Ask the Future 50: what lessons are to be learned from the pandemic? – The Drum

This week, we announced our Future 50 for 2020, our list of the best new brand-side talent from across the industry. But while celebrating the milestones our phenomenal 50 have already achieved in their careers, we also wanted to pick the brains of these marketing leaders of tomorrow.

We’ve already asked them about the qualities required of the marketer of the future and about the industry’s biggest problems. Now, we ask…

Joe Farrar, digital brand manager, Violife

Apart from needing a good ergonomic desk chair? I used to think I was pretty quick at adapting to change, but the last few months made me realise I still have a way to go. I think it’s a lesson brands need to learn too. This year tore up so many content calendars – with information and guidance changing on almost an hourly basis, you’ve got to be more agile than ever. It’s a weird new world, but hopefully one that’ll make us as an industry more flexible in the future.

Harley Johnson, partnerships marketing manager, TikTok

In many ways, the pandemic has become a huge opportunity to reset behaviours, question traditions and appreciate the important things we all took for granted – and rebuild based not only our previous or current needs, but the needs of the future. While there is naturally a lot of fear, anger and confusion with the current state of affairs, if you look between the cracks there is a huge groundswell of positive action – community support, coming together, volunteering and more. This should be celebrated – and the brands/technology that can power or authentically align with this will win longterm.

Lynsey Bramley, senior marketing manager, Hearst UK

I actually started my current job in lockdown! I flew back from Sydney to live in London in April and started a new marketing role during the pandemic. Because I interviewed from Sydney via Skype, I still have not met a single person at my new company or seen the office all these months later! I’m also managing a team of marketers remotely, so the most important thing for me has been to reflect on everyone’s mental health and check-in with people to ensure they are OK – especially as working from home lacks the social aspect of the office environment.

Alyssa Hyacinthe, global manager of brand expression and equity, Sally Hansen at Coty

Having money set aside in a reactive production budget can reaaaaally save you in a pinch. Jokes aside, having that money really enables you to cater to the needs of your consumer in a rapidly changing climate. We ramped up remote production with an emphasis on nail treatment as hands are under duress with excessive washing, as well as really positioned ourselves to be the at-home nail brand with IG Live masterclasses with experts, virtual ecommerce bundles and one-to-one digital consultation to provide solutions. In Q3 alone (our fiscal runs July-June), Sally Hansen saw double digit growth in e-commerce.

Dani Rayner, UK and Ireland marketing manager, Netflix

I’m fortunate to have had a secure job throughout the pandemic, and am cognisant that many in our industry haven’t been so lucky. With that in mind, the lessons I’ve learned this year have been pretty personal. A key aspect for me has been relinquishing the desire to plan and control. As marketers, we spend our working lives (and often home lives too) in a future-facing mindset – devising, booking and envisioning new ways to enable connection through stories. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to stop you in your tracks and force you to savour the day.

Joel Midgley, senior marketing manager, The Guardian

Be patient. Live and work flexibly. Don’t bother with HouseParty. Celebrate lunchtime. Select your meeting attendance carefully. Nurture your introvert. Indulge your extrovert when you can. Try and retain a sense of perspective. Practice making eye contact not through a screen. Dream about winning the lottery frequently. Escapism is key. Turn your mic off. No, turn your mic on?

Helen Carswell, senior brand manager, Guinness at Diageo

Despite so much change, we all know how we’d want the brands we value to speak and act at this time, so we’ve focused on supporting our customers and communities. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done as Guinness to support bartenders’ wages, replacing kegs for our customers so the first pint of Guinness post-lockdown was a perfect serve, and pivoting our marketing approach to stay connected with our consumers. For us, it was about looking at how the brand has always responded throughout our history, and staying true to our DNA.

Lyndsey Homer, brand manager, Cadbury at Mondelez

Stay true to your brand. Many brands pivoted towards how they thought they should behave, creating a sea of generic adverts. Those that remained grounded to their values achieved cut through. For example, KFC dropping ’finger licking’ from ’it’s good’ is bold and consistent. Secondly, think future to be relevant. I acted upon this by shifting media to drive awareness that while families were staying in the UK, Cadbury could offer value with two-for-onw tickets to Merlin attractions. We are in the same storm, but in different boats. Stay true to your brand, support your consumers and be future thinking.

Sarah Wan, South East Asia marketing director, Klook

Never say never. Take live streaming for example: we used to think that it was largely a phenomenon in China that would take a while to get adopted in South East Asia. Consumer behaviour evolved at an alarming rate during the pandemic and now it’s become the norm for B2C brands to use it as a form of engagement. At Klook, we managed to take it a step further by building our own in-app livestream platform to optimise the path to conversion for consumers.

Allie Lawson, head of SMB brand and marcomms, O2

I joined O2 during the pandemic, so I’ve learned so much about what being a new leader means. Bias/acceptance has been a much discussed topic in recent years, but it has come to light in a new way during the pandemic – I still hear people apologising for their child walking or their partner talking in the background – and I’ve learned how important it is to dial-up my human side while working virtually. We’ve also spent more time talking about how our customers feel, as opposed to traditional segmentation – showing emotion in comms has never been more important!

Caitlin Bartlett, EMEA media strategist, Netflix

I realised at 29 that I have never properly addressed what happens to my mental health when there are macro life events totally out of my control. I can imagine many people felt the same during the pandemic – completely rudderless and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of external forces. I’m a planner, and this was not in the plan, so I became restless and frustrated. I have learned to highly prioritise things that boost happiness (exercise, music, podcasts, connecting with friends) and realise when I’m falling under a cloud (too much social feed scrolling, weird sleeping patterns).

Liz Whitbread, senior brand manager, McDonald’s

The biggest lesson is probably the most obvious – things don’t always go to plan. Accepting when to change course can be a seriously tough decision to make, especially when there is a significant investment of passion or budget or time (or all of the above!). But being adaptable can lead to more relevant comms and bigger success, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. The pandemic has been a good reminder that timing and tone of voice are everything.

Kenia Perez Sarmiento, creative director, Spotify

At first I was trying to be hyper-productive and replicate what we did when the world was different, despite not being able to shoot or create physical experiences. I quickly learned that wasn’t sustainable and began to focus on crafting work that fulfilled me. In doing so, I am also impacting how the brand shows up in a pandemic, and how people interact with it. By shifting my energy, I have been able to create campaigns that can give people a sense of joy or release in the midst of this chaos, even if it’s just for a moment.

Jemimah Seow, brand manager, Carousell

User empathy is key. I’m fortunate to work at an organisation like Carousell that puts users in the centre of what we do. During the pandemic, we moved quickly to launch initiatives to support our community who were affected – from F&B owners to freelance creatives, brick-and-mortar stores to everyday users. It was a lesson that ’walking the talk’ is just as important as communicating your purpose as a brand.

Illya Nadira, regional head of social (brand communications), Zalora

During the course of the pandemic, more people are bringing their spending habits online as they look towards cashless transactions and limit their time out in brick and mortars. E-commerce is the way forward and, as a marketer, it’s important to know how to reach out to your consumers online in an effective manner. UX is becoming increasingly essential for customer retention and conversions.

Megan Kleban global industry marketing lead, Pinterest

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the pandemic is the importance of embracing ambiguity. For someone who is accustomed to thinking at least eight to 10 months in the future for events, this is not something that comes easily to me, but the pandemic really made me re-evaluate how I operate. Where I found the most success this year has been the times when I have essentially thrown the original plan out the window and said: ’I don’t know if this is going to work, but let’s try it!’

You can see the full list of our fantastic Future 50 and read about just why we think they’re the future of the industry here.