A sign is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York. Picture: VICTOR BLUE/BLOOMBERG
A sign is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York. Picture: VICTOR BLUE/BLOOMBERG

The Covid-19 pandemic has put much of the world into shut-down mode. It has ended the lives of many people and turned everything we knew to be normal the wrong side up. Over the past few months, as the science community has grappled with the virus and searched for lifesaving solutions, we’ve all done our best to redefine what’s normal and make sense of our lives. This started at home, where many South Africans have once again taken up the duties we previously outsourced.  More of us are becoming reacquainted with our gardens, working out the different settings on the iron and raking a few leaves. Some of us have even ventured out to buy better household cleaning equipment to make our tasks easier, no doubt sending a little mental apology to our domestic cleaners and gardeners who made do with ageing appliances. Coupled with this has been a sense of renewed gratitude for the people who help manage our homes. I for one have experienced a wave of appreciation for my gardener as I’ve taken to mowing the lawn on a weekly basis.

Another thing that struck me as the lawn started looking decidedly less shaggy was the responsibility that we as employers and as those in more privileged positions have for the people that maintain our homes, as well as for those who take on the mantle of less glamorous work – the kind of work which very often plays a vital role in keeping the world going –  particularly as the Covid-19 narrative has unfolded and exposed many people to less decently priced food, medical care and the things they need to get through the pandemic and protect their loved ones. Not to mention the uneven enforcement of lockdown rules, with many of the poorer communities experiencing more draconian measures. From reports and images flooding social and news platforms, it seems that the police and army forces have been more focused on harassing the citizenry than assisting in limiting unnecessary movement.

Shaken by these events, I wondered if 2020 was a storyline already written with a dire ending in sight or if we could change the narrative and come out in triumph.

Know your customer better to do better

As a marketer, I’m intrigued by narratives. My mind naturally gravitates towards unpacking how a story is created, whether it’s authentic, what the message is, who is telling it and who is receiving it. I almost always circle back to the customer, thinking about how customers are identified, who they actually are and how their needs are being addressed. After all, the job of marketing is to craft stories that “put the customer at the heart of all that we do”, and over the years, this has been my true north.

The question, in these troubling times, is: do brands really know their customers? These days as I’ve gone out to the shops, donning a mask and applying hand sanitiser, I’ve seen first-hand which products are left on the shelves while others disappear faster than they can be replenished through supply chains. I wonder if my fellow marketers are, like me, wondering if these brands are aware of their impact (or lack thereof) on the market. Because this season is surely revealing whether or not they know their customers and are reaching them. It’s also the ideal time to put in the legwork to get to know our customers better.

Without hesitation, I can say that this is the time to deepen conversations with customers, accurately identify their needs in these conditions and put them first in a way that’s never been more vital. A brand that I’ve seen get it right – among many others, I’m sure – has been Trimtech. During my gardening, as I’ve pushed my Trimtech lawnmower along with its beautifully engineered roller blades (and therefore zero emissions) I’ve felt a sense of pride in my freshly mowed lawn, the addition of cardio to my day and my environmental impact in opting to avoid a petrol-heavy machine. This is certainly a product brought to market by a clued-up brand. It so impressed me that I posted about it on Instagram.  No-one called me or paid me a cent to do this. I even treated my brother to one, so keen was I to share my experience.

Now, clearly, this brand couldn’t have foreseen the events that have unfolded. It couldn’t have known that a pandemic would force people to stay home, do their own gardening and so want a better lawnmower experience. It marketed its product and struck it lucky, so the learning is that if more brands are able to tune into what customers want right now, they too can mark themselves successful in this time of economic uncertainty.

Build customer care capabilities and drive mutual value with the customer

If you’re asking how you’re meant to achieve this, then my answer is to start by asking without waiting. We need to lead the dialogue actively and get to know our customers better – and during this pandemic we have the opportunity to do so. We can take advantage of the data that is so telling, including taking note of products lingering on shelves and of services dying because of outdated logistics, and we can use this as a starting point to deepen the conversation, learn about our customers, see how a product or service fits (or doesn’t) into their everyday lives and discover a true north at which we can aim.  And then we can drive impactful change in this direction.

Entries for the Marketing Achievement Awards (MAA) have opened. Endorsed by the Marketing Association of South Africa, the MAA celebrates excellence in the science and art of strategic marketing, and in so doing sets a compass point for marketers to aim towards. Early bird entries close on August 17, while final entries close on September 6 2020. For more information and to enter visit https://www.marketingawards.co.za/

  • Mohale Ralebitso is the chair of the Marketing Awards Council.


The big take-out:

Marketers need to deepen conversations with customers, accurately identify their needs and put them first.