YM Group Guest Blog: “Never Waste a Good Crisis” | YM Group

Mark Davies, Managing Director, Whistl (Doordrop Media) Ltd

July 2020

“Never Waste A Good Crisis”

At the risk of delivering the world’s most blindingly obvious statement, it is fair to say that 2020 has not panned out as anyone on this planet would have anticipated. Whether you have been directly affected by the health tragedy or are being impacted positively (a lucky few!) or negatively (the vast majority!) by the far-reaching economic impacts of the pandemic, it has been one of a mere handful of truly global experiences.

The saying “never waste [the opportunity afforded by] a good crisis” has been circulating since at least the time of Machiavelli and used by political leaders through the ages. However, in marketing circles this phrase finds its feet in the debate about what businesses should do with their marketing budgets during a downturn. During a time of crisis, it probably does appear logical on one level to panic and slash all spending, and particularly marketing spend. But to follow this logic betrays perhaps a scepticism of the value of marketing in general which is more sensibly viewed as a means to drive demand, drive growth, drive sales. Certainly, most studied marketing analysis would highlight the findings of the IPA study in this area which showed that cutting your marketing budget can be more damaging to a business than the crisis which forced the cuts itself.

Businesses who cut their budgets by 50% took up to three years to catch up with competitors who carried on marketing throughout the crisis.

One of the most regularly cited examples comes from perhaps the best historical precedent to where we find ourselves today – the Great Depression of the 1920s. At the start of that decade Post Cereals was far and away the market leader in the breakfast cereal category. When the downturn hit, they cut back on their marketing spend significantly while their challenger – a company called Kellogg’s – doubled their marketing activity and saw their profits increase by 30%. Kellogg’s was soon the category leader – a position they have held ever since.

Forcing a change in behaviour

Now Covid-19 has of course been a crisis like no other. It didn’t simply impact revenues negatively like a lot of financial crises. In many cases, for businesses that have been shut down entirely it simply halted revenues altogether and if you had no way to sell your wares then even the most staunch proponent of the marketing theory espoused above would forgive the suspension of spend.

Likewise, the impact on particular marketing channels has been unprecedented. With the cinemas shut, no cinema advertising could take place. With the city centres and transport systems virtually empty, out of home advertising was significantly impacted. With events and festivals cancelled, the experiential marketing world has experienced a crisis like no other. Add to this the current boycott of Facebook by a number of significant advertisers due to their obduracy over tackling the hate that peppers their platform and you have an unprecedented change to the media landscape.

With so much media planning appearing to be in a normal world templated, the removal of these key channels is forcing a change in behaviour that might normally have taken months of persuasion and business cases.

The postal channels – direct mail, partially addressed mail and doordrop media – have remained open for business throughout this crisis.

Royal Mail’s network was deemed a key supply chain for the UK to keep it connected during the pandemic and our posties are rightly lauded as heroes on the front line of this situation. In addition, a range of helpful incentives have also helped to focus attention on direct marketing.

As a result, while volumes have inevitably been impacted negatively by the closure of so many key retail and hospitality customers, those brands who do have a relevant message for a nation at home more than ever before have seen an opportunity and those channels have not disappointed.

Indeed, many clients are reporting best ever performance from their direct marketing at the moment – one e-commerce client has seen their June doordrop deliver a cost per acquisition 38% better than their January campaign. Another saw their April campaign this year outperform the same campaign last year by 41% in terms of response. Printed communications are cutting through more than ever in spite or perhaps because of the increased time being spent by the nation online.


Take the following example from a client in the home improvement sector

Their business shut down during the pandemic and the following chart shows the leads they achieved in their reopening month of June. They began slowly with an always on approach online with a mix of PPC and Social Media. These drew a steady flow of leads but in the last week of the month they sent a doordrop. Nothing else was changed so the impact on leads was both dramatic and instantly attributable.

Importantly in this example, only 28% of the response was captured via the telephone number printed on the leaflet but the impact was so stark it encouraged the client to dig deeper than they might otherwise have done in their usual multi-media world where attribution gets harder the more channels are in play.

Geographical analysis of their web response correlating the enquiries to the postcodes that received the doordrop demonstrate that it was the offline marketing that delivered that online response. That’s 72% of the total leads that might otherwise have been allocated to digital channels.

A beautiful story of online and offline integration and a key finding for any digital only business who thinks a digital only marketing strategy is the way to go! Indeed, e-commerce is one of the biggest growth sectors we have seen at Whistl since the pandemic began as they discover a whole marketing world beyond the internet that is delivering results beyond their expectations.

Now that’s how to not waste a good crisis!


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