Starcom clients share what they have learned from COVID to find new opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant changes in consumer behaviour in the past 18 months. E-commerce accelerated, supply chains were disrupted, retail was closed, and everyone got used to working from home.

More recently brands have also been pushed beyond their classic business interests to become advocates for a better society, according to Starcom’s national head of strategy, Sally Christian.


Starcom’s national head of strategy, Sally Christian

During a panel discussion with some of Starcom’s clients this week, Christian spoke with Australian Liquor Marketers GM marketing, Josh Gaudry, Subaru GM marketing, Amanda Leaney, Air New Zealand Australia GM sales, Paul McLean, Beauty P&G senior marketing and commercial director, Sabrina Ayala Mayorca and Puig Oceania GM, Peter Playford, to discuss how brands are evolving from pandemic recovery to growth, and what they’ve learned during the past 18 months.

“Understanding what people really want, not just as a customer, but as a person and being relevant to their lives has never been more important,” said Christian. “From our research, we know that the relevancy of an advertising experience has a ten times multiplier effect on brand choice – focusing on people is the power behind growth today.”

Subaru’s Leaney weighed in on how 2021 has been for them as a business relative to 2020, and how 2022 looks by comparison.

“It’s quite an interesting time to be a part of the automotive industry. We’re on the cusp on what will be some of the greatest changes the industry has experienced in its 100 years. Both from a product innovation point-of-view, and from a customer experience transformation angle. What we have learnt the most through the challenges of COVID is that our agility as a business is quite paramount to our success.”

Leaney added: “What we’ve recognised is that we have changed so much, and we are really looking forward to creating what a new normal is and meeting the rapid change with the agility and resilience that we have displayed over the last 18 months, and really making sure the customer is the greatest beneficiary for us.”

ALM’s Gaudry explained the company, which owns the likes of Celebrations, IGA Liquor, Bottle-O, and Porters, has experienced strong growth.

“We have had a cracking couple of years. They say there are only two disaster-proof industries, booze and funeral parlours. Going through this last our industry really flourished. The most interesting thing with the pandemic is how we consume, and that shift of how we consume alcohol. As we worked through the pandemic, we noticed that because of our locations of stores in nooks of the community, people were more inclined to shop in-store rather than in big malls. So, we really benefited from this during the pandemic.”

Puig Oceania’s Playford divulged what the company learnt during the pandemic after retail bricks and mortar stores closed down. “We had a very interesting two years, in a really positive way. Every indicator would tell you that fragrance shouldn’t grow in this market. But we confronted an area where stores were shut, travel retail was shut, and we were lucky that chemist’s remained open. But, what we did see during that period was a new consumer. A consumer that was once buying their fragrances through travel retail shifted their focus to see if it’s actually sold in normal retail.”

He added: “The local market was very interesting. It was driven by Chemist Warehouse, and a lot on price. We saw quite a stagnant industry before 2020. With the lockdown came huge growth and not through the chemists which was driven by price, but through the department stores and saw a real resurgence, which was interesting around the fact that people wanted the experience. They wanted that interaction, and what they thought they could only experience in travel retail, they got it locally. Like Amanda said previously, we also spent a lot of time, which I think all businesses should really focus on, which is the people, and curiosity, to find new ways to market.”

For Air New Zealand’s McClean, it was an obverse experience for the airline company, after being faced with many obstacles during the past 18 months including international and domestic restrictions.

“Working in the aviation and travel industry right now requires a lot of bravery, and a lot of agility. The one thing we’re thinking right now is things start to rebound, and ‘what does the customer’s journey look like now post-COVID and into the future?”‘ McClean said. “We have focused on three main areas, the first one customer experience and care, the other area is our people. From our perspective, the constant adaptation and changes that we face and what the teams have gone through, we have been focused on the wellbeing of employees as well, and that they have the support that they need.”

He added: “Ultimately making sure our employees feel supported so that they can support the customer’s needs. The third piece is around purpose. Our purpose as a company. It’s a future lens on it but our purpose became uniting our customers face-to-face with family members and friends, as well as new experiences in New Zealand and around the world, and that’s a pretty powerful statement because we all want to be connected, we all want to be travelling again.”

For Beauty P&G the changes in consumer behaviour presented a new focus for how the brand marketed to consumers. “One of the biggest shifts we have seen with the consumer is when working from home came in, the usage of makeup significantly declined,” said Mayorca. “This actually changed a lot of the consumer approach into beauty. It became a lot more about the quality of your skin, the wellness of your skin, about natural beauty and far-less makeup.”

This shift raised the bar in terms of the products that consumers are looking for. “We need to make sure we are evolving with the consumer year-on year,” added Mayorca. “We saw that consumers not only increased their standard on what they wanted from a beauty product, they also rewarded brands with trust. The brands that made the shift and listened to the consumer, benefited from consumer loyalty and advocacy.

“Due to the pandemic, consumers now don’t want to take as many risks as they did before, and with that, consumers make sure to shop with brands that they trust, and another big trend is using brands that create clean products. We had to reformulate all of our beauty products to make sure they are now clean.”


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