Ford, Staples & Sam’s Club: Pivot, Pivot, Pivot

If pivot is the most overused word of the past six weeks, it’s certainly for good reason. Just as individual people are being forced to find new ways of functioning, brands are racing to meet the fast-changing needs of their customers. This was the backdrop for a recent Brand Innovators Livecast focused on how brands are navigating the significant challenges caused by the coronavirus. 

A keynote from Dan Silver, VP of Marketing at GroundTruth, set the table by focusing on rapidly-changing consumer behavior. Silver said people are making fewer trips to the grocery store but buying more when they do go. They are buying more alcohol. Consumer spending on health and personal care is up, as is online shopping. The full extent of the changes won’t be known for some time, Silver said, but some patterns are emerging.

The centerpiece of the Livecast was a panel discussion on “Brand Response & Community Engagement” that revealed the extent to which brand marketers have had to--wait for it--pivot almost on a dime.

“There are two ways we’ve been impacted,” said Dan Gray, Digital Manager-Shopper Content for Ford Motor Company. “First, manufacturing. All of our plants are closed in the US so we’ve had to shift. Ford is stepping up, manufacturing and assisting with PPE to get the equipment to the front-line workers. We are also affected in our dealership operations. We’ve shifted how our customers are shopping and our dealerships are listening and taking that cue and making transactions online, offering concierge service, dropping off new vehicles at customers' houses. The most important thing is that we’re safe and clean in everything that we do.”

Gray said Ford is partnering with GE healthcare to produce 50,000 ventilators in the next 100 days and helping 3M make powered air purifier respirators. Internally, they are using 3D printers to make masks and face shields. “No one asked Ford to do this,” Gray said. “It just felt right.”

Staples made a quick move away from high-touch activities. “We had to pivot to focus on keeping our stores open and safe while adapting to these evolved consumer trends,” said Marketing Director Marc Walkin. “The most impressive thing we did was to create a chain-wide curb pickup program. We did it in less than a week. Our supply chain shifted immensely, moving toward furniture and computers for those working from home. At a community/manager level, we’ve been creating different ways to help and each store has done phenomenal things for their community.”

Among Staples’ community engagement initiatives right now: a partnership with Children's Miracle Network, turning all stores into donation dropoff points; offering free access to photocopy, fax and scanning services; and providing materials for 10,000 masks.

Tweaking brand messages

Sabrina Callahan, Sr. Director-Brand & Social Marketing for Sam’s Club, said her brand began by taking a conscious step back. “Typically we have 8-12 events each year that drive the most engagement with our customers. We took a step back, said ‘What’s relevant?’ and thought through what was important to our members.”

Callahan says that exercise also impacted the way the brand communicated with its customers. “We leaned pretty hard into social media to connect,” she said. “We used to push a lot of products on Instagram. As soon as COVID hit, we did a complete 180 to be more transparent and to spotlight and highlight our heroes, our associates. This is our brand and these are our people so we wanted to put them first.”

Marketers are also taking steps to ensure they have the right messaging in place to address customer needs and navigate around any sense of tone-deafness. “It goes back to culture,” said Gray from Ford. “About a year and a half ago we came out with “Built Ford Proud.” We got a lot of insights into who we are as a brand and what we represent. It’s a natural progression for us as a company that’s 117 years old. We've done this before. We’ve helped out Americans since World War when Ford factories built tanks. Our new campaign is built to lend a hand and that’s exactly what we’re doing for healthcare workers and PPE. It’s authentic for us. We’re helping out America and we’re helping out our customers.”

Workflow Processes Changing--Fast

The way we work has changed and our panelists addressed how this has played out at their respective companies. Gray from Ford said a sense of urgency has been driving his team. “We’re moving a lot quicker than ever before. We had to shift our messaging and come up with a new campaign. Normally, something like this would take weeks but we did it in days. Decision-makers were on calls and in the room, working around the clock to make sure that things hit the market. We’ve learned that we can operate very quickly.”

Walkin from Staples addressed the challenges that face a legacy retailer sprinting to become all-virtual and all-digital. “We are so fast and so collaborative right now,” he said. “You’re moving so quickly that you almost create silos. Our productivity has gone up. We are more nimble but also facing some challenges because things have to be done quickly.”

Callahan hails the spirit of cooperation among her Sam’s Club colleagues. “Internally, there’s been a large sense of understanding, flexibility and support when it comes to working in this new normal. It’s inspiring to see how people step up in the face of adversity. We’re all doing the best we can given our circumstances, and we’re in this together. At the end of the day, it’s rallied our team together more than ever in a very authentic and altruistic way.”

Interested in our events?


Beauty Brand No7 Tackles Pandemic-Driven “SHEcession”

Read More

The Future of Marketing: Five Game-Changing Takeaways From CES

Read More