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Digital Transformation: Why Now Is The Time To Start and Continue

MEDIUM READ

Many of us have now become more comfortable with technology – it’s been refreshing to see just how many businesses can operate remotely with very little friction. Ironically, just as social distancing stops our physical interactions, we have been able to rediscover what it means to connect with each other using technology.

 

It’s no surprise that more customers are using online services during the Coronavirus crisis. However, despite a predicted increase in eCommerce and other online activities, many businesses are putting digital transformation, marketing and brand-building projects on ice due to the uncertain outlook.

Focusing on what will happen afterwards, rather than how deep the impact of Coronavirus will be right now, has definitely helped me as a business owner. It’s kept my mind clearer and my focus forward. The earth continues to spin on its axis, the world hasn’t stopped. This will pass. There will come an endpoint in which the world and its economy will show recovery. The question is: will you be ready, better prepared and wiser? Will you use this time to plan and prepare, readying yourself to face the future?

Of course, survival for all businesses is a priority and every business must do what is right for them at this moment in time. I truly understand the natural response to close the shutters and ride out the storm – it’s easier to think short-term over long-term in these situations. However, I do urge companies to just pause before reviewing where to cut costs. Reconsider cutting any budgets to R&D, Digital Transformation and any brand-building activities (and that includes marketing, folks). Companies that master the delicate balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow, do well after a downturn. The smarter businesses are investing in building a stronger business, and rethinking innovation. I didn’t want to join the hordes of opinion pieces that are solely the views of the writer, so here’s the evidence to show you the impact on market share that investing in these areas can have in the long-term.

 

First, let’s look back to the 1980’s recession, a time of perms and legwarmers. In this pre-internet, pre-digital age, McGraw-Hill research analysed 600 companies in 16 different sectors, capturing the impact of withholding marketing and brand building budget from 1980-1985.

With a sole focus on B2B companies (note not B2C) that withheld, increased or maintained marketing spend during that 1980’s recession:

  • Those with increased or maintained spend saw higher sales growth throughout the recession and afterwards.
  • By the end of the research in 1985, companies that kept up their marketing investment had a sales increase of 256% over companies that cut marketing spend.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and Marketing (IPA) Report (2008), also conducted an analysis of how advertising and marketing were handled by different companies during a recession. They invited independent experts from different companies to provide insight and analysis on the subject. One of the companies, Data2Decisions, detailed the impact of cutting or halving marketing and innovation spend in the long-term. Following a budget cut, a brand will continue to benefit from the marketing investment made over the previous few years. This will mitigate any short-term business effects, and can result in a dangerously misleading increase in short-term profitability. The longer-term business harm will be more considerable, but will not be noticed at first.

There is more data-based evidence from Profit Impact of Market Strategies. PIMS is a comprehensive, long-term study of 3000 companies. It was set up in the 1960s and collects data on the performance of strategic business units in all major industries. PIMS has analysed data collected from around 1,000 business units in developed economies during periods of market downturn and subsequent market recovery. Their data is extremely robust, highly respected, and enables a comparison of downturns pre-2000 and will be collecting and analysing data today.

The results of a 2001 analysis of the winning business strategies deployed during earlier downturns concluded with the following advice of increase marketing, R&D and new product spend.

The Covid19 crisis is a unique global challenge, so although we can look back and reflect on the learnings of the past, we must also consider what we need to do now. Currently, during the Covid19 pandemic, research is showing there is a significant reduction of investment in improving customer experience, innovation and brand building strategies.

A survey of more than 2,200 marketers, conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week, has revealed that the majority believe that the outbreak has already heavily impacted responses to R&D, transformation and brand-building marketing. Despite most agreeing that there is a sharp increase in demand for online and digital services, many are pulling digital transformation investments. Transformation should be the reaction to future-proofing businesses – it’s focused on improving customer experience, strengthening digital offerings and growing brand equity.

This is a perfect time for businesses to step back and reflect. There is an opportunity of grabbing market share, while competitors are winding back on key investments. In the 1920s, Post was the category leader in the ready-to-eat cereal category. Post cut back its marketing budget significantly, whilst rival Kellogg’s doubled its marketing spend, investing heavily in radio and in R&D, introducing a new cereal sub-brand called Rice Krispies, featuring “Snap,” “Crackle” and “Pop.” Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% and the company became the category leader, a position it has maintained for decades. For me, the learnings from this are now more relevant than ever.

 

This article was composed thanks to the following sources:

 

2008 IPA Report: Advertising During a Downturn

Marketing During a Recession: Survival Tactics, by Millward Brown

If There’s a Recession in 2019, Here’s What Marketers Should Do, by The Drum

What Does the Data Tell Marketers to Do During the Coronavirus Crisis? by Liberty

Coronavirus: 55% of UK Marketers Are Delaying Reviewing Product or Service Launches, by Econsultancy