The Role of Marketing Leadership in Today’s Evolving World of Work

May 20, 2020

Confident marketing leader standing at her desk, looking at camera. Desk has a a screen, books and coffee mug sitting on it.

During our recent virtual event on Marketing for Today’s Evolving World of Work, one panelist shared a definition of “trust” I hadn’t heard before, courtesy of Oxford professor Rachel Bostman: a confident relationship with the unknown. 

(Via Rachel Botsman on Twitter)

What better way to frame the term, and marketing’s role, in our current climate? The unknown is all around us, pervading every aspect of our lives, be it personal or professional. Human beings across the globe are trying to gain confidence in understanding what lies ahead, and how they’ll be affected. 

That was an overarching takeaway from our two-day event, which featured a variety of business leaders and experts from LinkedIn and beyond, who shared their insights, perspectives, and stories. The central theme was around building trust, both with customers and employees. Today we’ll share some of the most useful and impactful points of discussion.

Facing Uncertainty in Our Marketing Budgets 

In exploring the complex question of whether companies should continue spending money on advertising in difficult times, marketers should look at the data. And many studies have uncovered data that makes the case for continuing to spend on advertising even in stormy economic times (if a company’s fiscal health permits).

“If you’re a well resourced company in a strong financial position, then you’ll want to advertise (in a downturn),” says LinkedIn’s Jon Lombardo, who is Global Lead of our B2B Institute

An advocate for the concept of All-Weather Marketing, Lombardo says marketers should strongly consider advertising in good times and in bad, fair weather and foul. He points to a study from Peter Field, who is a Fellow at the B2B Institute. In researching the 2008-2009 recession, Field found that if marketers invest enough in advertising to boost their company’s share of voice, they will see their market share will increase accordingly. “If you can invest (in advertising) in bad times, you get extraordinarily good market share growth,” Lombardo says. 

Field’s study is not the only research delving into advertising performance in a recession. A number of studies have examined advertising spending during recessions, including a study by a Harvard University Ph.D student named Roland Vaile during the 1920s. Like Field, Vaile found that companies that increased their advertising markedly during a recession boosted their market share by 2x over those companies who only modestly increased their ad budgets.  

By advertising in an economic period like the current environment, companies position themselves to outperform in the recovery. “If you continue to advertise, you will limit how much downside you have,” Lombardo says. “And you will continue to grow faster than your competitors. That gives you essentially the continued stream of profits and cash to invest in the recovery, and then you will capitalize on the recovery.”

Coming Together in DIfficult Circumstances

LinkedIn data illustrates the level of interest and dialogue taking place on the platform around the COVID-19 pandemic. There have unsurprisingly been massive increases in the amount of content being created around topics like coronavirus and remote working, with corresponding boosts in member engagement on these topics.

According to Melissa Furze, LinkedIn’s Global Director of Marketing Insights, “It’s clear that coronavirus is truly the topic that unites us all,” she says, adding that social feeds have proven to be a key area for people to virtually congregate and converse. “A recent study of LinkedIn members in the U.S. shows that 40% are reading the news more often than they have previously, and 30% are checking social media specifically to stay up to date with COVID-19.”

“Social media is where the conversation is happening,” Melissa says, “and you have an opportunity to be part of it.”

In the absence of physical meetings and events — people are looking for connection and community online more than ever before. We are seeing a 55% increase in the number of connections happening between members compared to this time last year, and a 60% increase in the amount of content being created by members.

Brands and marketers, by and large, are stepping up rather than stepping back. There has been an 8% uplift in posting on company LinkedIn Pages during the crisis, and a 16% increase in lead generation and brand awareness campaigns, according to LinkedIn data.

The bottom line is that audiences are out there, actively consuming content and seeking information. To stand idly by risks missing a big opportunity. But speaking out right now entails its own risks, at a time where emotions are running high, uncertainty looms large, and trust is pivotal.

Experts Speak on Managing through Change and Leading with Trust

When it comes to leading through this tumultuous time, marketing managers and executives are charged with helping two vital audiences: their customers, and their employees. 

Keys to Strengthening Trust and Confidence with Customers

“These uncertain times are a true testing ground for our brand promises,” says Ty Heath, Global Lead for LinkedIn’s B2B Institute. “Are our values aligned with the actions we're taking? When times are tough, will your brand actually back up that brand promise?”

This isn’t business as usual. We can’t just keep sending the same message as we did before. But as Ty points out, we should be remaining steadfast in our values and principles. Those don’t change. 

One of the foremost authorities on the subject of trust in business, Edelman’s Senior Vice President Mike Schaffer, pointed out that there is a distinction between reputation and trust.

“Reputation is a reflective measure. It reflects what you did,” Mike explains. “Trust on the other hand Is predictive. It's what people think you will do in the future. What makes it so difficult right now is that the future is really murky.”

So how can brands and marketers do their part to instill a confident relationship with this uncertain, murky future? He lays out four building blocks to lean on in the roadmap to enhance trust:

  1. Show up and do your part. Every brand has a role to play, Mike says. Figure out where your company can make a difference and get aligned on it. “When this is all said and done, people aren't going to ask what you said during COVID, they're going to ask what you did as an organization.”
  2. Don’t act alone. For a time, we should work to set aside the competitive differences inherent to the business arena and explore opportunities to unite for the greater good. Mike used the word “coalition” and so did fellow panelist Rob Norman, Director of SImplifi. “My view is that B2B marketers are going to find themselves in a coalition with other B2B marketers,” Rob says. “Before consumers can become drivers of the economy, business-to-business marketers have to make sure that they're coalitions of supply, making sure goods get to stores and services become available, and they're priced in an appropriate way and positioned in the right way.”
  3. Solve problems that need solving. “This is not the time to be pushing products,” Mike asserts. “In the coming weeks, in certain markets, it may be. But right now there are a lot of problems that need to be solved in the world and the problems are changing every day.” One example is 3M donating its machinery to build ventilators.
  4. Communicate with emotion. Combining compassion and facts will be the sweet spot, according to Mike. “Now's the time for leaders, from the CEO is all the way down, to be people-first. This is a humanitarian moment in time.”

One other important factor for business leaders to consider is how they will reinvent their products and services to be most useful and trustworthy for their customers in a changed world. When the immediate threat of coronavirus has dissipated, people will want to get back to their old norm, but doing so requires certain preconditions.

Rob cites the changes that took place after 9/11 as examples: a new norm for feeling safe and comfortable on flights meant adding additional safety measures, such as taking shoes off in the TSA line and not bringing liquids aboard. In the wake of COVID-19, we’ll see fundamental changes in the way hygiene, no-touch service, and other conventions are approached. How can your brand fit into the greater safety picture? 

Key to Strengthening Trust and Confidence with Employees

A business is only as good as its talent. Keeping our people in a good place through this ordeal will be essential to coming out strong on the other end. 

Jim Bell, Head of Marketing at Glint, offers some encouraging news on this front: According to his company’s employee engagement data, based on running hundreds of thousands of survey:

  • 89% of employees say their company's doing a good job of communicating with them.
  • More than 90% are confident that the right precautions are being taken by their organizations.
  • More than 80% feel good about having the resources they need to work from home.  

But there are challenges, the main one being maintaining this positive sentiment. 

“A common thing that our team sees is that when you're first adjusting to working from home, it seems positive; you have lower expectations about what you should be able to do,” Jim says. “But as time goes on and people work from home longer, it leads to things like burnout, because work and life are just blending together in a way that doesn't give you the normal boundaries or commute back and forth, and those transition points between home and work.”

With work and life melding together, Jim points to two clear top priorities in the minds of employees, per the data: job security and family care. How can we as managers and leaders address these vital concerns at a time where we might not have all the answers?

He recommends an A.C.T. framework: Acknowledge, Collaborate, Take one step forward.

“The idea is to not come in with the answers for your employee, but to stay open and listen, acknowledge where you are, share your own challenges and burdens that you have for the new world that we're operating in, and then collaborate on a solution of where you want to go,” Jim explains. 

Some specific tips for managers when it comes to communicating with team members:

  • Help people feel valued, recognized, and connected. Check in frequently, ask a lot of questions, and create an open environment. Managers can set an example by being forthcoming with their own feelings.
  • Be authentic, even when it means not having the answers. People will appreciate honesty and transparency. This builds trust. Do the best you can and make sure you’re as informed as possible.
  • Center on your organization’s intent. You can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, because so much is out of your control. But one thing you can be definitive about is leadership’s intent. Jim gives an example of how this might be presented: “Hey, our goal is to navigate this as best we can and to make sure we have flexibility as we move forward and learn more. We can't promise anything but our goal is to keep people employed. And so we're going to look at other ways to cut back on expenses, if we need to do that.” Jim adds that he believes this kind of message “helps give people a sense of that you've got their back.”

Above all, we should rethink traditional hierarchies and dynamics, pivoting to a more open collaborative style. It’s important not to force managers to carry too much of the burden. Jim shared a story of one of Glint’s clients, a healthcare organization with 300,000 employees, that published an internal document filled with stories of managers receiving employee feedback and taking action on it.

“Of the 20 or so stories that were in there, I would say, three quarters of them were stories where the manager did not have the answers or didn't have enough data,” he says. “But the first thing they did was they sat down with their teams, and they talked about it, hey, how do we get you guys what you need? How do we improve communications or whatever it is  … You work together on the plan going forward, and that way it kind of takes the burden off the manager as well.”

Facing the Unknown with Confidence

Marketing leaders face a difficult balancing act right now, with the changing needs of both customers and employees constantly demanding our attention and consideration.  

Every unique situation merits its own unique response, but we hope the high-level recommendations and insights from folks like Rob, Mike, and Jim can help you find your answers. Or at least clarify your intent. 

Uncertainty is a given right now. We can’t eliminate it, but we can take steps to face it with confidence.

For more guidance on creating a confident relationship with the unknown, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Blog.

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