Has Covid-19 changed the role of the marketing department?

A job often seen as a beacon for creative brains, new research suggesting that 75% of senior marketers feel restricted in their creative efforts by other c-level leaders (Bright, 2021) might feel like a surprising statistic. Whether this is a reflection of more automated tech processes entering marketing departments, or the rapid changes to the landscape of the workplace triggered by Covid-19, it suggests that marketers are feeling held back from stretching their creative wings and taking bold risks.

Swapping creative for tech

Quickly pivoting with business offerings and working alongside a reduced workforce has seen marketing focuses streamline and marketers taking on a more varied role than ever before. Time for creative thinking and the opportunity to bounce ideas around in person has been replaced by impersonal Zoom calls and quick decision making. Budget cuts are also posing a threat to the adoption of new creative martech solutions, with 66% of marketers facing a pandemic-related cut to their martech budgets delaying the purchase of at least one previously approved marketing technology (Gartner, 2020).

But adopting new tech is now unavoidable, whether that’s to enable and manage a team remotely, or to optimise the channels they were using before. For example, the consumption of digital magazines, industry podcasts and webinar tools have skyrocketed in 2020 during the pandemic (Bright, 2021), all of which have meant time and money spent on introducing new marketing mediums into the workplace or risk falling behind competitors.

Alongside adapting to new ways to communicate within their organisation, we have also seen marketing messages change as companies strive to be agile and empathetic to not only their workforce, but also their customers who have all experienced a different journey through the pandemic. It’s been widely acknowledged that consumers quickly tired of overly sombre and ‘samey’ marketing campaigns that flooded our screens.

Empathetic marketing campaigns, therefore, need to be highly conscious of getting the tone of voice right or risk becoming part of a parody.

Conquering the fear of the unknown

If creativity is needed more than ever to stand out from the crowd and showcase unique brand values, just why are senior leaders stifling their marketing teams?

One reason could be for fear of joining the other crash and burn victims of the Covid-marketing campaigns. Each idea or piece of marketing is entering a rapidly changing news agenda, meaning every campaign has to be sensitively pitched. No one wants to be the next viral Corona marketing misfire – especially when emotions are extremely heightened.

But to stand out, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and trust in your creative team.

Take a chance on some well-intentioned laughs

One way to do this is to introduce humour into a marketing campaign – a tactic 76% of marketers are keen to consider (Bright, 2021). Dicey, yes – but, if executed well, it can be an extremely effective way of reaching out to an audience and showing empathy in a creative way. This is an idea that Adam Hunt, founder of White Label Comedy, wholeheartedly believes is the key to positive brand connections. “You just need to make sure the jokes you’re making (and the way you’re making them) are in line with the beliefs and interests of your audience. Don’t make jokes that split your audience down the middle. Make jokes that bring them together.”

Roles have changed, but that could be a good thing

The one thing we can all hopefully agree on is that humankind is incredibly adaptable to change. With any dramatic redirection or crisis, people find new strengths and focuses within an organisation and marketing teams are no different. With UK internet users spending more time online, there is a shift in consumer behaviour that places far more value on digital experiences than they did pre-pandemic. For marketers, this means being agile enough to react to this new situation and taking advantage of it. Whether that’s optimising ad spend for an army of homeworkers or changing tactics entirely (direct mail has been thrown out the window), Covid has accelerated the need for advanced tech skills across the board.

Internally, the position of the marketing team has also shifted as a result of the pandemic. In many businesses, the job of uniting a remote workforce has fallen to marketing teams as much as HR. As a marketer, you may not have expected (or wanted) a role in HR, but fostering a culture that reflects the business’s brand values and communicates these effectively is now part of the job.

If the role of the marketing department has changed, it might not necessarily be for the worse. The landscape has changed and the need for creative empathy is more important than ever before. Leaders must give their team the freedom to enable changes and shake up outdated practices, otherwise they will be left behind once the pandemic recedes. Whether that be with remote tech, varied job roles or brave ventures into creative campaign ideas, marketers must be bold and adapt to change instead of clinging on to the ‘old ways’ that no longer serve our organisations or customers.

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