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Look for the opportunity amid the chaos – by Ayman Haydar

The MMP Worldwide CEO says now more than ever brands need to convey an image of control and positivity

By Ayman Haydar, CEO, MMP Worldwide

We’re long past the initial fight or flight period that defined the first few weeks of lockdown. That’s not to say we’re any more settled with the reality of living, working and socializing online 24/7. Things are still changing regularly, and it’s not as though there’s a manual for how you should act at a time like this. Everyone is different.

Still, every CEO will have had to face some harsh realities over the last few weeks, making the hard calls that no-one ever wants to make, whilst still trying to reassure and inspire their teams to keep positive. Panic, the initial knee-jerk reaction has given way to endurance for the most part, as we all continue to operate amidst uncertainty, with no definitive end in sight. The trend has changed from looking at an upward curve to staying flat, a shift, which I’m pretty sure no-one saw coming some three months ago.

Every day brings about a new challenge, a further problem to solve. It’s a marathon not a sprint, which is why every move matters, every decision counts, but I’ll tell you this; staying safe is the best outcome we can hope for right now, and we have the government to thank for helping in this aim with their swift and decisive action so far. It’s clear that they are putting the ‘human need’ above all else, helping with financial support to ensure this pandemic doesn’t escalate into poverty-driven chaos.

It’s easy to forget the human cost when the economy is in freefall. Still, as we continue to observe social distancing measures, technology is the one constant helping to keep the lines of communication open and stay connected with one another. As days roll into weeks, talk continues to turn to the inevitable question of: what comes next?

My take is that no-one can answer when normality will resume, because in all likelihood it never will. You don’t go into a global lockdown and emerge unchanged. Change is good. Evolution is essential. Now more than ever we need to project an image of control, of positivity and turn our attention to looking for an untapped resource or different avenues of business.

Consider it this way – the whole world is self-isolating right now, which means you will never get a more captive and willing audience to advertise to. Consumers are increasingly turning to online search and news for answers to their questions and changing needs. There’s an opportunity for advertisers to drive new conversions by paying attention to this search data, and investing in a strategy that can combine reach and relevance in order to thrive.

Trends which were already emerging or growing this year have accelerated in the wake of this pandemic too. OTT and Connected TV services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and the arrival of Disney+ into the market, are unsurprisingly experiencing a spike, since they don’t require in-person interaction. Elsewhere, as malls remain semi-operational, e-commerce is booming. According to figures by Statistica, 48% of Saudis shopped online for goods that they would have normally bought in store since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Given the shift in where consumers are spending their time, it would be wise to invest there and continue the dialogue, providing some level of continuity, whilst still acknowledging the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. The challenge here is in being able to accurately predict consumer sentiment right now; it’s literally a moving target influenced by a lot of different factors. Empathy went a long way in the beginning, but consumers are growing tired of this being the only message they receive from brands. Instead they are looking to their favored ‘brand communities’ for a sense of escapism in the content they consume, and as a result, we’re seeing influencer marketing beginning to mature too.

One sector that is likely to remain (for the most part) untouched is big tech. This week they announced better than expected Q1 results, however it’s clear that there are turbulent times ahead, and they will need to find a new way to provide value beyond their usual offering.

Look at Microsoft Teams – they now have 75 million daily active users. Video calls on Whatsapp have more than doubled. Facebook has created grants to help small businesses who are struggling. Google has made its Meet video conferencing software free for all to use. Of course, this is likely in order to compete with Zoom, but still, it’s progress.

It may not feel like it at times, but there are positive changes being made and new opportunities emerging amid the chaos. For now we need to navigate this unchartered territory as best we can, putting safeguards in place that will allow us to stay afloat for now, and come back stronger when this is all over. Resilience should never be underestimated, especially in circumstances such as these, so I’ll sign off with this: Keep going, you’re doing just fine, and remember… We’re All In This Together.

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