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 Etain Seymour, Director of Marketing and Communications, Accenture
MII: Hi Etain, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
At Accenture in Ireland, our main objective has been to maintain market position and ensure we also maintained the high levels of quality engagement that our client base has come to expect from us. From the outset of COVID, this has been the guiding star for our approach, and it has helped my team to navigate the ever changing, never normal.
As we began to see the effects of the pandemic impact our daily lives, our focus was on exploring platforms and channels and, like others, moving our physical marketing activity further into the ‘virtual world’. While there are challenges we have also seen some fantastic opportunities emerge. We have always tried to set ourselves apart from competitors with having an emphasis on a different experience and throughout COVID I’m very proud of the team curated and created bespoke client engagement opportunities with some of the highest calibre guests to ever speak to business leaders in Ireland. We also shifted our efforts to test and learn new methods and even hybrid approaches, in person broadcasts through to pre-recorded content.
As we know though after a year dominated by the desk and our webcams, the downside of virtual events, is that fatigue sets in very quickly. We were acutely aware of this and aimed to mix it up and create new and interesting ways to connect with our wider stakeholder landscape.
Data and insights have always been at the forefront of what we do and it was crucial through 2020 and into 2021. We have accelerated our reliance on quality data to ensure that we could research what was available to us, and measure new applications, along with understanding what clients were looking for and was resonating with them.
We continued with planned above the line spend and altered our social media strategy very slightly, however we have a renewed plan for 2021 in this regard and we look forward to rolling this out. We also looked at our external partnerships and sponsorships and adapted our plan in line with our overarching strategy for transforming what we do, over time.
How have you been engaging with your team?
As a marketing team, we get our energy from being together in a community and out and about in the marketplace, so it was important for me to make sure I was keeping everyone informed and engaged and looking for ways to maintain our ‘mojo’ ‘excitement’ and the ‘sparkle’ in the team.
We’ve found a number of ways to maintain our culture in a way that keeps the team bind strong and individuals feeling valued. Firstly, we explored ways to maintain our ‘team connects’, these include virtual coffees, regular meetings and frequent, but not too frequent, fun communal activities.
We’ve also worked together to identify those simple things that are absent when you’re working from home and tried to replace them in a non-contrived manner. Those crucial chats, group conversations across the floor, or chats by the coffee machine get lost and we’ve tried to make sure each team is aware of what is going on to avoid silos sure but mainly to avoid loneliness and isolation.
We’ve also focussed on continuing to motivate and inspire, so the team has interesting work, career opportunities and maintain strong culture that already exists.
All of this is underpinned by a clear focus on wellbeing and mental health with wider company initiatives, programmes and events in this area taking place on a weekly basis.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID – 19?
Move with speed, we may be experiencing 10 years of change in 10 weeks. This means a lot of the trends that were only beginning to bloom have suddenly burst into life with gusto. So, it is important to embrace the power of change, which can come in the forms of how you communicate or simply the channels you choose.
Embody the ‘proximity imperative’. In much the same way as personalisation and relevancy is important in marketing, our immediate imperative is finding ways to get closer to clients and being more agile and responsive to their demands and expectations. In the B2B space, clients are looking to grow, to emerge from the crisis with a renewed sense of purpose and trying to solve the biggest problems they have ever been faced with. Staying close to our clients is paramount, to help solve these problems our reputation needed to be strengthened.
Build trust with your audience by using the crisis as a catalyst for positive change. In our role, it’s always difficult to replicate the quality of face to face engagement with clients so we have looked at ways to add emotional intelligence and empathy into our content and messaging, delivering memorable experiences in an authentic way.
Optimise and adapt your budget. Dividing up the budget differently and accepting a constant change in budget forecasting (from quarter to quarter). Agility is key here when uncertainty is at its peak.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
It’s fair to say that the work ‘place’ and workspace change has been accelerated rapidly over the past year. We work with our teams to ensure they have all they need, from connectivity to workplace practices and providing necessary equipment to set up at home.
We have always put our people first but the last year has taught us to be extra vigilant. Addressing your people’s mental, physical and relational needs, along with acceleration of their learning requirements is important.
We have become ‘pros’ on collaboration tools as an everyday need. Having the right collaboration tools to suit our needs, for example using white-boarding for ideation sessions, Microsoft teams, broadcasting through to document sharing. We’re aiming really high for maximum productivity and engagement, whilst ensuring a secure, safe and content working environment.
At this stage it is too early to tell what we will do differently going forward. What I can say for sure is that we will reflect on what works for us our team and set out a plan for what success looks like for the new normal or as we say amongst the team, our ‘better normal’.
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
If anything, it has given us greater prominence to our purpose and values, particularly on delivering lasting value to our people, clients and community. The demand for purpose led business is accelerating and it is a great inflection point.
Late last year we launched our new global purpose which aims to deliver on the promise of technology and human ingenuity. This purpose will guide our strategy, priorities, and the opportunities we can create for the more than 500,000 people that are proud to work for Accenture globally.
This purpose has been so important over the last year as we support our clients as they solve some of complex problems that have emerged due to the pandemic. We’re proud to have so many talented people committed to using technology to deliver value for all our stakeholders. Our people essentially bring a mix of skills together to add meaningful value, it’s not just about technology on its own, or brand on its own or digital transformation on its own.
What brands or businesses have you admired through the crisis?
For me, it has been those brands who have gone the extra mile to build trust, be genuinely empathic in what they say and what they do, re-invented content and embraced change.
First and foremost, I have profound respect for those who have shown the importance of marketing and communications in public health and public safety campaigns. The HSE #holdfirm campaign in my opinion has risen to the occasion and achieved and executed excellent messaging, advertising and communications that has undoubtedly helped to stop the spread and ensure compliance.
On a global level, the two powerful global brand favourites during the crisis have to be Nike and the New York Times. I’m always a big fan of Nike and their messaging through the crises was perfect for ‘play inside’. The New York Times recorded its single biggest increase in digital news subscribers in late 2020 and for me this is down to a commitment to the truth coupled with an innovative approach to new methods of storytelling and content delivery.
On a more sentimental note, both Woodies (Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive led) and Super Valu Christmas campaigns were well executed and delivered and hit the right note after a difficult year for many. Finally, brands who have been clever in striking the right balance and tone on COVID would include Dove, L’Óreal, Guinness, McDonalds and Tourism Ireland.