seen consumer goods companies take the plunge into electronics and baby monitoring. Not only that, but they have committed – investing in marketing and infrastructure to deliver those products in the best way possible.

Whether through social ads, app downloads and relevant supporting content, they have mobilised and delivered integrated campaigns that use marketing to drive sales of their direct-to-consumer products and will pay dividends in the future.

With this type of approach from U.S. companies, it is no surprise that according to the recent CMO Survey conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, marketing budgets as a percentage of company revenues and spend have risen to a record high during the coronavirus pandemic.

During May, spend on marketing as a percentage of U.S. companies’ overall budgets rose to 12.6%.

In contrast to more static companies in the baby market, who may still be relying on traditional club sign-ups on their websites, these responses have been adaptive and in-depth. 

They are scaling up direct-to-consumer channels, promoting apps, building engagement and inevitably getting the sales revenue that follows.

Through this process, they are also building a captive audience of potential customers for future campaigns. 

FanFinders’ survey found that a large proportion of mums in the U.S. have been turning to brand apps and other personalised online experiences for support and information throughout this period.

With some companies now facing the new problem of over 300% growth in their e-commerce sales and the challenge of how to maintain that as things return to some definition of ‘normal’, the lesson is there from the past few months:

Be brave, embrace the opportunities and get creative.

Adam Gillett, CCO, FanFinders