Q&A with marketer and virologist, Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is the chief strategy officer & advisor to the CEO at HFS Research, and the co-founder & managing director at Thomas Grey. She also happens to be a virologist! We recently caught up with Sarah to get her insight on Covid-19 and its impact on the world of marketing.

Q: Given your background as a virologist, what kind of impact do you think Covid-19 is going to have on B2B marketing over the next 12 months?

ST: At no point did I think that my two careers – as a virologist and a B2B marketer – would collide. Fast forward to 2020, and our normal is home working, video calls and virtual ‘everything’, driven by a global pandemic.

During the first part of my career, I worked as a research scientist, studying HIV. The thing that fascinates me about viruses is their simple ability to adapt and evolve at speed to ensure survival. At the core of evolution is a responsiveness to change.

Isn’t that what effective marketers do every day? Constantly scanning the horizon for threats and new opportunities, adapting our strategy and programmes, evolving and staying agile to stay ahead of the competition. I think it’s in our DNA – both in terms of the way we work and our mindset. The big pandemic-driven change we are dealing with now is in the way we execute some of our programmes.

The pandemic is making us all stop, reframe, reset and to ultimately be more creative about what we do, how we engage our audiences and execute our marketing programmes.

Q: What do you think marketers should do in order  to prepare best for this period – both in terms of  marketing planning, and in terms of their careers  and personal aspirations?

ST: The programmes I am most proud of in my personal career are those where I actually had limited budget, a crazy deadline or where the only way was up. These are also the times when I experienced the most professional growth as a marketer and was challenged to be creative, to think on my feet and be ‘scrappy’ in my approach.

We are only just at the point of having reliable Covid-19 testing and a vaccine is still many months off. This is the way we will be working for the foreseeable future. It’s not ‘if’, it just ‘is’. Everyone is working with what they have and having to pivot programmes that may have been months in the planning. There is limited investment and, in many cases, marketing budgets are flat or have been significantly cut.

The pandemic is giving people permission to start with a blank sheet, to be bold and to experiment with new ideas and new technologies. It’s a time of evolution for marketing too.

Q: What do you think B2B marketing is going to look like when all this is over?

ST: It’s hard to focus on the long-term and career when you feel like you are on the business front line as many marketers are at the moment.

I do believe that a personal network of peers has never been more important. Connecting with fellow marketers is a way to share experience, get advice and ideate. There is a great sense of camaraderie and a connected B2B marketing community which has grown recently. More empathy, a generous sharing of ideas and support, and a more meaningful sense of ‘all in this together’ against a common adversary. This is something we will all benefit from in the future.

There is no doubt that, going forward, we will all be living and working differently. I hope one of the positives is that we see a surge of creativity and innovation. I do think that we are going to see a renewed focus on brand – and what I would call culture. Buyer values have shifted and customers are paying attention to whether companies are living up to their brand values both internally and externally.

For any science geeks out there, this is what I am currently listening to: This Week in Virology podcast by Vincent Racaniello from Columbia University.

Vincent has a channel dedicated to talking about viruses and also provides great updates on Covid-19.

The great disruptor: B2B marketers' response to COVID-19

Covid-19 has changed the game. But how are marketers responding to the crisis, and what’s keeping them up at night? Download this 21-page guide to find out. This report is based on the findings of a 20-question survey put to companies across different geographies and industries.

Download now!