The COVID-19 Reset: The Business You Are in has Changed

Changes in consumer behavior, the acceleration of existing trends by 3-5 years, the need to revisit purpose and value propositions are not only changing companies, but also the role of leaders, marketers, communicators, and agencies who now need to be in the transformation business. These are just some of the provocative takeaways in this summary of the second webinar in our series on The COVID-19 Reset: Strategy, Marketing & Communications, with former Marketer of the Year, Arun Sinha, and Time magazine Marketing Innovator, Rishad Tobaccowala.     

COVID-19 Reset Webinar

In the second in our ongoing series of Marketing IMPACT Council™ webinars organized in collaboration with CommunicationsMatch™, with the support of the Financial Communications and Capitol Communicator, Arun Sinha and Rishad Tobaccowala shared compelling insights into ways businesses are being changed by the pandemic and what this means for strategy, marketing, and communications professionals.  

Among the key takeaways from the webinar is the idea that marketers, communicators, and agencies supporting companies need to be focused on helping businesses transform themselves through the COVID-19 Reset. 

Sinha is a former Global CMO of J.P. Morgan, Zurich Financial, MSCI, and President of Services & Solutions and CMO of Pitney Bowes, a business leader, entrepreneur, author, and Yale School of Management Senior Faculty Fellow. Tobaccowala is senior advisor to, and former Chief Strategy & Growth Officer of, the Publicis Groupe, and a past chairman at transformational agencies DigitasLBi and Razorfish. He’s the author of Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data.

In the webinar, Sinha argues that the changes taking place are not all new, many were happening already and have been accelerated through the crisis. “Companies which can adapt to these changes well are going to be the winners, be successful, and build long-term value.”   

“Communication, by itself, like advertising is in long-term secular decline,” says Tobaccowala. People need to be in the marketing and transformation business. There’s massive demand. Clients are saying, “Just solve for me at good value and speed.”

Both Sinha and Tobaccowala note that significant changes in consumer behavior are impacting companies through the crisis. With customers nesting at home and interacting through digital platforms, companies need to adapt to reach them and ensure an effective digital experience.    

A key to understanding consumer behavior is the idea of fragility. Tobaccowala notes this is driven by three emotions: anxiety, fear about their financial future, and uncertainty about when this will end. Fragility is driving consumer focus on safety, security, and value.

The idea of purpose is invaluable as companies seek ways to connect with clients. With the ongoing shifts in focus from shareholders to stakeholders and attention to ESG, Sinha notes that this is not new, but that it will be accelerated through the crisis as companies’ value-propositions change. Both panelists caution, however, that the way companies treat employees is most important to brands and reputation.   

Tobaccowala frames the changes taking place as part of a broader shift toward a new "second connected age" in technology, shifts in globalization and demographics. 

“Leaders have been zoomed into the future,” he points out by 3-5 years. In the new world, businesses will be “OMNI” present. No longer will there be online and offline. “All businesses will be mongrels – with multiple supply chains based on resilience, not costs.” As an example, “Every conference will combine real world and virtual.”

Marketing does not work without a broader ecosystem that supports it, Sinha notes. Adding that, all ten CMOs in his Yale University class were changing marketing plans and the marketing mix through the crisis. “CMOs need help. This is a time when marketing services firms have an opportunity to become partners – they can get the seat at the table.”

Both discuss the critical importance of being agile. The days of planning a year ahead are gone. Planning decisions need to be made in days, weeks, or months. 

With technology allowing companies to rapidly develop, launch, and test campaigns, the panelists recognize the importance of data, but consistent with the discussion in the first webinar in the series, it’s important not to be fixated on math. Marketers need to think about meaning.

They note that the crisis will lead to some changes around people. Tobaccowala shares that companies will always be looking for capability – some combination between IQ and EQ – but the ability to learn in a world where the rate of change is faster than our analog brains will be key. Both also highlight the importance of resilience.

“Leaders will need to be resilient, optimists, show a vision, and have a change orientation going forward,” notes Sinha. 

Reflecting the thread around the idea of “humanity” throughout the conversation, Tobaccowala shares the idea of leading with soul and five key characteristics – leaders need to be capable and competent, have integrity, empathy, vulnerability, and offer inspiration.  

“We are in a time when we are in a furnace, people are watching us. Whether we come out like coal or diamonds is up to us.”

Watch the replay here.



The first webinar in the series – “The COVID-19 Reset: A Value-Based Strategic Path Forward” – featured distinguished professors Noel Capon (Columbia Business School) and Amy C. Edmondson (Harvard Business School), and founder & CRO of Researchscape, Jeffrey Henning, who provided perspective on the challenges of navigating through the COVID-19 landscape. Read the summary of the key takeaways and watch the replay here.   



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