Now is the time for a marketing strategy review, says expert

Strategic Marketing expert Noreen Cesareo says that with the challenges set by COVID-19 and Brexit, now is the time for a marketing review

THIS year has been like no other. Earlier, at the start of the pandemic, we were already advising our clients and partners to revise strategies and look to digital to weather the COVID-19 storm. Today, our markets are still in a state of flux.

As a business sector, 2020 could not be worse for manufacturing, especially as 95 per cent of UK manufacturers are also exporters and a significant number are part of complex international supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped many of us in our tracks, disrupting business, society and our lives. Many businesses have focused on an immediate approach to ensure a certain degree of tailwind to return to normal trading conditions at some time in the future. However, we must also consider what is happening to established industries and markets, and discuss longer-term options such as diversification of markets, localisation, new products, new customer segments and revised supply chains. 

New buying behaviours

COVID-19 has certainly influenced how we behave as a society. We have reacted to restrictions and adapted our behaviours as buyers of products and solutions. While showcasing the resilience and ability of many businesses to pivot, it is also time to review longer-term strategies, markets, segmentations and customer personas. 

McKinsey mapped the new emerging behaviours across eight key areas of our life. These include work, shopping, at home, play and entertainment, health and wellbeing, travel and mobility, communications, information, and learning.  There has been an unprecedented surge for digital services as well as a strong focus on sustainability. 

Many of these trends are not new – they are an acceleration of behaviours which were already taking hold in some sectors. Digital did not develop yesterday and for many industries, the shift towards automation, smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 was already taking place. We are just amazed at how quickly technological laggards shifted with a degree of fluency to using digital media and online social tools. So, although behaviours have changed, we had been building up to it over a time, albeit at different stages of adoption. Certainly, we never expected this level or speed of adoption.  

While many of the longer-term changes in consumer behaviour are still forming – giving businesses a unique opportunity to understand and help shape the future – these changes affect industry –  now  – beyond the point of  ‘consumption’.

The thinking is that some of these changes will be temporary while many will become new enduring behaviours. These include better connectivity, health, hygiene, remote working, remote learning, digital services, a surge in e-commerce, and online/streaming entertainment on-demand.

A shift in thinking

Such changes in behaviour call for a shift in thinking, a revaluation of the customer journey and the value and supply chains.

A typical customer journey starts with information gathering. As the traditional media mix of preferred channels has been shaken to the core, a new hybrid is forming. There has been a comeback on the influence of TV, but with streaming services winning in our living rooms, most of the information gathering is now taking place online – from on-demand film and videos, webinars, documentaries to podcasts, online expos and so forth. 

Coupled with COVID-19 restrictions, this has impacted our marketing spend, especially our promotional and advertising spend, with a corresponding impact on in-store kiosks in department stores and supermarkets stores and out-of-home-advertising such as billboards. Face-to-face meetings, relationship building and industry/business gatherings – the large expos, business meetings, seminars, conferences, awards – have also become casualties of the pandemic. 

To comment on what is being purchased now is to re-evaluate in line with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – customers are buying in response to their immediate needs and budgets. The hierarchy of needs has changed: they are now focused on health and hygiene, food and drink. Sustainability and the environment are high on our priority list. As consumers, we are also evaluating our brand preferences, looking to trusted brands or supporting local new start-ups.

The typical retail consumer is also experiencing a basket re-composition, be it for groceries, home and DIY, health and athleisure clothing. The size of packaging has been adapted in response to reduced shopping frequency. As we are forced to spend more time at home, we have embarked on improvement projects and found space for home offices. The trend in clothing is definitely for leisure smart wear, as office wear languishes in wardrobes and drawers. 

‘Where’ got complicated too. As customers, we are forced to look at online alternatives, click-and-collect operations or outlets closer to home. Retail is reeling from the decrease in footfall, shopper-density and tourist spend. Yes, we are still shopping but our expectation of that experience has changed. Our new shopping reality must be safe, still convenient and allow us to return safely and at our convenience. We still want to sample products or try on clothes, and we should expect more innovation in this field.  

Our values have also changed. Sustainability, climate concerns, health and safety – these are all front-of-mind and driving the how in our purchasing journeys and experiences. Our loyalty may be wavering, as we are forced to try new brands and new products out of necessity.   

Within this backdrop, life as we knew it has changed. And just as your manufacturing operation has undergone tremendous changes, marketing and sales have also shifted, embracing digital and maximizing the use of this channel. What were considered as effective channel strategies just a year ago (direct mail, trade shows, print advertising, telemarketing) will not produce the same effect. And that is why we need a strategy refresh.

We know that almost all the research at the information gathering stage is now carried out online.  We also know that for the foreseeable future, we are operating in a digital world that will at some point also revert to a hybrid environment which may probably become permanent. The markets we target are borderless and experiences are moving closer among different market segments. 

At this crucial period, no one wants to be left out. Manufacturers that fail to adopt a #marketready strategy face a real threat of becoming irrelevant. They face being pushed out of the market place or being overtaken by alternative local start-up brands that have emerged out of the COVID-19 new market place or aggressive competitors from across borders battling for new markets. 

What’s next?

You would not set off into unknown waters without trying to understand the environment.  It is the same with your business. You must be smart to weather these chaotic markets, and that means being strategic, agile, and relevant – using every tool you have available to be #marketready.

Your starting point is a strategic exercise to set a refreshed direction, and that should fit in seamlessly with your value and supply chains reviews. You will then be in a better position to shape your sustainable growth plan, build robust marketing capabilities and boost sales. 

Now is not the time to cancel marketing or diminish your online footprint. This is a chance to revisit your direction, innovate in your business and engage with your current and potential customers. 

Noreen Cesareo FRSA is principal at Market Accents – – a consultancy that works with businesses to help its client to set strategies, understand markets and customers, develop a unique voice and engage with customers efficiently and effectively. 


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