Adaptive Marketing Strategies with Dr. Carla Childers


PODCAST: Adaptive Marketing Strategies with Dr. Carla Childers

Bellarmine on Business

Host Jim Ray interviews Dr. Carla Childers, Associate Professor of Marketing. They discuss how companies are adapting their marketing strategies and tactics, in a post-COVID business environment. Consumer buying habits have changed and may not return to “normal.” What are some of the issues marketers should consider? Let’s find out, in this episode.

Dr. Childers teaches the undergraduate Principles of Marketing and various classes for the MBA and Executive MBA programs. Recently, she’s developed two courses in digital marketing for Bellarmine’s Rubel School of Business.

Consumers miss socializing and interactions. This has led people to be a bit more risk-tolerant to meet the need for socialization.


Dr. Childers gave a presentation on Adaptive Marketing to the American Marketing Association (AMA) in October, 2020. After 10 years as an advisor for AMA, Dr. Childers was invited to join the Counsel of the AMA. She’s co-hosted the national conferences for several years. The organization brings together faculty, professionals and students to promote marketing, various related topics and trends.



COVID Has Impacted Everything

Consumer expectations and habits have changed, requiring marketers to adapt as well. The user experience (“UX”) may be significantly different for your clients and prospective clients. Lockdowns, consumer fears about safe interactions, buying habits and many other issues are now different than they were in early 2020.

A recent survey on consumer behavior showed has shifted and what we can expect moving forward into three categories:

  1. Consumers miss socializing and interactions. This has led people to be a bit more risk-tolerant to meet the need for socialization.
  2. Vaccines may help to increase the risk-tolerance as people become more comfortable.
  3. Economic recovery will begin once more engagement begins to take place.

Some industries and business have been able to thrive during the pandemic. Obviously, others have struggled to stay viable. According to Dr. Childers, until we’ve progressed through all three of these category phases, it’s going to continue to be difficult.


Will We Ever Return to Normal?

People want to return to “the norm.” Nonetheless, some changes and habits are now going to be long-lasting (i.e. social distancing concerns). Even as vaccines are being distributed and administered, it’s going to take time. During that time, consumers are going to have their fears, concerns and habits re-enforced, making it more difficult to completely shift away from our new paradigms.


The 4 Ps of Marketing

As we continue our discussion, let’s approach it using the 4 Ps of Marketing (Product, Place, Price and Promotion). As consumer behavior shifts, themes of reassurance and insurance will be key to effective messaging. This is about the safety of your products and your company’s store-front. This expectation of safety applies to B2C and the B2B models.

Promotions, new product designs and pricing will all be developed to provide that assurance and insurance of safety. Businesses will need to assess their existing supply chains to ensure a consistent level of support can be maintained. Many of those systems were disrupted by the COVID pandemic.

Promotion: Changes to Messaging and Tone
Media and marketing communications will focus on the steps the company has taken to ensure safety. The travel industry is already heavily focused on sanitation and cleanliness. The objective is to convey, “It’s okay to use our products and services.”

Social media is incredibly influential in changing consumer behavior. How information is communicated, or miscommunicated, will continue to impact the market. Both the government and businesses need to be mindful of the information they are putting on social media and how that information might be interpreted.

Product: The Rise of the Maker Culture
Due to the supply chain interruptions, the accelerated growth of the “Maker Culture” has surged during the pandemic. Dr. Childer’s favorite example is a result of a shortage of yeast. Because stores were running low, more households began making bread at home. This caused a secondary shortage of yeast. Consumers even shifted buying habits to other substitute products such as a gluten-free brand of bread.

Furniture retailers have experienced inventory and supply chain disruptions. Some people began making furniture at home.

Masks were in very short supply as soon as the panic set in. This lead to a cottage industry of mask-makers. They quickly discovered they could sell these products on Etsy, Facebook and other platforms.

The further rise of the DIY produce makers has spawned competitors to other businesses which may never have worried about that segment in the past.

Kentucky Distillers quickly realized they could generate an additional revenue stream by producing various sanitizers. If you’re a buy-local advocate, you may be more interested in this alternative substitute rather than Purell or another national brand. This case is a perfect example of adaptive marketing.

Price: Innovation Can Drive Margin
As producers launch innovative products to cope with the pandemic-related concerns, there may be an opportunity to increase margins. Dr. Childers mentions a hoodie with a built-in face mask. While the innovation addresses the need for safety, because it’s a unique product, the adaptation may be able to support a higher price point in the market.

Restaurants are absolutely looking at ways to maintain revenue streams and profit. Many have realized the need to alter menu selections, but there’s another trend that’s resurfaced due to the COVID fears. People are interested in family meal deals. Savvy restaurants are adapting to this trend and adjusting prices accordingly. Now, instead of getting one or two meals, they are increasing their offerings so they provide a meal, safely packaged and delivered curbside, for the entire household. Many of the sides and desserts can provide a higher margin, when included as part of the meal.

Place: Where Will You Conduct Business?
One of the adaptations companies are implementing is the need to develop ways to deliver via online purchasing and curbside delivery. This change may enable you to eventually reduce the overall footprint of your location (assuming you can alter potential contractual obligations).

COVID testing is already being done in a drive-through environment. What other types of services might be able to adapt to a similar means of delivery? Grocery stores are already doing it fairly well.

As employees and managers begin to adapt to work at home environments, we may no longer need large office spaces. This opens up the opportunity for smaller start-ups, which couldn’t afford an elaborate store front or office. With more time (absent 30-90 minutes commuting), entrepreneurial minded people may have more time to devote to a side-interest or venture. The growth of the gig economy will continue, as a result.


Consumer Behavior Has Always Been About Value

As marketers incorporate value-based messaging they are going to appeal to the shifting consumer behaviors. It involves message and tone. It’s proven in the product offering and how those products are priced in the market. Value is also established by the way businesses promise to save time for the consumer via e-commerce and curbside delivery. All of this returns to the need to reinforce consumer’s desire for reassurance and insurance.

Customer satisfaction is no longer enough. Consumers are interested in a company’s culture and their user experience when interacting with the company. It’s about the value the customer leaves with, once the transaction is complete.

While most of this discussion has focused on the consumer, marketers also need to be mindful of the various external factors also exerting influence on the marketplace. These will all be important as we move forward into 2021 and beyond.

Unfortunately, these are uncontrollable:

  • Competition
  • Technology
  • Political and Legal
  • Social, Cultural and Demographic
  • Economic

Many of these factors can quickly change the business environment. It’s imperative that we constantly listen and identify cues from our various efforts to understand the risks and opportunities ahead.


The views and opinions expressed during the Bellarmine on Business podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Bellarmine University, its administration or the faculty at large.  The episodes are designed to be insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining.


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