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How should marketing and advertising executives respond in the coronavirus crisis?  How should marketing messages be adapted to be more appropriate?  What campaigns should be stopped?  How do we act as good corporate citizens and avoid risks of alienating customers, general public and damaging the brand? What will be the longer term impact of the coronavirus pandemic on marketing and product / services sales as well as customer expectations and behaviour?

As a physician by first training and a Futurist advisor / keynote speaker on marketing / advertising trends and strategy to over 400 of the world's largest 2000 companies, including many of the world's largest retail brands, with a proven track record of longer term forecasting over the last 25+ years, here are some guiding principles for marketing directors. 

The global coronavirus crisis will accelerate pre-existing marketing and advertising trends and requires agility, sensitivity and boldness to make the right marketing decisions.

Suspension of all normal retail marketing campaigns

During the most intense phase of the coronavirus pandemic, in most nations a wide range of retail will be closed down entirely, apart from online sales which will have greater freedoms to continue.

So, normal campaign spending, aimed at driving customers into traditional stores, will entirely vanish in some nations for a period, possibly many months, except by grocery retailers, pharmacy chains and so on.

This will in turn have a devastating effect on the advertising revenues of most media companies.

Marketing campaigns in times of crisis need to support the "War Effort" in some way

However, there will be many opportunities to support the government in keeping people focussed, informed, motivated and alive with a wide range of branded health messaging and related marketing activities, which will also strengthen the image of such brands or companies as good corporate citizens. Helping to improve morale of the nation is absolutely fundamental to this.

These may range from coronavirus-related messaging on company websites, to major omnichannel campaigns, aimed at helping to mobilise entire nations in fighting COVID-19 most effectively.

Some companies will do very well with innovative campaigns which are designed to be mood-lifters, amusing, heart-warming, inspiring.  Think of the efforts made by some brands at Christmas time, appealing to warm, nostalgia and feelings of togetherness. 

Think of wartime efforts to keep spirits up, to provide light distraction from troubles all around.

Not so much about selling a product as about saying - "We are with you.... we will get through this together."  And companies will need to earn the right to do this, ensuring that their support goes far beyond encouraging messages, to genuine, practical help, especially for those in our health services who are on the front line.

Radical change in mood needed for many marketing campaigns

Many marketing departments have scored massive own-goals, damaging their own brands, by running campaigns that were clearly designed before the coronavirus hit.

Speed is everything - especially in things like TV and radio commercials.  Cancel any campaigns that are promoting dangerous or illegal activities for a start - eg eating in restaurants, staying in hotels or show images of people gathered. Or at least think very carefully about how they are being presented.

In countries where self-isolation / lockdown is either anticipated or a reality, ensure that your advertising / marketing is sensitive to that fact.

Examples of existing global trends that will be accelerated by Coronavirus pandemic

Expect huge further acceleration of online sales, mobile payments, mobile banking and business to business online transactions. Many Shopping Malls will struggle to re-open in developed nations. Physical retail will lose out even more to online shoppers, with big jump in online sales which will only partially reverse after the pandemic has ended. 

Airlines will consolidate more rapidly in Europe because of COVID-19, following US picture over the last decade. Larger airlines will be most likely to be rescued by governments. Borderline-non-viable airlines will be allowed to fold.  

Expect even faster growth of virtual working, virtual teams.

I warned many times in the past about global threats from mutant viruses

I am writing this marketing and advertising update on 25th march, in the very early stages of the global coronavirus crisis, at a time when already 25% of humanity is in lockdown, or has severely restricted permissions to mix with other people.  Clearly this will have the most profound and potentially long lasting impact on all marketing campaigns.

I have warned for over two decades about significant threats from new mutant viruses which appear roughly once a year, usually emerging in Southern China (for reasons unclear), just one of many potential Wild Cards that could strike down any successful global business.  For example, when the SARS outbreak began to threaten our world in 2003, my media warnings about the threats from new mutant viruses reached an audience of over 300 million.

One reason I am so sensitive to new mutant viruses like Coronavirus is that 32 years ago, my own medical practice, looking after people dying of cancer at home in London, was hit by a new mutant virus called HIV - 85 million deaths since then. And 31 years ago, I started in our family home an international foundation called ACET preventing HIV spread and providing practical support in many of the world's poorest nations such as Uganda, Nigera, DR Congo, India, Thailand and so on as well as in nations like the UK and Ireland. So yet another new illness, like COVID-19, is no surprise.  It was only a matter of when.

Need for Agile Campaign Messaging and Dynamic Marketing Strategy

I have also warned many hundreds of times at global corporate events banks and their VIP clients for over the last 20 years that:

"The world can change faster than you can hold a board meeting of your bank, let alone an advertising campaign. The days of having only one marketing strategy are over.  You need plan B, C, D and E as well - because there is no time to plan when a crisis hits, and in our hyper-connected world, the impacts on marketing are even greater and faster. That's why we need Agile Campaign Messaging and Dynamic Marketing Strategy."  I was not just talking about viruses - but a host of Wild Cards which can have gigantic impacts on marketing / customer behaviour at the speed of light across nations and industries.

Book your own board strategy review and coronavirus update - contact Futurist and Physician Dr Patrick Dixon 

Coronavirus pandemic will sweep uncontrolled across most emerging markets, rapidly

Whatever happens to larger retailers and retail brands in the EU, North America, Japan, Australia and so on, 85% of humanity lives in emerging markets, many of whom have very limited health care facilities, and which are likely to see very rapid, uncontrolled spread, at a time when developed nations are still employing all kinds of radical strategies to flatten their own peaks of cases.  

And the trajectory of coronavirus spread amongst the 85% who live in such nations, will have massive impact on strategies to contain or manage coronavirus spread in developed nations.

it is inevitable that so-called herd immunity (when 70-80% of a population has immunity from previous infection) will develop much faster in poorer nations, albeit with huge death rates amongst older and more vulnerable people. Having said that, many of the poorest nations have very high birth rates and few older people with multiple, complex health problems, so the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic / COVID-19 will be less per 1000 infected than in most developed nations.

What this all means is that the retail sector and consumer behaviour will return to normal much sooner in the poorest nations (within 3-5 months from their first major cluster of cases), who will be impacted by many deaths, but whose "community resistance" will climb rapidly to Coronavirus.

However there are many unknowns - for example how long immunity lasts after infection before someone can be hit again by the same virus or a slight variant.

Large retail brands in developed nations will be impacted for longer than in many emerging nations

Developed nations with the most powerful anti-infection strategies will have populations which are largely without any antibodies, for many months, maybe over a year.  Maybe longer.  Depends on many factors.  That will create an ongoing vulnerability to further rapidly growing clusters of infection, some of which may also become national threats.  The only answer to this will be very large scale vaccination, when the technology arrives.

Google N1N1 and look at Wikipedia entry to understand this more - repeated clusters some time after pandemic.

For these reasons, paradoxically, retail sales disruption in particularly is likely to be much longer, and repeated, in many of the most developed nations, compared to the poorest nations.

In many developed nations, the entire retail industry will suffer a gigantic shakeout, pulverising weaker players, with further consolidation, tremendous growth of agile retailers with strong online presence.

How many pre-exiting trends will be accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic

Many things will change less fundamentally than you might imagine - in March 2020.  Others will change faster and further than many expect.  The key is knowing the difference.

Most mega trends described in my books, including The Future of Almost Everything, will continue to shape the world of retail as before, but the Coronavirus pandemic will bring forward the timings of many key events.

An obvious example will be massive acceleration of every aspect of online shopping, e-business, mobile payments, online banking (statement review, moving money from one account to another online and so on).

Many drivers of retail will be relatively unaffected in longer term by Coronavirus Pandemic

85% of humanity will still be living in emerging markets.

Most new middle class consumers will still be found in tomorrow's emerging markets.

There are still almost 1 billion unbanked people globally, who will soon find access to financial services on their smart phones for the first time.

Emerging markets will ensure that our world does not slip into a global recession, or if it does, that such a severe downturn will be very short lived.  Expect 1.5% fall in global economic output, averaged out from March 2020 to April 2021.

Retail sales in emerging markets will sustain the balance sheets of many multinationals over the next 20 years, despite coronavirus.

Book your own board strategy review and coronavirus update - contact Futurist and Physician Dr Patrick Dixon 


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