Despite pandemic challenges, the future of marketing is bright

Jun 09, 2021
Brand Strategy

COVID-19 has disrupted marketing plans in countless ways -- from lockdown-induced changes in strategy to last-minute changes to advertising creative -- but how has it affected the marketing industry in Canada? And what will be the pandemic’s lasting impact on marketing moving forward?

To find out, the CMA’s Brand Council asked marketers across Canada how the pandemic impacted their plans, their departments and their internal and external working relationships.

The findings show that while the last year has been challenging, the outlook for marketers is decidedly positive.

Teams remain intact, despite cuts to overall budget

Not surprisingly, the pandemic had a negative impact on budgets for many companies. From what we heard from marketers, budget cuts were almost twice as likely to hit marketing departments compared to sales departments and were more pronounced in B2C companies.

However, despite cuts to marketing (and in some cases sales) budgets, the majority of companies surveyed saw no change in their sales or marketing staffing, choosing to retain talent.

Internal responsibilities shifted (in some cases), while external relationships strengthened

Approaching this research, we expected that the responsibilities of the marketing department would have shifted since the start of the pandemic, but that appeared to be true for only half the companies we heard from; the results were the same for both B2C & B2B companies.

When it comes to external partnerships, many companies found that they relied more on both their media and creative agencies during the crisis, with very few claiming to have relied less on their agencies over the past year. Furthermore, despite the stressful circumstances of the past 15+ months, relationships with outside agencies either improved or stayed the same (in equal measure); very few respondents stated that the relationship with their agencies deteriorated.

That said, several companies we heard from chose to bring more creative and/or media-buying in-house as a result of the pandemic. The top two reasons for shifting to in-house was (a) to save time, and (b) because those companies felt they were best able to tackle COVID-related changes directly (“because we know the brand better”). Interestingly, no one that brought services in-house said they did it to save money.

Strategies had to pivot over the past year – and will change again

Not surprisingly, the majority of companies we heard from stated that they needed to revisit their strategy in light of the pandemic, although that change was different for B2C compared to B2B companies. While many B2C companies stated they shifted strategy to focus more on short-term/ performance tactics, B2B companies were more likely to have increased brand-building activities.

When asked what they plan on doing more of in the next year, the responses indicate that marketers plan to focus more on just about everything, from producing more content for social and online, to increasing digital activity (internally as well as externally), to focusing more on both performance and brand marketing. Very few companies said they have no plans to change their focus in the future.

Marketing departments poised to grow - and get elevated in the C-Suite

And now for the good news: Marketing departments appear poised to grow. Half the companies surveyed stated they plan on increasing their marketing department; almost no one said they plan on reducing the size of their marketing department this year.

The (even) better news is that managing a crisis appears to have elevated marketing within the C-Suite: The majority of marketers who responded noted that marketing has become more important to the company and the C-Suite over the past year. Additionally, respondents from both B2B and B2C companies believe that their CEO and the CFO have a good understanding of the value of marketing.

Will the goodwill continue?      

It is a decades-old truth that when times are tough, marketing is almost always the first to get cut. Generally a short-term tactic to improve cash flow, it often comes at a cost: Long term brand -building has been shown to be highly effective, even in (especially in) a crisis (see Peter Field’s Advertising in a Downturn Revisited).

But we’ve all learned a lot over the past year: Despite the difficulties, marketers stepped up and have demonstrated their value -- and the value of marketing in general -- by rising to the challenge of the pandemic and consequently, rising in stature with the C-Suite.

Marketing is back on the agenda in boardrooms across the country, and we on the Brand Council believe that we are experiencing a meaningful shift back towards brand-building, and that investments in marketing will continue to grow through 2021 and beyond.

* survey respondents were primarily VP / SVP and mid-level marketers (Marketing Manager, Brand Manager)




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