This is a new long-form content exploration that Tech Collective is embarking on to discuss, evaluate and dissect a single topic.

Let me start right off the bat here and say that this is not a very fair statement. My friends across all different continents shared the same issues that marketers faced in Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the sake of argument, let’s go with it and see what we find.

The entire industry is being impacted with advertisers pulling their budgets and public relations agencies struggling to retain clients during this period. A good friend to the publication from the PR industry that wishes to remain anonymous shared:

We lost close to 60% of our business within a month and all of our pipeline that was a steady US$500,000 worth of business disappeared almost overnight.

Anonymous PR consultant

Is this a knee-jerk reaction or a necessary evil to resolve more pressing issues. If we think about it for a section before we blame founders or business leaders for running scared, are we valuing a social media campaign over cash flow or employee welfare?

If you live in Singapore, I believe this poll by The Straits Times made it very clear which side you supported.

Like what you’re reading, well we have some more great content for you: The one statement that will kill a startup

Is it a knee-jerk reaction or a necessary evil

So let’s first dissect whether it is a knee-jerk reaction. The data, both statistically and anecdotal seems to support that. A quick poll amongst agency folk in our network shared that the cancellation or pausing of projects was almost immediate.

This is why you hear your bosses crying in their offices some nights…

Then let’s put that as a (almost) definite.

Is it a necessary evil then? Well, that’s where it actually does get confusing for us all.

The studies and anecdotal evidence (mostly from marketers) show that marketing has its benefits during downturns. While it is a drain on resources, brands often need to consider the ‘What’s next?’.

…brands often need to consider the ‘What’s next?’.

Let us break this down a bit for those who are a bit confused.

Survival is consistent, but many companies actually fail 6-months after a crisis or pandemic, in this case, due to lack of growth to get back into the black now that business has resumed.

One thing that the general public does not consider is the sales pipeline or the number of potential clients that brands are currently engaging in order to convert them into paying customers. Marketing’s (PR, marketing, advertising etc) main goal is to build that pipeline for business – be it direct consumers or businesses.

The struggle of communication during a global crisis is important. We explore how to communicate during a pandemic.

So, the need to survive is paramount, but are you delaying the inevitable by slashing marketing? We spoke to Terng Shing, CEO of SYNC PR and podcast co-host of Business Over Drinks, about this issue and what are his thoughts on this topic.

The issue is a bit complex to break down in a couple of sentences, but what we tell our clients and brands that we mentor – there should be different phases within the crisis period as well. We did the same thing – it was ‘survival’, followed by ‘stability’ and then it was ‘preparation to scale’.

Each phase had different strategies and we focused our remaining resources on different areas of the business. From tightening the belt at the start to ensure we had enough money to cover costs to shoring up our existing clientele to ensure some form of stability and then we went full out to build a strong pipeline of business. We’ve been pushing our own brand and content to grow our business because we know it’s all about the next six months or so.

Terng Shing, SYNC PR
09 July 2020

Should brands market themselves then?

I think the short answer is yes they should, but probably not in the same way and probably not with the same reckless abandon that some (unnamed) brands are quite well-known for.

So there are a few things that you need to consider from a brand perspective that are essential in our eyes.

1) Understanding what the heck it means when marketers say it is the ‘new normal’. Does that mean new customer segments, as everyone is now online, or new channels – Tiktok anyone? We recommend reading this interesting piece on Martechcube that highlights some of the things to consider.

2) Is it worth it at all? This is a tough question and should not be something taken lightly. If you’re a brand owner, besides your own livelihood, oft times you’re also responsible for a team. So, understanding that you have a chance for survival and growth afterward, it might be a good idea to plan for success even as you are fighting for survival.

3) Understand that you cannot look at immediate success during a recession or global crisis, because like you, all of your customers are going through the same thing. Look at the future – so in six months time, when my clients have all but forgotten about COVID-19, how much will they spend on marketing or advertising and will they think about me.

So should you market or not… Geez

Yes, you bloody have to, all right.

Creating customer loyalty is critical during this period. By engaging your customers throughout the period and looking to provide support and value, it helps you prepare for the period right after the crisis ends.

How you market has to change, because consumers, businesses, regulators and everyone else, were most likely as affected as you were during the crisis. Understand this and what it means to your business and what you offer.

Sorry, if that seems repetitive, but it doesn’t quite seem to stick with some brands that have been through the financial recession, potential pandemics and economic slowdowns before – do not cancel marketing.

If you have any specific topics that impact startups or SMEs, please drop us a message here and let us know what you would like us to research and cover.