Guest Blog: Taking Time to Reflect, Listen and Understand

Pernilla Tweddle, Marketing Director and Specialist, talks openly about her career experience, the new marketing landscape and the importance of reflection in our latest podcast and guest blog. 

When I was asked to take part in the podcast series Let’s Talk hosted by Wrapped, naturally the conversation leant towards life at the moment and how the Coronavirus pandemic have affected our lives and the marketing landscape in general. We also talked about my career, and how some of my experiences may be useful for budding marketers starting out today.

I was also invited to write a guest blog so here I share some of my observations about taking time to reflect, listen and understand during this most unusual period in our lives.

Defined by the Oxford dictionary, time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.”

Time had many different facets during the pandemic lockdown in the UK depending on the situation you found yourself in, but one thing was consistent for all of us – we were told to stay at home and all of sudden time took on a new meaning. Our present existence, outside essential work, errands and ‘daily’ exercise, was confided to our homes.

Unquestionably this presented challenges and anxiety for many people in different ways, but with a glass half full approach, I am going to try and focus on the positives and the opportunities. For me personally, and I know the same was felt by many others, the stay at home message presented a time to pause, reflect and check in on personal health, family, and home. This included two dogs who could not believe their luck when the house was suddenly occupied during office hours and a hive of activity and noise resumed as my two sons also returned from university. The kitchen too was in for a shock – a conveyor belt of feeding frenzy from dusk to dawn and beyond. Smiles all round so far.

The thought of being told to exercise outdoors once a day – and duly obliging – was much welcomed and something that has been seriously lacking in my life for the past far-too-many years. Time to pause the to-do list in my head; time to think about what was happening around us; time to watch the nature change as the most gorgeous spring unfolded into summer. Time to breathe.

There have been several accounts of people finding lockdown enlightening and even life-affirming. Time to re-prioritise for some. A football manager of a mid-league club said on a radio phone-in programme (great to listen to while exercising or dog waking) that prior to the pandemic he was a mediocre manager and terrible dad. Lockdown meant a hands-on dad who fully embraced, and loved (!), home-schooling, saying he felt happy and ‘re-born’. Cannot recall his name was but I remember his enthusiastically positive comments.

Others, I will be brave enough to suggest these were predominantly the younger generation and millennial’s, seemed to have a very different interpretation of lockdown time. ‘Things to do during lock-down’ started appearing in a social media frenzy even before the lock-down. How to eat, shop, cook, clean, exercise; how to up-skill, learn, educate, grow and help the community during lockdown. You name it – there was an article, blog, opinion piece, or game on it. And not surprising – the instant society we live in was not likely to pause for long but rather feel a need to fill every moment with a hive of innovative, creative and shareable activity.

Some of these were fantastic (tick-tock made me laugh and my dance attempts made my family cringe) and certainly much welcomed as the lockdown period went on, but I remember thinking in early April, only a couple of weeks into lockdown, that surely we can take some time to unwind a little instead, press the pause button and reflect on the unprecedented events that were unfolding right before us? Oh, I sound really quite old in saying that.

5pm was time to watch or listen to the daily briefing and whilst associated with tragic news, sadness and complete aghast as we learnt how the pandemic swept through the country, it was a time when all the family got together, paused and listened. At 22 and 20, my sons followed the news intently and had time to really take an interest. Listen, learn, ask, reflect. No football, no sport – so the news.

Speaking as a marketer, from a branding and lead generation point of view, the pandemic certainly offered several immediate challenges including the threat of changes or cuts to marketing spend and activity but also potential opportunities for changes and improvements.

An opportunity to take time to really listen to and understand customers; time to assess gaps in the market and adapt practices, approaches, and processes. This could be an opportunity for businesses to strengthen brands, deepen customer relationships and be more useful, helpful and relevant.

As the crises evolved and its impact on society and life changed almost daily, businesses had to be proactive in progressively altering their marketing messages and online content. Given that digital content is one of the core ways to ensure businesses maintain brand reputation, there was no surprise to see that the communication and marketing mix of many companies focused even further on digital channels where websites, social media, online campaigns were rapidly updated to reflect the crisis.

We know that consumers are more likely to buy from a brand after they have consumed relevant content so it was imperative for brands to closely watch the mood of the nation as well as the undoubtedly changing attitudes and demands of their customers. No mean feat by any stretch, and it was stormy waters in an uncharted ocean. Unquestionably however, there was a large, attentive audience ready to consume information with more time on their hands – but what did they want to see or hear? There was an abundance of information about public opinion and the mood of the nation – but who do you listen to? The government? Twitter? Do you create your own poll? Personally, I found Gogglebox a great way to judge the room, as well as entertain on a Friday night, with what seemed, at least on the face of it, like fairly genuine reactions to the Coronavirus crisis from people across the country from different walks of life.

In terms of marketing applications, what we have seen is an affirmation, if we ever needed one, that digital marketing has the power to implement change and influence consumer choices in a proactive way and at impressive speed. The pandemic has augmented both the importance and the relevance of this form of marketing and many brands have seen more digital engagement in the last three months than they most likely have in the last three years. The same goes for virtual practices and service offerings.

Surprisingly quickly we saw a wave of COVID altered creatives from leading big brands across digital platforms as well as TV and radio advertising. Some of these worked well in my view and resonated with the public, particularly brands that represented products and services that mattered to us during the crisis such as supermarkets and delivery companies.

Others not so much… All of a sudden everyone was wishing us to stay safe, good health, looking forward to seeing us ‘on the other side’ and the ad breaks started to look like a Shutterstock reel of people at home delivering marketing message via Zoom. The urgency to respond led to similar executions and jumping on the bandwagon took on a life of its own. Many creatives were in my view lacking enough distinctiveness for the brand to be remembered, especially as lockdown fatigue set in. Conversely, it did highlight that TV advertising is still a prevalent and powerful marketing force, especially as more people took to watching live broadcast TV. BARB reported a 22% increase in TV viewing from the beginning of lockdown to the end of May.

If you haven’t seen the Heineken adverts, they are worth a watch and got it right in my view, especially by adding in a bit of humour in their second advert which focused on the IT challenges and disasters at home while trying to connect with friends, family and colleagues…albeit to have a beer. Definitely generating a feel-good factor, these were well thought-through, professionally produced and executed.

There has been a lot of discussions about brands and businesses adopting variations of the three-level marketing approach to dealing with a crisis, such as react, respond, rebuild. Within this process, it is important to take enough time to consider how to react and make sure responses as well as rebuild strategies have been evaluated using experience and knowledge as much as possible, whilst at the same time navigating new territory.

Organisations were forced to re-consider marketing spend, as income drastically halted or dropped significantly, and third-party outsourcing had to be re-assessed for many. The right thing to do. However, and as all marketers I know would agree with, you cannot fall silent in difficult times. This is a time when your brand has to continue to be heard, albeit through different, new and more cost-effective channels and altered messages. And as things begin to pick up, the value of third-party experts to ensure your marketing is the best it possibly can be to achieve your goals, should not be underestimated.

It will be interesting to see how marketing changes and adoptions will play out as we move into more normal times. I use ‘more normal’ as I am not a fan of neither the term nor the concept of ‘new-normal’. Whatever your thoughts and feelings are about time, and how it was used to navigate recent months, one thing is for sure, we won’t forget this extraordinary period.
And finally, for anyone still wanting lock-down entertainment, my absolute laugh-out-loud fix has been BBC sports presenter Andrew Cotter’s series of short videos about his two Labradors. Honestly, I don’t think you even have to like dogs to enjoy these. A must-watch with sublime commentary.

Listen to our Let’s Talk podcast with Pernilla here.

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