Four key lessons from marketing during a pandemic

The four things I have taken away from marketing during a pandemic

By Victoria Perea-Usher, Vice President, Marketing Communications, JCB International (Europe) Ltd.

In 2020, armed with our team’s marketing framework and considered calendar for the year, I felt confident about our marketing strategy.

Of course, that vision was quickly turned on its head. Like many other marketers in my position, I found that our plans no longer made sense in a world that we hoped would only be out of kilter for a few weeks, but instead proved to be much more long-term.

What felt so challenging at the time has proven to be, in so many ways, an important learning curve. In times of flux, it helps to take a step back and assess the changing landscape pragmatically. I approached this by starting to change the way we worked to support our organisation to steer into different ways of thinking. The forced navigation away from what was a familiar structure–– made me and my team sit up a little straighter, and broaden our mindsets a little wider.

Now, 12 months on, I have reflected on what I learned and during this period, and would like to share both a few practical tips and personal insights:

1. Bring it back to basics

I like to call this stage “focusing on your brand's core values”. Having to rethink almost every initiative was an opportunity to reflect and immerse myself in the bigger picture. For us, at JCB, it all comes back to ‘omotenashi ‘, the Japanese principle of hosting as a gracious act of sincerity and devotion. In other words, customer-centricity.

We have trusted, long-established relationships with both our cardmembers and business partners, whom we listened to carefully throughout this difficult period, so that we could best support them and our ecosystem and further, begin to promote recovery.

Internalising these open conversations has allowed us to deliver a purpose-driven, customer-led marketing approach. Today, we are engaging with more platforms that we had historically not focused on, such as virtual events and podcasts, and finding many new ways to connect authentically to drive value to our global customer base.

2. Adaptability remains essential

The events of the past year have driven home the importance of being able to find fresh methods to achieve long-term goals. Keeping sharply focused on the overarching strategy and brand values with a responsive mindset to the world around us has been crucial.

We wanted to empower our partners with curated business insights to support the growth and comeback of their business through data-led communications centered around unlocking the enormous spend power coming from the APAC region. Thus, ensure we are the gateway for them to Asia. We further invested both time and budget into developing guidance around these key data points, via a content recovery series which included whitepapers and animated videos to support this narrative. To further engage our audiences visually, we have encompassed design, iconography and various creative elements into our look and feel.

As a result of the pandemic, I fast realised that it is important to remain as agile as possible. That way, you can react at speed and tweak short-term actions effectively to ensure you are still on track to attain your overall objectives.

3. Demonstrate your passion and your ‘why’

Another valuable lesson from this year for me has been in pursuing those projects that we know will have tangible impact and yield positive return. This has always been integral to our activity in the marketing team. The need to build on and explore what we wanted to do came into sharp focus as we tried more contemporary tactics.

We always had plans to launch a podcast, host a digital webinar and act on other virtual forms of marketing, but the pandemic certainly accelerated our efforts. Because we introduced these to our business faster than we might have originally anticipated, it was equally important to ensure that our partners felt supported from a distance in a remote working world.

Our podcast series, Gateway to Growth, now reaches audiences in more than 35 countries and regions including the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, Austria, the United States, Germany and more. Meanwhile, our JCB-hosted webinar - in partnership with Stripe - offered our partners huge value-add in terms of education, and served our most senior community with very specific insights for growth around ecommerce strategies.

4. Take your personal growth and development seriously

As individuals, marketers should aim to stay on top of the industry and upskill themselves and their teams with more digital knowledge and know-how. There has been an exponential increase in the expansion of learning and tutoring platforms, such as Skillshare and Udemy. And even highly respected institutions like Harvard are offering free online courses to support development outside of core professions.

Beyond virtual education, there is always room to improve yourself and flex how you think about your career. It is important to think outside your role and expand your broad-spectrum savvy through widening your interests and hobbies. Developing not only your marketing skills, but your overall skillset as an individual will make you a far more effective marketer and team member. I have found that taking up a Design Thinking course online has made me think more creatively around problem-solving.

Another route to opening your mindset may be in joining more talks and panels, or even volunteering your time to a cause you are passionate about can help build you into a more rounded and capable marketer, because you are opening your mind to different ways of working and varied strategies. There is something to learn from every industry – comfort zones do not often offer first-class prizes.

My final piece of advice comes in making sure that whenever you are faced with a situation that you have never had to deal with before - take a step back, start from zero, and embrace pivoting your strategy to continue to deliver value to your community.

There is no greater teacher than self-reflection.

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