Unpacking the impact of COVID-19: What's next for marketers?

Unpacking the impact of COVID-19: What's next for marketers?

The CMA's Councils, composed of Canadian marketing thought-leaders, meet monthly to discuss key issues and emerging trends that impact marketers. Their discussions over the past month have focused on the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations, industries and the economy. The CMA's VP of Public Affairs and thought Leadership shares highlights from these conversations, along with some insights of her own.

The impact of COVID-19 is unprecedented in our lifetime because it affects everyone around the world on so many levels. As governments press forward with measures to mitigate the health and economic impacts, marketers are forging new paths to support their clients, customers, employees and surrounding communities.

We will emerge from the current crisis, although no one can predict with certinty when that will be or with what outcomes. Across all sectors and industries, marketers will be asking many questions, including:

  • Will consumers continue their current pace of online shopping?
  • How will people's habits and values change and what does this mean for brands?
  • When will people turn to previous levels of business and pleasure travel?
  • Will employers retain partial remote work policies, triggering a lower demand for corporate real estate and increasing reliance on in-home technology solutions?

There is no crystal ball for the long term, but we can see the immediate dislocation in many sectors and from this, where some challenges and opportunities are emerging.

Most of our Councils are writing blogs to share their impressions and insights on navigating through the COVID-19 situation. These will be posted on Marketing Connected in the weeks ahead, but in the meantime, here are some highlights form their discussions:

  • In the short term, brands are looking at how they can deliver their services with little to no in-person interaction. Most clients needs their agencies to help them pivot but in the face of short-term revenue squeeze, some companies are pulling back on agency support to save costs.
  • The public expects organizations to do the right thing. Brands need to be authentic, relevant and helpful like never before. Promoting public service is more important right now than promoting products, with some exceptions. Tone and positioning are crucial: Organizations should shift towards educating and informing customers and avoid upselling or behaving in any way that could be viewed as opportunistic.
  • Companies must strike a balance between being a good source of information and not contributing to information overload. Consumers are becoming overwhelmed by the number of COVID-related messages they are receiving from brands.
  • Today, the media industry is facing an unusual and unprecedented paradox. Media consumption and engagement on print, television and digital channels are up significantly as Canadians seek news they can trust and streaming content that they can enjoy. However, ad revenue is down, and media outlets are struggling to monetize their sky-high impressions. Many campaigns are on pause as brands recalibrate their strategies and develop approaches that are suited to today's environment.
  • The biggest pullback in the media sector has been in out-of-home; this is expected to recover once public and commercial spaces reopen. With people not in their cars, radio listening has declined.
  • This year's TV lineup may have a very different look. Production schedules have been interrupted by self-isolation measures. All major sports assets will be anxious to get back on the air but athletes will have to work hard to be ready and may have to continue physical distancing by playing to empty arenas and stadiums. Reality shows and episodic programming have had to cease production for now, and even if they do get up and running, the entire broadcast community may have to create new ways to produce ads and content without large production crews. Traditional scheduling patterns through TV seasons may permanently change.
  • The cancellation of festivals, charitable events and in-store partnerships is having a profound impact on the not-for profit sector, as some of these programs generate the bulk of their organizations' fundraising for the year. Many organizations are facing crippling fundraising challenges at a time when people may not be as comfortable donating due to the disruption in their personal income. Yet, these organizations fulfill crucial needs in our society. In the short term, not-for-profit marketers are shifting their focus towards stewardship. However, the need to replace lost revenues is becoming increasingly urgent.
  • Many companies that had implemented robust martech stacks and ecommerce platforms prior to COVID-19 are faring well. Those whose stacks were incomplete or not fully utilized now have the opportunity to improve their functionality, drive employee awareness and educate customers who are not so tech savvy on how to make full use of their platforms while physical locations are closed.
  • By taking the pulse of consumer sentiment and spending behaviours, data and insights marketers will play a pivotal role in informing recovery plans. Time - and data - will tell whether shifts in brand loyalty, lifestyle habits and spending preferences are permanent. While it's too soon to ask consumers to predict their future behaviours, automation can provide real-time results that inicate patterns and trends within the continually evolving circumstances that we are facing. In addition, AI and machine learning can help support the fight against COVID.

The CMA Councils have always been at the core of our community, and today they are more crucial than ever. For this reason, we are bringing our Councils and Board members together next week to further discus the challenges and opportunities marketers are facing and how they can prepare to move forward toward recovery.

The CMA has several touchpoints for marketers to learn and participate in discussions about the current situation.

  • Many Council leaders are stepping forward in the days and weeks ahead to host on-one sessions in our CMA Café, presented by Mastercard. This popular series, which facilitates strong connections within our community, has been expanded to accomodate up to 20 participants per session in a virtual setting.
  • Our new Marketing Connected platform contains though tleadership articles by marketers for marketers, information on government supports for employees and businesses, tips on regulatory issues during the pandemic, mental health and well-being resources for marketing professionals, and more.
  • Our 2020 calendar offers a wide range of events, webinars and learning experiences.


Sara Clodman, CMA's Vice-President, Public Affairs and Thought Leadership, is a mediator and public affairs executive with more than 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors and association management.

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Tags: COVID-19, media, marketing, supports, Marketing Connected, tv, not-for-profit, fundraising, analytics and insights