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The CMO’s guide for turning mayhem into momentum

Five steps to help your teams weather the COVID storm, reimagine what’s possible, and prepare to drive your company’s growth.

A global pandemic, as much as any major crisis, requires organizations to adapt quickly. Marketing leaders, in particular, need to move fast while applying a strategic, structured approach. But in our current circumstances, I believe how we act is as important as what we do: As we reimagine the future for our companies and for our people, we must act with purpose, agility, and empathy.








By purpose, I mean applying what we as marketers do best—using technology and data to understand customers and forge a meaningful relationship with them—to help our companies thrive in all sorts of circumstances. In fact, in a time of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t know of anything more important than going back to basics—being able to see the world through our customers’ eyes and respond appropriately to help in meaningful ways. When we deliver that, we can help our companies survive now, and even more, shape the future to become the growth engines our businesses will need—marketing at its finest.

This crisis has, unfortunately, revealed that many companies are unable to quickly meet their customers’ or employees’ needs. That’s why I believe one outcome of this pandemic will be the radical, rapid acceleration of many organizations’ digital transformation journeys. This won’t just be about the front end—having a good website or app— but enterprise-wide, from the inside out. A well-designed online experience won’t compensate for delayed deliveries, new cybersecurity threats as we work from home, or a customer’s inability to get questions answered and problems resolved.

I see leading CMOs across all industries determining how their pre-COVID-19 marketing strategies, policies, skill sets, and tools need to change. And while they may seem to be thinking in terms of triage—what is needed urgently to keep their business running now—the best of them are also training their eyes toward emerging stronger afterwards.One hallmark of the new normal is clear: agility is paramount. When everything changes overnight, previous assumptions can’t be trusted. And a company— its functions, teams and individual employees—must be able to pivot almost instantly to account for the new reality.

Agile teams are particularly good at this, because they excel at prioritization. They think about outcomes, and every day prioritize what matters most. In Marketing, integrated squads—creatives, data analysts, product marketers—move far faster than teams in a function still separated by silos. The intense collaboration that agile methods foster also generates a very strong sense of unity and shared purpose among team members. Agile, as a way of working and adapting, ultimately embodies the values of the multidisciplinary teams that employ it.

This encourages empathy. I have witnessed phenomenal displays of empathy and compassion coming from the shared understanding of an agile team. Today, I am seeing leaders become more openly vulnerable, showing sides of themselves that their teams may have never seen. It’s inspiring. It’s uplifting. It extends beyond our people to our customers—critical if we are to serve them in the ways they need it most.

Acting with purpose, agility and empathy is the critical how. To further help you lead through this moment and beyond, we’ve prepared a guide to the what: five key steps marketers can take.

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Meet the author

Michelle Peluso, Senior Vice President, Digital Sales, and Chief Marketing Officer, IBM

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Originally published 27 April 2020