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Marketing Planning: Covid-19 Impact

What a difference a few months makes! In the last blog we were congratulating Andy Reid and the Chiefs on winning the Superbowl and looking forward to Saint Patrick’s Day. I discussed the importance of planning and said it’s a great time to start your planning process. You may have heard the saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” or maybe, “Plan your work and work your plan.” But what does this really mean? My guess is that most of the people reading this may not have a plan. Planning does not insure success, but it does greatly improve your odds of being in business for a long time.

No one could have planned for what we have been going through the past few months. And the next few months will be even more difficult to predict since things are changing on a daily basis.

That being said, we CAN plan for what we know and also what we THINK will happen. This is called Scenario Planning.

Therefore, I’m going to repeat some of the information I wrote in my last blog, as I think planning is more important now than ever!

There are many different ways of doing marketing planning. The model that I, use regardless of the size or type of business, is as follows:

The first step in the planning process is to analyze the external environment. These are the things that are outside of your control, but can significantly impact your business in both a positive and negative way. Typically, we start with a lengthy discussion of the following areas and work with our clients to identify to what extent they impact their business.

What is happening in the political arena? Does a particular party or person help or hurt what you are trying to do? Think about what happened four years ago during the presidential election. If we have a new President or shift in the Senate/House Majority in 2020 what will happen to your business? Over the past few months our State and Local governments have become more important, as many of the decisions that affect both on- and off-premise have been made at this level of government.

Are there any legal rulings on the horizon?  This could be specific to alcohol or things like zoning, parking, lawsuits that impact retailers, distributors & restaurants. Think about all of the changes regarding social distancing, gloves, masks etc. How have these, and will these, affect your business going forward?

My educated guess is that this summer will be very challenging for on- and off-premise based on the social distancing rules regarding large gatherings. As we look toward football season, my guess (as I write this in April) is that we will still be practicing social distancing, which will impact both on- and off-premise.

Is the economy improving or declining? How does your company perform in either situation? We are clearly in a recession now. The big question of course is how long and how deep?

My educated guess is that we will be in this position at least as long as we do not have a vaccine and also a mass method to test for Covid-19 and also antibodies.

What are the social trends? We live in a digital world (social media, texting, group chats, sharing (Uber/Lyft, Air BnB etc.)) eat-in versus take out, buying local, food trucks, BYOB, hanging out with friends, cans versus bottles versus draught, drinking with friends or drinking alone.

This is one area where I would suggest doing a significant pre- and post Covid comparison.

The longer this goes, the more what we are doing now will become habit. And as we all know, it takes a LONG time to change habits!   

Will younger people continue to shop grocery stores and buy ingredients for meals?

Will older people continue to embrace e-commerce and home delivery?

Will we ever shake hands or high-five again?

Will large office buildings and large groups of people working in the same area be a thing of the past?

Will large gatherings (festivals, concerts, sporting events, weddings, holiday parties) be a thing of the past?

How does technology impact your business? Think smart phones, e-commerce, user generated content, POS systems, self-checkout, tablets, equipment, delivery trucks, GPS, self-driving cars & trucks.

Will tele-commuting be the norm?

Will people continue to have virtual happy hours?

Will people continue to use Zoom, Skype and Go to Meeting as social gathering tools?

Competitive analysis comes next. We guide our clients through an exercise to identify and evaluate direct and indirect competitors. Don’t just think about the ones that look and act like you do. (Think about how our business has changed with Uber Eats, Grub Hub, Go Puff, Amazon, Home Delivery etc.) How do they compete? Where are they strong? Do they have a weakness?

Which of your competitors was able to pivot quickly over the past few months to change their operations model based on the new guideline?

Next, we turn our focus to the internal environment. These are controllable factors.

What is your company all about? (Brands, categories, services offered)

How is your management team set up?

Who are your current heavy users?

Who is your primary target market? (For example, Boomers/Gen X may be your current heavy users but Millennials/Gen Z may be your target)

How is your product/brand currently positioned to each target market?

Evaluate your current strategy and marketing mix. Be critical!

Will the same mix work for both your current users and target market?

This helps identify what your company/product has to offer. It should also identify if your company is successful and/or has fluctuations in demand, which might require promotional assistance, new products, packaging, etc.

Finally, you should perform a SWOT analysis. This identifies the strengths/weaknesses and opportunities/threats that come out of external, internal and competitive analysis. If you can put one of your strengths against a competitor’s weakness, you will generally be very successful. Similarly, if you can improve or eliminate a weakness, that gives your competition one less way to attack you.

At this point, you have the framework or outline for a marketing plan. You can develop your product, price, promotion and distribution strategies and tactics and start the game. This is something you can do yourself if you have the time and expertise, or have someone help with this process. “Plan your work and work your plan!”

And remember, Marketing is a race with no finish line.

George Latella teaches Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Food Marketing, which is the largest major at Saint Joseph’s University, recently celebrated its 58th anniversary. George is also a partner in Beacon Marketing group, which provides marketing planning, research and e-commerce/direct marketing communications for food and beverage companies. George can be reached at or 610-660-2254.

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