Alysia Borsa, the executive vice president and chief marketing and data officer at Meredith (and member of the Global CMO Growth Leadership Coalition on COVID-19), explains the company’s approach to keeping consumers engaged during the crisis and shares her plans for moving forward.
1. What’s the most pressing issue to you right now? What’s keeping you up at night?
There are two major concerns that I have right now: timing and our people.
From a business perspective, timing is the greatest unknown we face. When and how quickly will the world recover? When and how will consumer purchasing behavior return? When and how will the media ecosystem evolve? No one knows the answers, but the effects of this crisis will greatly shape our future.
Another major focus is on our teams. We want to keep them happy, healthy, and motivated, while understanding this is an extremely challenging time for many. What has been important:
• Constant and transparent communication across and within teams. Having fun has been key to helping people achieve more of a home/life balance.
• Being flexible and striving to achieve more of a work/life balance.
• Celebrating wins, large and small, and recognizing our employees.
• Having some fun — happy hours, fun contests, interactive video conference calls.
• Staying true to our roots: being collaborative, supportive, and caring for one another. Our cultural values today will continue to set the foundation for our future.
2. In your opinion, which brands are resonating during this time? Why?
Our research suggests that 81 percent of people are trying new brands as a result of COVID-19. The brands that resonate most are the ones that are authentic. Brands that have an authentic human connection with consumers are successful now, and probably will be post-COVID. Our last insights newsletter summarizes our recent guidance to brands:
• Be humble, clear, and reassuring.
• Be action-driven, practical, and brief.
• Be present to position for the future.
• Stay authentic to your brand — don’t go outside your lane.
3. What advice do you have for chief marketers?
CMOs know this is a great time to be engaged with their consumers, though many have constrained budgets or supply chains. Regardless, it’s important to focus on predicting trends (near term and post-COVID), identifying opportunities, and starting to test and learn new marketing approaches and ways of working. This is also a time to collaborate and share learnings across our industry — being consultative partners will help us shape and succeed in the new normal.
4. What lessons have you learned?
• We’ve had to become flexible, adaptive, and faster. The time from ideation to launch has shrunk, and the need to change messaging in near real-time is becoming the norm. This will all extend into the new world.
• “Big and Splashy” has fundamentally shifted (e.g., no more massive events). Content creation has and will continue to be less formal and more authentic. Virtual and live-streaming experiences will continue to surge.
• We’ll see the continued rapid acceleration in e-commerce and performance-driven marketing.
• For Meredith, the relevance of our brands and the fundamentals of family, food, home, entertainment, and lifestyle will be even more important going forward. Consumers want timely, essential, and real information, but they also want inspiration and an escape.
5. How are you thinking about marketing in new ways now that you haven’t before COVID-19?
We’re all dealing with new and challenging times. We must embrace the change and look for new opportunities and new ways of doing business. Think about all the innovations and new behaviors coming out of difficult times: WhatsApp, Venmo, Uber, Slack.
We’re creating programs, content, and products based on new trends we’re predicting post-COVID. For example, our audiences will continue to want less produced, more “real” celebrity content, and recipes with fewer, simpler ingredients and longer shelf lives. We continue to adjust and innovate in many ways:
• Creating content more rapidly and more creatively. PEOPLE magazine is currently being produced remotely on a weekly basis. We are also creating more digital content and videos now than when we were in the office.
• Increasing live streaming and virtual experiences across our portfolio of brands.
• Launching new products, such as new voice skills and click-to-cart consumer experiences. We debuted a new magazine called Sweet July with Ayesha Curry, and a new financial brand, Millie, targeted at women.
• Launching a new performance guarantee for our magazines, the Meredith Audience Action Guarantee (MAAG). We now guarantee our marketing partners a certain number of audience actions for each advertisement they run with us.
6. What new or modified consumer attitudes or behaviors have changed? What do you think will persist in the “new normal”? How will you adapt your products and services to accommodate?
We’ve shifted more focus to delivering real-time consumer insights to ensure we can quickly create new content and products and shift messaging for our brands and our partners. Our investment in a centralized data structure and team, as well as building a deep taxonomy and predictive trending, is being showcased right now. For our marketing partners, we are distributing two insights newsletters each week and have developed more than 25 category-level insight reports that reflect changing behavior over the past four to six weeks. While we regularly predict trends for the year, we’re updating our predictions for a post-COVID world. Across all of our insights, the focus is on the “so what.” We make the information actionable for our brands and partners.
On the consumer side, we have seen engagement surge across all of our platforms. We have seen more than 100 percent growth in food-related content, over 40 percent growth in video, and nearly 70 percent growth in voice. Trusted premium brands with strong values that help consumers cope, stay informed, and entertain them will win. We also believe the fundamentals of everyday life will be even more important than ever in the future.