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 Matthias Wenk, Marketing Director at Home Store + More.
MII: Hi Matthias, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
I remember well presenting in February my 2020 Marketing Plan with all its exciting objectives and milestones – right after rolling out our new brand platform “Home Store + More – A Happy Home”. However, with the lockdown, we moved from forward planning to a 100% reactive mode. Instead of the brand house with its strategic pillars Promotions, Core Range and Engagement, all of a sudden logistics, web-store capacity and the last mile would drive all marketing efforts. As with most other bricks & mortar retailers, once the physical stores closed the web-store was in no position to fulfil the demand going into the summer season. Key challenge during this time was to marry demand with supply as good as possible – while not putting ourselves into the public debate about what was the right thing to do through social channels. Essentially, we stopped most of our marketing communication and focused our E-Commerce Platform on the product lines we could actually fulfil.
A further challenge we faced was when the government unexpectedly distinguished between hard- and homeware stores – only a few days before the anticipated re-opening of our physical stores. Re-opening our stores – completely repurposed for the essential lines only – was turned around only in a few days. We were able to offer a safe shopping environment across the essential items only.
From a media production side – despite being central to the international rollout of the paperless magazine production during my years in Lidl – the remote working did present me with quite a few challenges. How do you maintain an efficient workflow across the various different channels – especially the product heavy ones like the magazine? Planning, production and proofing processes require new workflows and software solutions.
How have you been engaging with your team?
Crisis brings people closer together. But equally working remotely is challenging. For me it was very important to establish the same informal and spontaneous exchange over video conference as you would have in the office. From day 1 of the lockdown / working from home, every day we have a catchup Marketing Management call at 9am lasting between 5 minutes to an hour depending on the day. And then a multitude of informal calls throughout the day. We then “meet” with the full team weekly with a structured agenda as well as informal exchange. However, it is more difficult to maintain such a frequent informal exchange across the business, which makes it necessary to go to the office every so often – with according safety measures in place.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?
Extreme events create inevitably new learnings. But they tend to be difficult to translate into day to day work. Until we have arrived at a post Covid19 new normal, it will be paramount to keep learning, keep understanding how the industry, the consumer behaviour is changing. Most behaviour changes will be temporary, some will stick. For me it was great to see the value of a comprehensive tracker. During the course of a “normal” year, trackers can be rather frustrating as it is so difficult to move the dial. But it was hugely insightful to see which dials move and which ones don’t during Covid19. In summary, you could say that all the values you would expect to move actually did, but key values around brand association and current & future shopping habits did not move as much as till figures would suggest. It is comforting to know that long term brand association values are not significantly affected by a crisis and its changed shopping habits.
However, monitoring the retail industry here and abroad, we could see how wrong some brands could get it by promising what they cannot keep. An even more customer centric view was essential to triage carefully when to engage with consumer facing communication and promotional pushes.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
New ways of shopping and very changed demand structure shaped our business very significantly over the last 6 months. We had to manage stock & supply chain differently during the time of uncertainty, whilst our physical stores had significant reduction of customers who could be in our stores at one time – leading to the well-known queues. We had to manage footfall to the stores
by pushing our E-Commerce platform and flatten the promotional push to our stores. This has delivered advantages of a different promotional structure, which we are now assessing as a potential ongoing schedule.
The pandemic with all its disruptions did show the importance of agility in a business and how crucial it is to have systems in place to adapt and repurpose if required. Change in the way we work and how we shop has been accelerated and we need to ensure our systems change with that.
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
Not really. This brand has been built with humility, honesty and best practice on customer service at all times. This has become more important during a time of crisis and we could focus on living our values to the fullest.
Homeware has become more important to the public as we are spending more time in our homes. At the same time we will be faced with an unprecedented recession. This all allows us to deliver on our core proposition with outstanding value homeware across all rooms of our homes: kitchen, bedroom, living room, bathroom, utility and garden.
What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?
We were all faced with a global, unprecedented challenge. However, it was very industry specific how businesses were affected. I thought it was most impressive how some businesses were able to adapt their logistics and supply chain to continue to meet consumer demand within safety guidelines. For example, Bed Bath & Beyond in the US was able to transform a selection of their stores into mini regional distribution centres in order to facilitate a nationwide contactless click & collect service, multiplying the capacity of their actual warehouses.
It will be exactly this organisational agility which will determine which businesses are going to be successful in the post Covid19 new normal.