By Themba Nobanda | CEO at Brand Spear and Marketing Awards Council member

Without a doubt,
2020 will become known as the year in which the marketing landscape was forever changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The year in which the traditional understanding of the role of marketing and the tools we previously used to engage consumers and customers was called into question – and this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it could be exactly the push businesses need in order to fully realise the potential that they already have sitting in their marketing teams.

No doubt, ‘things’ unravelled last year. Some businesses were sadly wiped out while others pushed through and survived against all the odds. There are even some brands that have thrived. One simple hypothesis, especially for the analysts among us, is that those who are thriving are the ones who have stopped with the flash and allowed their marketing teams to do what they do best: build solid brands that possess strong brand equity.

It’s the dawn of a new day in the realm of marketing, folks. The day when we finally see an end to the misguided notion that marketing is all about ‘advertising’ in its commonly (mis)understood sense, with good old sexy television ads and topical sponsorships. And it’s all down to the advent of the pandemic during the digital transformation era, which has forced a long-overdue return to the original marketing mix and focus on marketing as a strategic (and scientific) discipline.

 An end to marketing budget cuts?

The first and perhaps most expected impact on the marketing landscape as a result of the pandemic has been the cuts made to marketing budgets the world over. We all saw this coming because historically speaking, the first thing that businesses tend to do when underperforming is to immediately slash their marketing ‘spend’ in the hopes of rescuing their bottom line.

This unproductive habit stems from a faulty understanding of what marketing does. The traditional (incorrect) belief is that marketing ‘promotes’ what a business’ sell. But its way more, marketing is really the science behind strategically building a brand that attracts and retains customers. A business’ success is tied intrinsically to the strength of brand, because therein lies its true value. Whenever marketing is side-lined or not fully utilised to strategically build and support the brand, the business suffers. This is precisely what we’re seeing right now in a lot of businesses who have previously treated marketing as a ‘spend’ and not as a core aspect of their business strategy.

Pivoting towards all the other Ps, including people

Covid has re-emphasised the need to actively build strong brand equity into businesses. By and large, those businesses that aren’t surviving the pandemic are those who either heavily commoditised their brands or who established their brands but failed to use brand equity to strategically drive the business.

It’s a tough fact to swallow, but more businesses will come out the other side of this crisis (or any crisis) stronger if they stop hitching their strategy to the first promotional ‘P’ of the marketing mix and invest in brand building activities that drive their overall goals.

True marketers, who know how to utilise the entire marketing mix are the boardrooms wizards of today as they are best placed to provide strategically sound guidance to drive businesses. The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns sharply reminded us that we sell to people and without those people, we have no business. As a result, the agenda of every ‘Covid Response Strategy’ meeting centred on understanding “our audience”, their rapidly changing challenges, their new needs, and how to service them fully, and still profitably (the classic definition of marketing). Or else “we” wouldn’t make it.

I look at this as a hopeful impact, because as a result of great conversations around sustainably managing brands through a crisis, business owners have also had to re-evaluate their relationship with marketing. The smart money betting on post-Covid winners is on those exploring the different aspects of how to do marketing well, including price, product, and distribution. Even when it comes to promotion, we have seen brands start to focus on genuine purpose-led marketing. Moreover, we are finally seeing more people in the boardroom advocate for authentic brand responses to ongoing social and economic issues that are deeply resonant with the brand’s purpose.

A new era in marketing

Here is my prediction. In this new era, we will see the marketing profession break free from its traditional box of tricks and move towards a reliance on all four of the fundamental Ps in order to embrace the opportunity to do things smarter. To market brands with soul and explore new ways to build stronger brands that are resilient in the face of crisis.

We are living in an age of golden opportunity where pretty much any touchpoint can be utilised to reach consumers, especially now that the pandemic has accelerated digitisation in South Africa. Traditional advertising may still have a role to play, but the time has come to rid ourselves of the nostalgia of TV ads and move on to bigger (yes, I said bigger), better, smarter things so that we can build valuable sustainable brands.

As such, I am most looking forward to celebrating all the finalists and winning entries for the Marketing Achievement Awards on 31 March 2021. I anticipate strong evidence to justify the increasingly strategic role of marketing in business and that marketers across all industries have started to go beyond what is traditional and innovate across all the pillars of marketing to build solid, strategic, and loved brands, well beyond the whirlwind of 2020.

See you at the awards!