Leah Anathan, like many chief marketing officers, has many critical duties as a marketing leader amid the COVID-19 world health pandemic, like avoiding tone-deaf marketing messages, keeping the marketing engine running and motivating her staff in uncertain and scary times. Her first order of business? Just acknowledging the seriousness of it all.

“To start, we have to acknowledge that this is tough,” said Anathan, CMO of Mews Systems. “We're very comfortable working remotely. Mews is an international company with offices all over the world so we live on Slack and Hangouts. That said, every day has been a shock to the system. The news is incredibly unsettling, and it's important to acknowledge this. It's equally important to stay focused on our mission because this situation will not last.”

Personal Touch Matters

Tim Minahan
Tim Minahan
Marketers already face plenty of challenges: generating quality traffic, information overload, striking the right balance in the marketing technology stack, overwhelming amounts of data and having enough resources, according to digital marketing agency New Perspective. But this? A world health pandemic where businesses are shut down, people face shelter in place orders, employees grapple with sudden, new ways of working and the global death toll is rising? How can a CMO lead the marketing department in a time of great crisis?

Tim Minahan, CMO of Citrix, said that he’s constantly connected with his leadership team through its marketing leadership Slack channel. “I also make it a practice to either open or close each day with a personal outreach to my leaders to stay abreast of any late-breaking news and to take a moment to find out how they and their families are doing personally,” he said. “It’s very important to remember that we are all grappling with this evolving situation personally. And it’s just nice to connect and be reminded that we’re all in this together.” 

Mary Stanhope, CMO of Unitas Global, said the health and safety of family members is on the minds of all employees first and foremost. Leadership teams check in on these priorities and provide support before getting down to business. “In the current situation there is a lot of activity, and motivation seems to be less of a problem than the question of what to prioritize,” Stanhope told CMSWire.

“There is much unknown about the situation and there are not always clear answers, which can be frustrating for any group. Clearly communicating the changing environment and encouraging agile thinking helps keep people motivated and keeps business moving.”

Related Article: What's on the Mind of the Modern CMO?

Time for an Aggressive Approach?

Personal touch aside, the business needs to keep running as best it can. CMOs during the COVID-19 crisis need to take an aggressively proactive approach to preparing their organization for disruption, according to Gartner officials. CMOs must take immediate action in monitoring customer channels for unexpected and quick changes to customer behavior and purchasing needs, and prepare for potential disruption to budgets, plans, campaigns and strategy in the months ahead, Gartner noted in a March 18 blog post.

Gartner recommends that CMOs should:

  • Build COVID-19 contingency plans: Create three scenarios, spanning from best- to worst-case, and consider the potential impacts to customers, the marketing team and brand strategies and tactics. Work with legal, finance, supply chain, IT and operations.
  • Monitor, report and react to shifts in customer behavior: Monitor customer values and sentiment against a global backdrop; improve real-time listening to detect shifting customer sentiment; carefully weigh short-term interests versus the value of sustaining and nurturing longer-term customer relationships.
  • Prepare marketing teams for interruptions and challenges: Anticipate how business disruptions will impact existing marketing operations and formulate strategies to protect and adjust budgets; consider changes that may need to be made to customer policies and procedures.
  • Review marketing plans for potential impact: Anticipate potential change to campaigns, promotions, event marketing, sponsorships and other marketing strategies; consider how restrictions to events and travel will impact sponsorship activation plans or campaign messaging.

Making the Shift to Online

Leah Anathan
Leah Anathan
The marketing engine hasn't stopped for Anathan and her Mews Systems teams, but it is shifting everything online. “We've delivered some communications and one event related to COVID-19, but our mantra on this is clear. We're here to be humble and helpful,” Anathan said. “We're not able to cure this virus, but we can offer help to our clients who are facing a serious disruption to their businesses.”

Her company worked on organizing a free, open online panel event with consultants and thought leaders from the industry for a 60-minute presentation and 30-minute Q&A giving their expert opinions on how to handle this situation. Consultants were scheduled to provide free 30- to 60-minute consultations.

Related Article: Top CMO Challenges and Focus Areas for 2020

Crafting a Sound Digital Marketing Program

Gina Hortatsos
Gina Hortatsos
With the cancellation or postponement of so many physical events, companies like LogicGate are working to re-allocate that budget. “Of course we are pivoting to digital, but we want to ensure that our digital investment provides the best possible customer experience, from the first touch all the way through customer onboarding,” said Gina Hortatsos, CMO of LogicGate. “So we’re looking at investments in content, account-based marketing, creative and testing new channels."

The marketing teams have produced COVID-19 messages since one of the applications LogicGate offers helps organizations prepare and manage business continuity plans. The CEO published some guidance and best practices on this topic. The company also published a letter to our customers explaining its response to the COVID-19 threat. 

Learning Opportunities

Ensuring Customers Get Access to Web Resources

Minahan’s company Citrix has provided secure remote work technologies for decades, and its customers expect it to be there to help them scale virtual desktops and digital workspaces to a broader portion of their employee base. They want to know how best to deploy Citrix technologies, but also how to maintain their operations and employee productivity in a remote work environment. “We in marketing were very quick to respond to this need by beefing up our business continuity resources on our website and providing a platform for customers and partners to share their own tips and lessons learned for remote work,” Minahan said. “We were also quick to transition our physical world events and programs to virtual, including our executive advisory board, our customer council, our executive briefings and our annual customer conference, Citrix Synergy, which we’re transitioning to an all-digital experience this May.”

Related Article: Why the CMO Role Isn't Doomed After All

Marketing Messages Refreshed with Crisis in Mind

Mary Stanhope
Mary Stanhope
Unitas Global is continuing its digital marketing activity and refreshing messages to be relevant to the constantly evolving businesses objectives of its clients, according to Stanhope. “It is important to recognize that all advertising and marketing right now is happening against the backdrop of a global health issue,” Stanhope said. “The impact of COVID-19 on our customers is that business challenges and objectives have changed overnight. Business continuity is top of mind now more than ever. Performance and security from home offices is a top concern across industries.”

As a CMO, Stanhope’s focusing as much as possible on impacted clients and what her organization is doing to support them. “Due to its directness, social media channels are currently playing,” she added, “a bigger role in our communication than more traditional marketing channels.”

Big-Picture Insights for Customers

Naturally, keeping the marketing engine running during a world health crisis comes with its many challenges. For Stanhope, that means ensuring her teams are delivering compassionate messaging, maintaining lead generation and continuing partner engagement. “We are aware that COVID-19 is top of mind for all,” she said. “Changing the conversation and remaining relevant is a challenge. As a managed service provider, my company guides and supports businesses, and as a CMO, I think about offering insights into the bigger picture of the impact and what this means for each client’s economic future.”

And as for engagement challenges, workplace collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, and video conferencing platforms help keep all members of the business connected and keep operations moving forward, Stanhope said.

Bracing for Agile Ways of Marketing

Minahan called the COVID-19 crisis a reminder of the need to design organizations for business readiness so you can ensure your employees can work from home on a moment’s notice. Further, organizations need to be prepared to rapidly adjust the focus of the programs and communications they are putting into the market in order to best meet the needs of customers and the broader community. “Over the past several years, we have intentionally been transitioning into a digital marketing organization, increasing our investment in our digital marketing infrastructure and making digital a major if not primary way we engage customers and the market,” Minahan said. "While we made this transition to be in tighter alignment with the customer journey and how prospective buyers prefer to engage, this shift has also made us much more agile, putting us in a position to adapt our messaging, programs and channels quickly to meet the needs of the current global situation.”

Related Article: The Future CMO: Chief Innovator, Chief Transformation Officer & More

Accustomed to Ambiguity, Uncertainty

For Hortatsos, challenges are different than 8,400-employee Citrix. LogicGate is a 110-person company. “Dealing with a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty is the norm here,” she said. “We are data-driven but also scrappy, which is an advantage at times like this. We still have revenue goals to achieve, and the leading indicators such as pipeline and deal progression will probably be affected in the next few months.”

The teams are keeping a close eye on the pipeline health and campaign performance metrics so it can quickly pivot if it sees trends that aren’t typical. “We’re partnering closely with our sales teams to enable our future customers,” Hortatsos said, “so that when they’re in a position to partner with us, they have everything they need to move forward.”