CMO Insights in the New Era of COVID-19

CMO Insights in the New Era of COVID-19

By Karen TaylorJun 4 /2020

A Yale University course for CMOs used to focus on marketing issues like engagement, analytics and transformation. This year one topic was on students’ minds: How do we plan marketing programs in the COVID-19 era?

“In today’s climate, hearing from leaders on how they are rapidly adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis is immensely valuable for the students,” said Professor Ravi Dhar. “It’s likely that the marketing landscape will look very different when we emerge from this crisis, and it’s more important than ever for our students to understand how leading marketers contend with new realities while planning for an uncertain future.”

CMOs around the world are asking the same question. They were already facing marketing challenges pre-coronavirus. They had to, for example, generate quality traffic, deal with information overload, strike the right balance in marketing technology, manage overwhelming amounts of data and invest in enough resources to maintain results.

Now CMOs face a whole new world of challenges, and they are wondering: Where do we go from here? Some answers are emerging thanks to new research, innovative marketing initiatives and best practices offered by experts to help navigate the new world. Here are highlights on these three fronts.

New Research: Studies Unearth the Latest Insights

Several new studies address the COVID-19 disruption to organizations’ marketing programs and provide insight on what to do now.

CMO Council

In its March 2020 report, Making Content Marketing Convert, the council predicted digital content and search engine optimization will drive businesses to offset the impact of on-hold ad budgets, based on the impact of COVID-19, as marketers attempt to stay connected with existing and potential new customers. The council urges marketers to increase helpful content production to help ride out the COVID-19 crisis.


The current COVID-19 crisis has upended CMO priorities and budgets, leaving many looking for alternate revenue sources, according to the report, The 2020 COVID-19 Crisis Will Stun U.S. Marketing. To develop guidance in response to this question, Forrester forecasted how CMOs would spend on media and advertising, marketing technology, marketing services and internal marketing headcount over the next two years. The main takeaway is don’t stop marketing. Also, change channels and messages to where consumers are now.

McKinsey Research

For marketers and other digital business leaders, the COVID-19 crisis has brought up many questions regarding consumers’ thoughts and behaviors. Answers are beginning to emerge, according to McKinsey’s latest marketing report. “The call to action for CMOs and other members of the C-suite is to become ambidextrous. Many leaders are spending much of their time in crisis mode when they also need to think about planning to get ahead of the eventual recovery.”

Porter Novelli

The public relations agency conducted a study on consumer opinions related to the COVID-19 crisis to help understand expectations. Among its findings:

  • 75% believe businesses have an ongoing responsibility to support the coronavirus relief effort
  • 77% believe companies must prove they’re making decisions that are in the national interest
  • 45% believe brands can create COVID-19 solutions faster and more efficiently than the government

New Tactics: CMOs Launch New Marketing Projects

The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) began holding virtual forums with technology CMOs in April 2020 to discuss how they are shifting their marketing mix, focus and resources as they navigate through this crisis. It also published a COVID-19 Scenario Planning report for CMOs. Here are five examples of new marketing tactics CMOs have already launched:

  1. Create more content: With an increased hunger for new content, one company started creating much more content for customers. They have scaled back on paid media, relieving the team’s bandwidth for content development, including more virtual webinars. The team produced a virtual product marketing boot camp that was attended by 1,000-plus professionals. The event served as a driver for people to learn from each other.
  2. Grow your database: An organization that offers solutions for remote offices is in a unique moment with their product. Since the solution helps businesses when they return to work, the company is considering marketing for audience growth. Lead generation wasn’t a priority. They want to grow the database. To do this, they are looking for search trends on search engines, so they can create content based on what people are looking for.
  3. Offer Virtual Events: Another company found that due to COVID-19, offering virtual events have resulted in an increase in attendance. Its international roadshow was converted from a physical to a virtual program and grew from a 1,000 in-person event last year to a regional online event that attracted 5,000 registrations this year.
  4. Provide Digital Resources: One company has seen a tremendous uptick in its content and digital resources. In the first few weeks of the crisis, the company’s podcast series went from 50,000 downloads per month to 250,000 per month. Their prospecting webinars went from average 200 to 300 attendees to over 1,000. Also, the team has had time to focus on brand messaging and reaching out to more customers.
  5. Segment Your Leads: This company is focused on revenue generation but understands the funnel isn’t likely to convert as it did before the coronavirus shutdown. They shifted away from net-new customers and are considering the quality of leads and engagement of leads. By creating a new lead-scoring approach, her team’s goal is to exit out of this crisis with a giant pipeline and a sales strategy ready to go. In addition, they are tracking those who aren’t interested in their product and service and are keeping them separate from “closed lost,” marking them as a “C19 push,” and will go back to them when the time is right. Marking them with this code allows them to see what the real impact of COVID-19 is having on the business.


Best Practices: Navigating the “New Normal”

In a crisis situation that is subject to rapid changes, CMOs need a proactive plan to change how they speak to their customers and plan their campaigns throughout the crisis. Here are a few best practices offered by business experts.

  1. Be Authentic and Empathetic: It’s important to stay focused on the key priority internally and externally: The COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis first and foremost. According to McKinsey, it is crucial to focus on making sure employees are safe and to support them as they navigate what is likely to be one of the most challenging periods of their life. Also, this is the time for CMOs to serve as the voice of the customer and to be authentic and empathetic. To support this effort, McKinsey is publishing a series of consumer sentiment survey results to help provide guidance on this front.
  2. Tune Into Where Consumer Conversations are Going: According to Deloitte, brands should take cues from evolving social conversations. For example, early on, the term COVID-19 registered tremendous volume in conversations. But it has steadily declined as the pandemic has worn on because the conversation has evolved to discussing how to live and operate in this new environment. More recently, for example, retail conversations have trended around topics such as grocery delivery and in-store robotics.
  3. Engage in Scenario Planning. Garner advises that CMOs should plan marketing around best- and worst-case scenarios that could play out during the crisis from the perspective of the business, its customers, and critical partners, In each scenario, they should drill down to identify the specific challenges that customers, the brand and the marketing organization could experience, and identify actions to take for each one. For example, if the best-case “business-as-usual” scenario involves ad purchases during an industry trade show, then a worst-case scenario where that event is canceled should identify alternative ways to reach customers.

Adjusting to the “New Normal”

There’s no doubt that marketing has changed profoundly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will continue to transform as the world moves toward a “new normal.” More than ever before, the catchphrase is: Be prepared to pivot.

Leadership during the coronavirus pandemic for CMOs has created a unique set of challenges that many have never seen before. This has put additional strains on an already challenging job. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as shown by the early research, marketing efforts and best practice suggestions from CMOs and their peers. Now, more than ever, marketers are showing that they have each other’s backs — and are looking for new ways for everyone to adjust to a whole new world.

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Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at