McKinsey's Take on How to Adapt to Corona Virus: Marketing Must Lead

In the economic recovery from the pandemic, marketing—the link between businesses and their customers—will play a pivotal role. Planning starts now.

The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented. The speed with which it has spread and its effects on families and daily life have led to a deep sense of fear, anxiety, and confusion. The human toll has devastated many of us and continues to drive home the reality that the coronavirus is a tragedy that is upending lives around the world.

Even as US companies try to get their arms around the human costs as the pandemic continues to spread, they are also struggling to understand the impact on their business and how to react.

Marketers—many working remotely from home—are faced with an entirely new situation: How should we be talking to our customers? Where should we be spending marketing dollars and where shouldn’t we? How should we be working with our teams and our colleagues across the business? How are we going to stay in business? And all this on top of how can we support our family, friends, communities and planet?

Some facts and hypotheses are emerging that will determine what actions leaders can take and how they can start to prepare for a post-COVID-19 world.

Consumer behavior and sentiment have fundamentally changed in a number of key ways:

  • Adjusting to new realities. US consumer optimism in the economy is declining as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic escalate (Exhibit 1). As of April 1, however, some 75 percent of US consumers believe their finances will be impacted for more than two months by the pandemic, up from 69 percent two weeks before week, and uncertainty about the economy is preventing them from spending, according to McKinsey’s consumer-sentiment survey.

  • Spend patterns are unsurprising—but stark, nonetheless. A short-term boost in spending has been unevenly distributed, with consumers rushing to get must-have-now items while virtually shutting off other categories. Grocery, household products, and home entertainment were the first categories to see consistent increases, while travel, out-of-home entertainment, food service, and even discretionary categories like apparel have cratered.

Marketers—as the advocates for the consumer in every business—have a critical role to play as companies shape their response. Marketers will need to be fast and pragmatic to manage the crisis, while also being strategic on how to weather the downturn.

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