Dr Gavin Davies, chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Wales Board and Head of Communications at Markes International, discusses the pivotal role of marketing in rebuilding regional economy post COVID-19.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that while unemployment rates in Wales plateaued towards the end of 2020, they remain significantly higher than the previous quarter.
Unemployment in Wales stands at 4.6% – the largest increase in joblessness across the whole of the UK.
While the Welsh unemployment rate is still lower than the UK total of 5.1%, there’s no escaping the fact that 314,000 redundancies were registered in the UK between July and September 2020.
And while the government’s furlough scheme has provided an alternative to redundancies in many businesses, we must be prepared for unemployment rates to rise further when the scheme comes to an end at the end of April this year.
So, just how can the country’s marketers help stem the tide?
Marketers possess key skills needed to help regional economies on the road to recovery, defining target markets, developing new products and understanding competitor capabilities.
Marketing drives a consumer economy, promoting goods and services and targeting consumers most likely to become buyers. The marketing industry itself also creates jobs as businesses seek new and innovative ways to promote themselves and their products.
Crucially though, marketing will prove essential in restoring consumer confidence by communicating the message that businesses have a reopening strategy centred around customer wellbeing.
This will help set and manage customer expectations, especially now many may feel reluctant to go out to their local towns and spend. Recent Centre of Cities figures are testament to this, showing the number of people in Cardiff city centre is more than half that of pre-March 2020 lockdown levels.
As we know, there has been a significant shift in consumer behaviour and buying online has become the new normal for many, and in response businesses have adapted their offering. Co-op partnered with home delivery specialists Zoom 1hr Delivery, to expand the roll-out of its own online shop across Wales and Welsh/English border towns and increase the number of delivery slots available for shoppers.
Meanwhile, Welsh motor retailer The Sinclair Group began offering a click & collect service on car deliveries from all of its stores in line with government guidance.
What many businesses have learned is that devoting substantial resources to e-commerce is the best way to stay relevant, operational and to grow despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Changes in consumer behaviour is likely here to stay as anxiety around the coronavirus is expected to continue until the coronavirus vaccine roll out is complete.
For this reason, e-commerce remains the best course of action for B2C businesses, but there will be increased competition with an increasing number of businesses switching their focus to developing an online presence.
Planning creative online marketing strategies are the best way to stand out from the crowd in the short to medium term.
In the longer term, the focus should be on socially responsible marketing which will be more effective than ever before. It’s now recognised consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for something and share their values. Promoting the positive impact your business has had in the community as part of your post-lockdown marketing strategy will undoubtedly improve the perception of your brand in the future.
Marketing’s role in exporting will also become more prevalent as attention again turns to Brexit. Exporting can help give the local economy a boost, growing export sales provide revenues and profits for businesses.
Of course, as we’ve seen in other parts of the UK, plans may be forced to change according to government guidance. Here again, marketing departments are vital in planning for every eventuality and having prepared communications ready to minimise disruption to customers.
Brands that try to see things from the customers’ perspective will thrive in these uncertain times by being able to quickly adapt and embrace new approaches. Marketers are often the focal point for understanding the voice of the customer and converting that into actionable tactics to support growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the Welsh economy, already weakened by retrenchment and austerity in the public sector following the 2008 financial crisis, in addition to the challenges posed by Brexit. Recovery will take time and it is clear that some businesses and sectors will recover in different ways to others.
However, Welsh businesses are entrepreneurial and resilient, and it seems cautious optimism is slowly starting to return. According to Lloyds Bank’s latest Business Barometer, business confidence in Wales remained above the UK average for a fifth consecutive month, despite the additional measures announced to tackle rising COVID-19 infections.
If this upward curve is to continue, Welsh marketers must do all they can to create an environment in which businesses can not only prosper but take full advantage of the bounce back when it comes.
CIM offers a range of resources such as webinars, podcasts and training materials to help marketers and local businesses upskill and prosper. To find out more about CIM Wales’ community and our resources, click here: https://regions.cim.co.uk/wales or to access our range of online courses click here: https://www.cim.co.uk/training/list-courses/