As we all cautiously start to look forward to what life might be like post-pandemic, Fujitsu’s Maxine Ashbrook takes time to reflect on the past few months. As the Head of Marketing for Defence & National Security, she shares her experiences of how she and her small team have adapted during the crisis.
But more importantly, she reveals how these changes have made her realise there will always be a role for traditional marketing that is predicated on human-to-human interaction. And that long-term relationships will always be built on human engagement. It’s all a question of balancing traditional with modern, digital techniques that deliver a personal touch.
A lot has changed over the past 9 months. And we’ve all had to adapt to a new way of living and working. We’ve had to make these changes very quickly – almost overnight in some cases. And while we face an uncertain future, many of the changes we’ve made are likely to become the new normal.
It’s hard to imagine any area that hasn’t been impacted to some degree, and Marketing has certainly had to shift and evolve to remain effective in the new landscape we’re faced with. In my role as Head of Marketing for Defence & National Security, the changes we’ve had to make to our marketing activity have been stark.
Traditionally, our stakeholder engagement has relied on face-to-face activities that build strong, lasting relationships. A serial calendar of events and regular meetings were the cornerstone of our marketing plan. But when Covid-19 struck in March, obviously this all came to a sudden standstill.
So, like everyone else, we switched to digital. I won’t pretend it was easy as it challenged our existing processes, and the way we were used to doing things. Things that we know had worked, and delivered a healthy RoI. But this was the way it had to be – we simply had to evolve.
A few months in, I looked at the marketplace to see what everyone else was doing – both in our sector, and elsewhere – and everyone had adopted the same digital approach. In the situation we found ourselves, I guess there were very few alternatives. But then something happened that made me realise that a digital-only approach is not necessarily what the future holds.
I needed to contact 160 senior officials within the Ministry of Defence. Rather than send a blanket communication to all, I chose to email them individually, with a personalised message. Within less than 48 hours, I had received replies from over 50%, which in itself is a terrific response rate.
But what surprised me most was the friendly nature and genuine warmth of the responses I received. These high-ranking officials had all taken the time to enquire about the wellbeing of myself, my colleagues and my family. They had all shown incredible courtesy, respect and integrity in such a humanistic manner.
Perhaps it was because of the Covid restrictions, and the fact that I hadn’t experienced this level of human contact all year, but it really surprised me and gave me such a lift. It also made me realise that while there is an obvious need to drive digital marketing in the brave new world, it will never fully replace traditional marketing techniques.
Online and digital activity cannot compete with face-to-face or one-to-one personal interaction that engenders such warmth and humility in our conversations. Only this level of personal engagement can allow us to establish intimacy and develop knowledge about each other that enables strong and long-lasting relationships to develop and flourish.
Our job as marketers is to understand how the customer wants to buy and help them to do so. To achieve this, we have to develop meaningful conversations with our customers which in turn will increase sales, even if the product or service is never mentioned. But you cannot simply buy this engagement. You have to build engagement, using content as a means. I strongly believe that content builds relationships; relationships build trust; and trust drives revenue.
While the future remains uncertain, I know that there will always be a role for traditional marketing activity – it’s a question of balancing this face-to-face, human-to-human approach with the modern digital techniques that will be the way forward.
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