We continue our series of insights into how businesses have been affected by the pandemic. We caught up with one of the region’s well-respected marketers to learn about the impact of Covid-19 on the marketing function, and thoughts on the future of marketing as we emerge from the pandemic.
Charlie Guthrie is the group marketing manager for 3T Energy Group, a training and technology group of businesses. They have four business units, and offices across four countries including China, the Middle East, USA and the UK.
The business delivers services across three core pillars; software & technology, simulation and training. The training service sees both B2B and B2C customers completing safety critical training predominantly within Oil & Gas and Offshore Wind sectors.
Planned marketing campaigns thrown out of the window
“The pandemic started impacting our business from early March with customers beginning to cancel training courses. When lockdown was enforced on the 23rd March, we had thrown our planned marketing campaigns out of the window. I’m sure that date will be engrained into the memory of many marketers, as is the 25th May when GDPR regulations came into effect.”
Challenging time for the industries keeping the lights on at home
“The customers of our training businesses complete courses to become certified to work offshore. This can be managed as individuals or through their employer, and certificates can be through a number of different awarding bodies. When lockdown started, the awarding bodies soon realised that delegates’ certificates would expire. This meant they would technically be unable to work offshore. However, it was these oil, gas and wind companies that were keeping the lights on at home. So, each awarding body started issuing policy and certificate expiry updates. Unfortunately, they were all different in their approach, policies and complexity.”
Finding a niche
“We launched a Covid-19 campaign to provide a single source of up to date information. Our objective was to position ourselves as the connected and authoritative voice, in what was becoming an increasingly noisy space. We had two communication plans. The first was direct, mainly to end-user delegates about their specific courses for which we used our established email channels and began using SMS properly for the first time. Secondly, we began issuing industry updates through our social media and email platforms as well as via webinars. It was in the latter we found a niche.
The webinars have proved very popular with significant levels of engagement. It appeared there was a vacuum of reliable information for businesses. We regularly found 100+ new and existing clients tuning in to our twice-weekly updates.
I believe there are two contributing factors to the rise of the webinar. Firstly, is the human voice, unedited and not hidden behind an email or corporately controlled social media channel. Secondly is the home working environment which I personally believe is more conducive to listening to them uninterrupted. We have also taken the programme ‘on the road’ with joint webinars and other content with our awarding bodies.”
Human and authoritative voice
“The engagement through email has risen significantly too. We discovered sending mass emails via our account managers was proving very successful. This was particularly effective in drawing in customers who we hadn’t had dealings with for a considerable time. Whilst we used an automated method to deliver these emails, they appeared to be direct from the account manager in a way that doesn’t come across in a graphically designed email through an email delivery platform. This supported our human and authoritative voice and helped to position our account managers accordingly too.”
Vulnerability of marketing function
“We’re entering a recession with much uncertainty. Whether it becomes a blip, or a painful recession remains to be seen. During recessions, the marketing function tends to find itself most vulnerable. Fortunately, our business sees the value in marketing and whilst we’ve certainly been squeezed on resource and budget, we haven’t felt it as painfully as I know others will have done.
When debating whether marketing is more important in these times or not, I think you can either reduce costs and ride the storm out, or you can go for it. We have generally taken a more go-for-it approach. This time is slightly different however because there has been a human cost that must stay at the forefront of everything we do.
I believe marketing during Coronavirus has changed for everyone. We have all been forced to deliver more conscientious communications. We have had to focus on the people behind our brands and remove all the salesy messaging. This can only be a good thing for marketers and businesses reputations. We saw the negative publicity at the start of lockdown that Sports Direct received followed by the very positive reaction to brands such as Nike, and the fantastically opportunist efforts by SpecSavers. What the future of marketing has in store for us in the long term I don’t know. We’re just about back into the swing of things based on a ‘new normal’ and I don’t believe the ‘old normal’ will be back any time soon, if at all.”
The future of marketing – entering a different paradigm
“I think working from home presents a fantastic opportunity for marketers. We’re entering a different paradigm. Much of the data we had before simply doesn’t apply now. We’re seeing different communications channels appear and disappear. We are looking at our social media scheduling as people are looking at their accounts at different times of the day. Similarly, emails will change, possibly extending the times when people are looking at emails.
When exploring offline marketing, whether that’s trade shows, awards dinners, hospitality or even promotional goods, the business models for each of these channels is going to have to adapt rapidly.”