In uncertain times, it is more important than ever to share experience, insights and advice with your peers so we can all learn from one another. With this in mind, we are having conversations with members across various sectors to understand how themselves and their teams have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, what they have learned from it and how they continue helping their customers.
For this week’s instalment in the series we’ve chatted to Mark Doyle, CMO at AIB.
MII: Hi Mark, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
It is said that ‘history moves faster in a crisis’ and I think our experience since March will testify to the accuracy of that sentiment. Our Marketing activity had to adapt rapidly during the acute outbreak phase of COVID19 as our business was deemed to be one of the few essential services whose doors remained open throughout the crisis. As a business we have always been driven by a clear ‘customer first’ mandate which backs them to develop and grow in order to thrive. This crisis has altered that mandate to help support and sustain our customers in order to help them survive. That shift demanded the complete cessation of all our existing activity as our team refocussed completely on engaging our customers with the new supports, processes and facilities they needed as the economy went into lockdown. As the necessity for speed became the mother of invention we recycled and repurposed content and triaged our way through contact strategies as a means of reacting rapidly to the new needs of our customers.
If it all sounds a little chaotic and frantic that’s because it was, we didn’t always get it absolutely right however tens of thousands of personal and business customers have availed of moritoriums on their loans, our most vulnerable customers continue to engage with the bespoke pandemic supports we developed for them, our partnership with the COVID19 vaccine research hub in Trinity continues to make progress and we managed to keep our customers safe and supported as our doors stayed open every day of the crisis. Our entire staff rallied around the development of these solutions and maintained our service throughout which is quite inspiring to experience.
How have you been engaging with your team?
The culture of our team is one of the most important success factors we have and the element we work on more than any other. As a Marketing team, the tools of our trade change, competencies evolve and strategies come and go, but our culture transcends all of those things in terms of enabling us to achieve our customer goals, and add strategic value to our organisation. We work on it all the time and it is owned and curated by every member of our team. When we are under pressure we rely on our investment in our culture (each other) to keep us positive, focussed and supportive. The arrival of COVID19 applied the ultimate pressure and challenge to our culture, it has disrupted how we work, when and how we interact and critically it has impacted everyone on the team is very different ways depending on their individual circumstances; different ways of working, technology constraints, lack of childcare, difficult housemates, poor Wi-Fi, isolation, separation from family, and moving home (too much time with family!). As a result, our approach to engagement has tried to be considerate of everyone’s individual circumstances, we tried to create a safe environment for the team to share their situation and create a support network. We have employed all the usual video conferencing tools and have had some great cameos in our meetings from spouses, parents, kids, and various family pets. Our 2 key principles have been the frequency of contact which we try to achieve a few times a week and we try to ensure that quite a bit of the engagement is of a more casual nature, coffee mornings, interesting talks, sessions on wellbeing and even the odd group meditation session. Undoubtedly it has been trying for everyone but all the hard work on establishing a solid and supportive culture before COVID19 has meant that during the crisis we have had a great foundation to rely on. I think as a team we are a lot closer and understand each other a lot better since the outbreak in March and hopefully being part of the team and our interactions became a positive constant as opposed to another challenge for people to deal with.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?
I think the pandemic experience has equipped an entire generation of future marketing leaders with a crash course in leading through a crisis. There was no notable precedent to rely on or no manual to follow. We have all had to use the full suite of leadership competencies to choreograph our way through the last few months. We have seen first-hand how it has been done well and how it could have been done better. It has been a difficult but very valuable learning experience. As the crisis unfolded, especially in the early stages, it was virtually impossible to predict the next few weeks whatever about the next few months, realistically that is still the case today. For me, it has acted as a timely reminder of the paradox of deliberateness and emergence as we approach the formation of strategy. As marketing people, I think we can get very uncomfortable if we have not followed a very rigorous planning process to help formulate a very clear and deliberate strategy. Far from being ad hoc, emergent strategy formation allows us to explore, learn and piece together a consistent set of changed behaviours over time and it has some major advantages especially during periods of rapid change, opportunism, flexibility and learning. I think being comfortable without the plan has been a great learning and having to stay even more attune with our customers changing needs where we doubled our customer listening and insight activity.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
As Marketers we are constantly managing a series of tensions; the tension between the application of AI vs creativity, the tension between medium-term brand building vs short term performance delivery, or the tension between long term relationship building and being relevant today (to name but a few). I think sometimes in an effort to manage efficiency and ROI we can plan, schedule, and roadmap our work at the expense of being hyper-relevant in the moment. I think the COVID19 crisis has forced the hand of most businesses and marketing teams to focus on being relevant in the days and weeks when the country needed support the most. As a team, I think we will allow ourselves to apply a little more slack to our plans to cater for any culturally significant event that can offer an opportunity to be more relevant to our customers in that moment.
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
In my view every brand has had its purpose challenged by COVID19. In formulating a purpose and stress testing it against various scenarios, very few teams will have included a scenario where a global health pandemic spreads around the world in a matter of days forcing the world economy to shut down and most countries around the world to lockdown their citizens in a global effort to curtail the spread of the virus! I think every brand purpose has been challenged with this new societal reality and many will be rewritten as a result of this crisis (and that’s ok). For the foreseeable future, every business is a health business, every business needs to help the country get back on its feet and every business’s societal citizenship will be scrutinised more than ever. Those are some of the new benchmarks a brand purpose has to reach. At AIB our purpose is back our customers to achieve their dreams and ambitions. Those dreams and ambitions will have come under severe threat during the crisis and continue to be threatened which is why we kept our doors open and put so many supports in place during the early stages of the crisis and it is why our purpose is even more relevant now as we move into the more complicated and difficult recovery phase. People’s dreams and ambitions don’t fade away, they may have to take a back seat to some more fundamental challenges at the moment but they are still the driving force for most of our customers and we will continue to be there to back them.
What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?
I continue to be amazed by all the small businesses around our country who have had to innovate and reimagine their businesses in order to survive. They account for the majority of our economic activity and will be the driving force of the recovery. Businesses like Cocobrew in Temple Bar in Dublin, Dynamic Events in Blessington in Wicklow, The Good Day Deli in Cork, Listoke Distillery in Louth or TJ Reid Fitness in Kilkenny – all of these small businesses have found a way to innovate their business model, product or service to continue to serve customers in the face of the health crisis. They have repurposed their businesses in some cases to produce PPE (Listoke Distillery) or engage with kids who were suffering with the lack of contact with friends (TJ Reid Fitness). These are the brave people and businesses I continue to admire most through this crisis.