Covid-19 Disruption: How Will Marketing Be Transformed?

iPhone unit sales (2007-10): 1.4M to 40M

AWS revenue (2006-10): $0 to $500M (est.)

HubSpot revenue (2007-10): $0.3M to $15.6M

As I come to terms with these disruptive times, I looked at what happened before and after the financial meltdown in the late 2000s for some guidance.

During the financial meltdown, which is otherwise known as the Great Recession, marketing experienced a radical transformation that was largely driven by customer behavior’s continued shift to digital. Two trends that represented this shift were mobile and cloud. During these times, iPhone unit sales grew at 206% CAGR, and Amazon Web Services, founded in 2006, grew to $500M review in just 4 years.  These trends were so massive they disrupted entire industries like telecommunications, entertainment, and computer hardware.  At the same time, marketing changed.  One indicator of this is HubSpot’s revenue growth, which represents an increase in marketers’ use of technology. 

Visit for a glimpse of these disruptive changes

Today’s marketing is completely different than it was during the Great Recession

Imagine what marketing was like before the Great Recession: 

  1. What were the strengths of your marketing leader?
  2. What were your marketing objectives? 
  3. What marketing activities and tactics did you use? 

In my view, the biggest change is that many companies now have Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) reporting directly to CEOs. CMOs were rare in the 2000s. Companies have finally realized how important marketing is! As marketers, we have found new ways to add strategic value. We generate demand and shape corporate strategy by keeping a pulse of market and customer dynamics.

With an increase in importance, the marketing organization expanded. New marketing functions like demand generation, social media, marketing operations, marketing technology, and analytics were created. And, with all of this change, marketers adapted and learned new skills.

Although changes were already underway, many of these changes accelerated because of the Great Recession. Take PR for example. As the CMO of Vocus, a PR software company, I saw how the Great Recession triggered a rapid transition from traditional PR to social media. During this time, traditional PR departments and budgets were cut, and then later reinstated after the Great Recession. However, the reinstated people and budgets were invested in social media instead of traditional PR. Today, the press release is almost an afterthought. 

Marketing communications budgets shifted, too. Digital media spending replaced traditional media. Why? Digital media was consumed by customers and enabled us to directly measure RoI impact. To support the shift to digital media spending, marketing IT budgets and martech stacks grew exponentially. These changes are a few examples of how marketing transformed during the last major crisis.

Right now, we are in the middle of unprecedented change from so many different directions at great speed. Which changes are temporary and which ones should we bet our careers on? For example, today many of us marketers are scrambling to find a substitute for events. Is this a permanent or a temporary change? How important will events be 5 years from now?

If we look at the Great Recession period, events were cut along with PR and traditional marketing media spend. Many of us, myself included, thought that events would be replaced by digital webinars. Yet, events came roaring back and became a more important demand gen and communications channel than webinars and virtual tradeshows.

While we are reacting and making changes, it’s also important to spend some time and energy now to determine and address the changes that we must adapt to for tomorrow.

Which customer purchase behaviors and GTM tactics are temporary changes, and which ones should we be prepared for in the next decade?

Jason Jue
Jason Jue
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