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Marketing in the post-COVID-19 Era [Interview with Prof. Dr. Tine Faseur]

No one can predict exactly what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be on the marketing industry. All we can do is make assumptions and try our best to sketch a view of a post-COVID-19 world. To get an expert’s take on the role marketing will play in the near future, our consultant Emma Demuynck reached out to Professor Dr. Tine Faseur of KU Leuven.

A hopeful conversation with an expert in the field

Prof. Dr. Faseur works at the Department of Marketing and the Faculty of Economics and Business at KU Leuven. She’s extremely passionate about her work, something Emma witnessed first-hand when she followed her International Marketing course during the academic year 2018-2019. Tine’s refreshing look on marketing and her profound interest in sustainable entrepreneurship offer intriguing insights in a changing world.

Recently, Emma got the opportunity to hear her view on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumer behaviour and marketing. A very interesting talk with some hopeful perspectives!

What do you consider as the biggest changes in consumer behaviour as a result of this crisis?

First of all, I think that visiting a store has become a totally different experience. In recent years, shopping had really become a way for many people to relax, almost like a form of entertainment. It was about much more than simply buying products.

But COVID-19 has changed all this. The fear element will have a big impact on many people. And there’s no doubt that shopping in an actual physical store is considerably less relaxing and pleasant these days. In fact, shopping has become much more functional.

It’s hard to predict, though, how this this will influence our consumption pattern in the future.

Secondly, we can clearly see that online shopping has become much more prominent. With so many of the positive things about the physical shopping experience having now disappeared, people might feel more comfortable buying things online.

But it’s questionable whether this change will have a lasting impact. I strongly doubt that online shopping will become the norm for everyone in the future. We are creatures of habit. Once the fear of COVID-19 fades away, we might soon resume our old habits.

IKEA is a great example of a store that has completely understood the desire for a pleasant and entertaining shopping experience. When visiting IKEA, people often make a whole trip of it. They go there not just to choose and buy a product. Instead, having breakfast or eating their Swedish meatballs is just as important as the actual furniture-buying process. Ordering IKEA products online is obviously not comparable at all with actually visiting the store.

“I can’t predict the future, but I’m pretty positive that people will find their way back to their favourite stores after this crisis. Online shopping will certainly have gotten a boost, but I don’t think it’s justified to say that it will become the norm.”

How will this crisis influence the relationship between companies and their customers? 

Brands that understand the evolution in marketing towards customer experience and relationship building will definitely have an advantage in the post-COVID-19 era. They will be more likely to stay connected with their customers. By this, I mean brands that come to realise that marketing is no longer just about the four Ps, i.e. product, price, place, and promotion, and have made the shift from a goods-dominant logic to a service-dominant logic.

Marketing is no longer about what your product can do for people. There has been a clear shift towards the experiential. Marketers need to find solutions for consumers. They have to think beyond the product, to the solution the product brings. When you sell a drill, for instance, you shouldn’t sell it as a tool to drill holes in the wall. You should think about the underlying problem that customers are trying to solve by buying the product. In this case, you should sell the drill as the product that will help the customer hang picture frames on his wall to make his home cosier.

Companies that are already thinking this way will be better able – together with their customers – to come to a solution to survive this crisis. They’re more likely to involve their customers in brainstorming about how their relationship will continue in the future. Companies that are still approaching marketing in a classical way will find themselves at a disadvantage. In fact, because of that, they might even lose contact with their audience completely.

Now, more than ever before, it’s crucially important to interact with your audience. Open up, be honest, don’t hide your problems. On the contrary, communicate about the issues you’re facing. Involve your customers in searching for a solution. This co-creation could be the key to holding on to those customers and not losing them during or after this crisis. It will make them more loyal to your brand.

Take, for example, a travel agency that is selling all-inclusive holidays. Because of COVID-19 they won’t be able to sell these vacations for a while. If the agency reasons from a goods-dominant logic, it will put everything on hold. But if it approaches the problem from a service-dominant logic, it will search for an alternative. It will realise that customers are not just buying a holiday, but a moment of relaxation, an escape from reality. Together with its customers, it might be able to find another way to help escape the daily rush.

“To put it clearly, dare to move away from your traditional product. Show that you’re doing everything you can to make the best out of this difficult situation. Go the extra mile. Involve your customers and try to turn this threat into an opportunity.”

In addition to strengthening the relationship with your customers, do you see any other opportunities that may arise from this crisis?

I think that certain opportunities may present themselves in terms of sustainable marketing. As you may know, over-consumption is one of the biggest problems when it comes to sustainability issues. The marketing industry is definitely not the only one to blame here, but that’s another discussion.

It’s just a fact that we’re simply consuming way too much. In that respect, too, this crisis might bring something positive with it. Consumption levels have been strikingly lower in the past few months. People might now realise that, in fact, they’re not really missing many of the items that they were buying before.

On this level, we need to strike while the iron is hot! Marketers (especially those who were already paying attention to sustainability), are in the perfect position to respond to this trend towards more sustainable consumption patterns. Also, when the crisis is behind us, they can continue to spread this important idea.

Furthermore, this crisis has also led to a rediscovery of shopping locally. The idea of supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs might well be something to keep on emphasising in the future. Of course, this idea will only have an impact if it receives enough attention. And some government support would surely help, though I’m afraid this won’t happen.

To sum up: until now, most companies have always strived for growth and expansion. I don’t understand, however, how ‘growth’ can be the main and most important goal to achieve. I hope this crisis will show that success is not about infinite growth, but about finding alternatives and developing your brand without harming other people or the planet.

What do you consider as the biggest threat that this crisis brings for the marketing industry?

A recession is starting to look inevitable and this might indeed pose a threat for the marketing industry. During the crisis of 2008, a lot of companies started to cut back on marketing activities. Why? Because marketing investments simply do not pay off in the short term and are therefore often perceived as an easy cost to cut.

Companies that are still approaching marketing in the traditional way (i.e. that are still following the goods-dominant logic), might make the same kind of decision, and cut back all of their marketing activities whether now or in the post-COVID-19 era.

It might be that I’m looking at it in an idealistic way, but I consider marketing as a business philosophy. Marketing should be at the heart of the company’s strategy. It’s just extremely important to realise that we shouldn’t measure its impact in the short term.

“Companies should be aware that marketing can actually help them survive this crisis. Through marketing, they can find solutions together with their customers, and in doing so, develop an unbreakable bond of trust.”

Do you think that many companies will realise this? Do you feel like businesses will now – more than in 2008 – see how important it is not to cut their marketing budgets during a period of crisis?

I certainly think that there’s a positive evolution taking place. More businesses are becoming aware of the long-term impact of marketing activities. But of course, much will also depend on the situation in which companies are currently finding themselves. I don’t know what will happen when things are really going very badly.

Let’s hope that in the post-COVID-19 era, companies will keep giving marketing the attention that it deserves.

To wrap it up…

Professor Faseur drove home the point that, in a period of crisis, marketing can be a very powerful tool to help you connect with your audience in a meaningful way. Especially in uncertain times like these, people are looking for an anchor. Try to be that anchor.

Dare to move away from your traditional product. Involve your customers and let them tell you about the problems they’re facing. Show them that they can count on you and try to offer them valuable solutions.

Professor Faseur also mentioned that we need to seek the opportunities that this crisis brings with it. According to her, now is the perfect time to start focusing on doing business in a more sustainable way. She also mentioned that this pandemic might have a positive influence on local purchasing behaviour.

In a nutshell: marketing can survive this pandemic and can even offer opportunities. Let’s try to make the best of it and see this as a chance to stand out.

We’re in this together.

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