Chief marketing officers (CMOs) and marketing leaders face an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation as a result of the coronavirus, and they must take an aggressively proactive approach to preparing their organization for disruption, according to Gartner Inc. This article is copyright 2020 The Best Customer Guide.

CMOs must take immediate action in monitoring customer channels for unexpected and quick changes to customer behavior and purchasing needs, and prepare for potential disruption to budgets, plans, campaigns and strategy in the months ahead.

"CMOs who wait for shifts in customer perceptions and needs, interruptions to supply chains and operations, or restrictions on mobility, travel and mass gatherings as a result of the COVID- crisis will only increase risks to their organizations and miss potential opportunities to build customer loyalty," said Augie Ray, senior director analyst at Gartner for Marketers. "The key to managing risks and finding opportunities in such a period of significant uncertainty isn't to predict a single likely outcome, but to recognize the range of possible scenarios."

Gartner recommends CMOs and marketing leaders take the following four actions to better prepare their organizations for disruptions related to the coronavirus COVID- crisis:

  1. Build COVID- Contingency Plans
    The key to mitigating risks associated with COVID- and identifying opportunities is rigorous scenario planning. Marketing leaders should create three scenarios, spanning from best- to worst-case, and consider the potential impacts to customers, the marketing team, and brand strategies and tactics. While scenario-planning, it is prudent to coordinate with functional leaders across the organization in legal, finance, supply chain, IT and operations.
  2. Monitor, Report and React to Shifts in Customer Behavior
    Maintaining customer-centricity is of utmost importance during times of stress, greater needs and quickly changing expectations. Marketing leaders must not only monitor customer values and sentiment against a global backdrop; they should also improve real-time listening to detect shifting customer sentiment so they can react immediately. In addition, as marketing leaders make decisions, they must carefully weigh short-term interests versus the value of sustaining and nurturing longer-term customer relationships during this time.
  3. Prepare Marketing Teams for Interruptions and Challenges
    The actions that marketing leaders take now will set the tone, internally and externally, for how the organization will weather the crisis. From an internal perspective, it's important that marketing leaders anticipate how business disruptions will impact existing marketing operations and formulate strategies to protect and adjust budgets. In addition, CMOs must assess the needs of employees and prepare for alternate workplace operations. Externally, marketing organizations should be ready for rapid changes toward at-home and digital delivery of products and services. Marketers must also consider changes that may need to be made to customer policies and procedures to stay attuned to the empathy that customers need and expect.
  4. Review Marketing Plans for Potential Impact
    Failure to anticipate potential change to campaigns, promotions, event marketing, sponsorships and other marketing strategies will leave marketing teams in defense mode throughout the duration of the crisis. Marketing leaders' scenarios should consider how restrictions to events and travel will impact sponsorship activation plans or campaign messaging. The coronavirus outbreak could also have significant impact on the timing of new products or campaign launches, and marketing organizations need to be agile in rescheduling or shifting messaging around these events. To avoid making reactive budget decisions, CMOs must begin to prioritize spending now and brace for rapid budget changes.

Additional information on what marketing leaders should be doing amid COVID-19 has been made available to Gartner for Marketers clients in the report, "Actions CMOs Must Take Now to Prepare for the Impact of the Coronavirus and COVID- Disease".