Changing channels: how COVID has impacted international marketing

They say the best-laid plans often go awry – a sentiment very true for the past 12 months. For marketing professionals the pandemic meant doing away with annual strategies, cancelling events and rethinking messaging and creative material. Everything went up in the air and just as soon as the dust began to settle, the rug was pulled from under their feet once more.

Covid tore up 2020’s calendar and international marketers were forced to start from scratch. Reliable sales channels such as conferences and trade shows disappeared, and marketers had to quickly adapt. But how?

We’ve been speaking to industry experts within international marketing to uncover how they’ve responded to the pandemic. In a previous blog, we looked at the strategic considerations they’ve had to make, here we’ll delve into the tactical challenges and opportunities.

From the disruption of certain channels to the ones that are thriving, here are five ways the industry has changed in the past 12 months.

Filling the gap left by events: analysing the data  

Across industries, trade and customer shows are a prominent feature on the global marketing calendar. For several of the people we spoke to, they are a significant part of the marketing strategy. For Chad Mayoh, Global Marketing Manager from H&T Presspart, the cancellation of these events left a huge gap. Chad said that they tried to tackle this with digital channels, but working within the pharmaceutical sector made this more difficult. He explained that communicating technical or complex information to overseas audiences is challenging without face to face interaction.

Rather than simply moving these events online, what other ways can marketers adapt? Edelman, the global strategic communications firm, recommended investing in thought leadership and spending time on personalised and specific communications. These approaches should help to keep customer engagement strong. This proved successful for Varun Gopalakrishnan, Head of Field & Channel Marketing UKI & Higher Education Marketing Lead EMEA at Juniper Networks. Varun used the time saved on events to invest in analysing data and providing his colleagues with real insight across the different markets. The team then used this information to create tailored communications for audience groups and markets.

What might have been seen as a loss for Varun, has ultimately paid off. The team now has new insights and knowledge on their customers. Other experts we spoke to had found similar benefits.

“A big win from the pandemic has been we are able to better cater to customer journeys. This will put marketing in a much stronger position going forwards.” Karan Premi, Marketing at The Dermatology Partnership

Create webinars and content that engages

As digital dominated, the rise of webinars and virtual events boomed across industries. But a talking head in the middle of the laptop screen isn’t captivating. The rise in the medium presented its own challenge – how to stand out.

People are spending more time in front of the screen than before, so Zoom Fatigue has entered the business vocabulary. How do you avoid being lost in the noise of the day? Our experts suggest that to engage customers, the approach to this form has to be creative and well thought through.

Chris Lewis, Experienced Marketing Strategist and Global Partnerships at HBM Prenscia, pointed out that producing bad content is worse than producing no content at all. In the rush to switch, many companies produced boring or poorly delivered content. This can leave prospects with a bad impression. His advice is to plan carefully and make sure you are always providing a good impression, even if the channel is new to you.

The potential for errors for these channels covers both content and technical elements. As found by GoodFirms, a global software solution finder, if a customer has difficulties accessing a webinar or online event, they will likely not attend another one.

Christopher raised the point that during the pandemic, more than ever, it was important to keep close to audiences and their changing needs. To do this you need to keep updating and refreshing your content to ensure it’s relevant and interesting. This requires creativity and local customer understanding. What works in different markets will vary, especially as they move through different stages of the pandemic. We touched on this point in part one of this blog.

“There is a digital ‘bland-out’ rather than burnout. Too much disconnected content!” Chris Lewis, HBM Prenscia

New customer journeys have to be designed and executed

Christopher also discussed with us how the customer journey is different in a virtual setting, compared to real-life, and marketers need to take the time to understand that. Many businesses tried to use webinars as a direct sales tool, but our experts warned they aren’t suited to this. Webinars should be used for brand awareness, learning and insights. With this in mind, Christopher suggests using short and impactful videos to keep customers engaged.

Remember trying to schedule that tricky coffee meeting? Constant diary shifting and questions of who comes to who. With people set up at home, some of our experts have found that prospects and customers are more keen on one-to-one calls.

Andrea Stavrinidou, EMEA Marketing Communications and Engagement Manager, told us that getting hold of people felt easier during this time. With most of us working from home, being online has put us all in the same place at the same time – making virtual meetings much easier. This has provided an opportunity for rich dialogue and increased customer understanding.

Digital marketing has dominated during the pandemic. This is understandable as we’re spending more time online than out and about. But Mark Garratt, Chair of CASE Europe Universities Marketing Forum, doesn’t think this is just a phase. He believes that as we grow more accustomed to digital tools, online will continue to play a larger part in marketing moving forward. This can have great potential for those wanting to reach new markets.

But using digital content with a global audience inevitably leads to questions over language and how to tackle this challenge. Fabio Peyer, Senior Marketing Manager at Morningstar, shared that their teams always produce content in local language, either through translations or native speakers on the ground. By speaking to clients in their language with a tailored and relevant content approach, he says you do get a much higher level of engagement.

Sidenote: Did you know that Zoom is the only common video conference platform that offers an interpreting enabling plugin?

Building strong relationships with both internal and external stakeholders has been crucial  

As everyone battled with WiFi, pets and children – working from home became the great equaliser for many teams. With the WFH revolution, managers have had to trust employees so much more and this has had wider cross-departmental benefits. Debbie Pedder, Director, Marketing EMEA & APAC at Cielo Talent, has found that relationships between sales and marketing became even stronger during this period. The sense of togetherness has meant people have wanted to help each other more and has helped to engender more trust.

This enhanced concern for others has extended outside of the organisation as well of course. One of the experts I spoke with shared how budget freezes and general enhanced cost awareness affects not only in-house marketers but their agencies. There are knock-on effects across the supply chain and, as a marketer who often works with multiple partners, you have to be empathetic to the impact on them. The immediate response is often to carry out specialist activities in-house, but it’s important to keep quality control. Consider if moving in-house will be detrimental to your team and output before making that decision.

“Our EMEA and US teams have always worked closely, but we’re collaborative and have simplified our approach as a result of the pandemic. This is a real positive as it makes it easier to share knowledge and different perspectives.” Mick Smyth – Senior Marketing and Communications Manager, EMEA at Siegel+Gale

“Overall, it has actually been a positive year. We have achieved so much more than we thought we would at the beginning of 2020.” Laura Brown – Global Marketing Manager at Samuel Knight International

Personalisation and empathy are more important than ever  

We know that personalisation in marketing is crucial. But it’s a craft that takes time and regular attention. The pandemic has given marketeers the time to re-evaluate accepted assumptions and learn even more about their customers.

Debbie Pedder used this period to reassess their customer journey by sector and by region. She told us how this has been much more effective in reaching prospects and customers. People want to be spoken to as an individual and on a personal level. Debbie and the team have taken the time to look at their messaging and dig deep into what that means for different customers. There has often been a misconception that B2B marketing should be, well, business to business. But these are people you are targeting and as such even B2B marketing needs to have the person in mind. The pandemic has only exacerbated this fact.

This idea of keeping the person in mind was echoed by Erika Bianco, Senior Marketing & Communications Manager for Europe & Asia at MarketAxess. Erika mentioned that the pandemic has made it so it’s no longer possible to just talk about your product. Marketers must now humanise their messaging and relate to the situation that people are in to truly have an impact and remain relevant.

“We had to ensure we were supportive but remained relevant to our clients by focusing on the strength of one key message (our USP), the most helpful to them in that moment, and pushing that same message out consistently across all our channels.” Erika Bianco – Senior Marketing & Communications Manager for Europe & Asia at MarketAxess.

There’s no doubt that things will continue to shift as this strange time continues. However, the basis of good marketing remains true: targeting the right people, at the right time with the right message.

Getting to know who your customers are and speaking to them directly with authenticity and empathy is essential. If you’re operating globally, then speaking their language is a big part of that. If you’re interested in finding out more about translations, please get in touch.

“The whole pandemic has been a learning curve and although difficult at times, it is learning that will be able to be leveraged in the future.” Andrea Stavrinidou, EMEA Marketing Communications and Engagement Manager

A huge thank you goes to everyone that spoke with me and contributed to this, in addition to those mentioned in the blog:

  • Jack Richards, Global Marketing Executive.
  • Helen Badger, Marketing Director at LUQEL UK.
  • Alex Emson, Director of Global Sales and Marketing at Monitor Audio.
  • Alireza Ajam, Institutional Digital Marketing EMEA and APAC at RBC Global Asset Management.
  • Salil Jayakar, Marketing Professional.
  • Alessandro Fragiacomo, Digital Content and Influencer Lead.
  • Carmen Dominguez Rodriguez, International Digital Marketing Team Manager.
  • Allan Kelly, Global Marketing Manager at Euro Auctions.

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