Ken Gamage, Multi-disciplinary communications professional with expertise in Strategic Analytics & Econometrics (MMM), Qualitative Research, Social Psychology, Creative Production, P&L Management, Product Innovation, Semiotics & Art Theory.

How is the recent COVID-19 outbreak impacting your day to day work life and what steps are you taking to cope with this?

Now that many people are working from home (those that are fortunate enough to hold onto their jobs or have the types of jobs that transfer easily to working from home), the norms have become quite different. My role and the role of people in a marketing function revolves around relationship building. Yes, we are indeed discussing budgets, running models, making PowerPoint decks etc., but the very essence of we do is about human connection. This is challenged with new human connection norms, but it also seems like there are some new opportunities that are also emerging. All of a sudden the way that we operate day-to-day changes and we are no longer going into face-to-face meetings and instead of having everything through video conferences. And oddly, this change has created a new norm of it being permissible to book people into many more meetings than normal to simulate what we’re missing in real life. I will say that working from home on a constant basis has exposed a more human version of each other where people are forced to behave more honestly and be more forgiving. We’ve all given up on worrying (to varying degrees) about our kids jumping into our calls, or sharing images of our, sometimes makeshift, home offices or once private living spaces. This in a way has exposed a less professional version of ourselves. I think this is a key factor in driving vulnerability which is a powerful transition though seeming so imperceptible. We are also all concerned about how COVID-19 may affect our job security which manifests itself as a variety of coping mechanisms from one person to another where people’s behaviours may change reflect certain degrees of anxiety. Even though the current situation is difficult, there is this positive side to it that somehow teams are naturally becoming closer. I don’t think that this is something that anyone would have predicted as we intuitively think of social interactions that are mediated through a screen as being something that pushes farther apart from one another when the opposite feels like the trend or more rightly a tension of feeling closer to teams but equally feeling apart. It’s unique.

According to you, how will the COVID-19 outbreak impact Marketing, Marketing Measurement, and Marketing Mix Modelling in particular?

It is so hard (or impossible really) to say where things are going to land, but when the dust settles or we can identify some semblance of a trajectory, we hopefully get to a place where we overcome the obstacle of the current situation – probably in the summer of fall. Things will certainly not be the same anymore and there will be so many shifts that it is hard to imagine things magically bouncing back to how they were. Thinking about marketing in its essence, it really is about how people are influenced by marketing channels. And when it comes to that, there is already a shift in the way people are consuming media: suddenly the consumption habits are changing, people are more active on social media and TV and less exposed to other media channels such as out of home billboards and perhaps tactile media like print, less radio due to people not commuting, or forays into new genres like audiobooks or gaming etc. These changes may (or may not) stick and transform media habits of the post-COVID world. Also, if we consider how COVID-19 will impact job security and the broader economy, it is worth noting that this will impact people’s purchasing power for some products which is the desired end result of any marketing activity. The traditional marketing funnel has now been turned on its head. All of a sudden the actual conversion journey is changing. For instance, higher price tag items (like auto) are likely to be mentally ear-marked with no purchase occurring anytime soon as dealership visits are not possible, so a brand that focused once on consideration now has to pivot upstream with a far longer purchase cycle. On the flip side, CPG and food products are now being panicked over so consideration/trial/purchase consumer journey stages all happen at once with consumers hyper-aware and predicting inventory bottlenecks. Now stock availability becomes a brand attribute which is highly disruptive. Beyond that share of voice (as an expression of media delivery and competitive in an MMM model) has also been disrupted with some brands pulling budget entirely and others capitalizing on cheaper inventory and less cluttered advertising space. We can take all of that a step further and consider that people are also completely distracted from advertising and focused on COVID or inversely more focused on ads as it represents something that feels and looks ‘normal’. Focusing closely on MMM, there is now an opportunity to move away from focusing on marketing delivery metrics and ROI/ROMI/ROAS and to look into economic factors and the use case around it for marketing. It could potentially be a return to the purity of econometrics of that has broader implications on traditional marketing econometrics or MMM. Obviously, the window of COVID-19 is unknown, so while clients want direction of where they should be placing budget and at what levels when they return to market (if they are retracting budget) no one really has an answer for this. So we are reporting on the facts without providing over fitting insights and propositions of what they should be doing. In a field where it is all about having all of the answers, I think it is more prudent to say that, hey, we might not actually know and that is OK.

How do you think Marketing Measurement can contribute to overcoming the economic consequences of this crisis?

We need to move our focus more towards two main points:
  1. Media consumption – marketing effectiveness has always been around the aggregate level of the consumer behaviour and need to take a deeper dive into including and unpacking in greater detail media consumption habits and patterns
  2. Job security: because now that macroeconomic pulse metrics like this are being measured a lot more aggressively and frequently than they used to be it might be a good model input candidate as it relates cross funnel but particular heightened at the conversion end. So instead of including some of the measures like unemployment and population growth like which are very blunt, we need to factor in job security too in a similar manner that we would include consumer confidence or disposable income into the base factors of a model.  It’s a matter of pivoting and getting more details in some of the areas that we haven’t historically had a view into.  We may need to have a renewed and higher level of agility with some of the models, and in reapplying how they function/operate and the types of questions they can answer. COVID-19 may be pictured as the elephant in the room, thus we need to ask questions around how to factor in mathematical models of infectious diseases in a broader way also.

What can we do as a community to prepare to help the industry thrive again after this crisis?

As a community, it is crucial to be able to communicate amongst ourselves and externally about marketing effectiveness as it relates squarely to COVID. Many of us will have massive disruptions in our models during this period, and it makes some sense to work together to find new approaches so that coming out of this brands’ models mathematically represent their business realities with some common truths. It is also an opportunity to begin being transparent about the very fundamentals of statistics that MMMs are rooted in and democratizing this information. There is this new spirit of all of us being willing to help each other out and get outside or our individual bubbles to become more philanthropic around the work we do.

Any advice you would like to share with the community to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak?

Everyone around the globe started to work from home and as time is passing by, it may become harder to get motivated. Working in the office has a natural effect of motiving you by being around motivated individuals (the beehive metaphor). This may change the way people engage with work, as they will inherently prioritizing their work on external deadlines that is at a tension with internal factors like personal motivation, mental health, and family responsibilities. People have expectations for themselves to deliver projects in a very specific way, but because of the new norms and realities, it may get harder. This adds to the host of factors that executive management will have to navigate. In a nutshell, I think being honest and vulnerable (words rarely uttered in the context of MMM) given our common reality may be one of the best things we can have with our clients and teams right now.