Carlos Herrero
Expert Contributor

Lessons in Pandemic Marketing

By Carlos Herrero | Thu, 04/15/2021 - 16:00

In July 2020, it seemed that the COVID pandemic would die within the year. The summer was uncertain and some glimpses of normality appeared, which in most countries had to be controlled with greater confinement and restriction measures.

In that month of searching for certainties, I was present for a conversation with Rodolfo Echeverría, then vice president of international marketing for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola made the decision not to advertise during those difficult and mysterious months of the pandemic's expansion. But it did leave the door open to an in-depth analysis of what marketing should be at that time and in post-pandemic life. Here are the ideas put forward by this excellent marketer of this extraordinary brand.

The first great lesson, Rodolfo reminded us, is the need for flexibility, which translates into the ability to adapt immediately to the reality that surrounds us. Without this flexibility, brands remain stagnant, obsolete and without answers.

The need to resort to technology to overcome the barriers of space and time during the confinement led us to think about and propose interactive experiences that ranged from the most normal meetings to high-level educational seminars. E-commerce took a 10-year quantitative and qualitative leap.

In a generalized way, all generations and cultures were involved in a new confidence in technology that allowed us to think about teleworking, teleshopping, tele-entertainment; experiences that are definitely here to stay. While the tangible and real shopping experience seemed irreplaceable, necessity led us and will continue to lead us to the shopping experience through internet platforms. We will not feel the satisfaction of trying on a particular piece of clothing or footwear, but we will feel the satisfaction of knowing that behind the technological curtain our specific needs are understood.

The reinvention also implied a new vision of responsibility covering the fields of health, economy, environment, inclusion, diversity and innovation. All it took was one obvious circumstance of forced change to rethink our position on a planet and in a society that requires co-responsibility from brands at all levels.

Brands are well aware of the road ahead, even if the context changes. They will continue to identify the tastes and passions of consumers and customers. They will continue to search for connection, to click with audiences and show empathy. And they will also continue to tell the stories of quality, closeness and success that have given them value and recognition. The insights of human quality will cross all strategies to reach the most intimate fiber of people, the one where decisions are made that both intelligence and emotion understand, each in their own way.

In the past, we always talked about the mission of brands. For many, it is more convincing to think about purpose. It is very curious that a word like purpose, born in the context of spiritual and religious soul-searching, is more convincing to new generations of marketers than words like mission, also born in the same context.

These new paths also involve extraordinary challenges. Challenges of trust, of privacy, of interaction, of efficiency. As we humans are a species that seems to be called to survival because of our skills, we must recognize that we have overcome with a more than high rating these challenges that came unexpectedly and suddenly.

In the end, brands had become accustomed to reflecting a culture, most likely centered on help, hope and happiness, terms that are very difficult to grasp pragmatically. Pandemic marketing moved from this cultural status quo to assume a performance of attempted cultural change. The dynamism of ideas, proposals, platforms, apps and other formats invaded a culture accustomed to lines of supposedly proven efficiency.

The marketing lessons for this pandemic, in this summary of a magnificent conversation, make it unique and authentic, establishing an evolution from agnostic marketing to full marketing empowered by the possibilities of the continuous overcoming of limitations.

This pandemic marketing also brings health to a science that was already somewhat damaged by the viruses of a dormant culture.

Perhaps because of all this, Coca-Cola decided to pause, respect the situation and dedicate itself to thinking about a future that was becoming a present every 24 hours.

Photo by:   Carlos Herrero