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Listening, Learning, Leading

Adaptability and communication — both internally and externally — buoy performance marketers Shop LC and The Habit Burger Grill as they navigate the coronavirus.

By Thomas Haire

From the middle of March forward, the Performance-Driven Marketing Institute (PDMI) has — like its members — had to shift many facets of its business and remain flexible as the roller-coaster news cycle has taken us on a wild ride. As the coronavirus crisis completely upended many businesses — and the summer’s social justice protests and the fall’s presidential election each added to the discord — we, like you, have strived to find stable ground for our current and prospective customers (members and targets, alike).

The PDMI’s members provide a wide variety of perspectives on the current status of the performance and direct-to-consumer marketing world. It’s those varied voices that have helped us transition — in part — from two major in-person events that were scuttled by the pandemic to an ongoing series of virtual events that serve all in this diverse industry.

During those events — our PDMI Virtual Summit in June, our PDMI West Virtual event in September, and our regularly scheduled Seasonal Seminar Series and Take 20 webinars — our goal is to share our members’ expertise, mixed together with important voices from outside the membership.

In the spirit of that goal — and as part of this year-end package focused on learnings from 2020 and expectations for 2021 — we asked some of the experts who have spoken as part of the PDMI’s virtual education calendar to address a brief set of questions.

A pair of leaders — Amit Agarwal, president of Austin, Texas-based Shop LC, and Burge Diemer, vice president of brand marketing for Yum! Brands’ The Habit Burger Grill — stepped up to share their feedback and their vision. Agarwal spoke at our PDMI Virtual Summit, while Diemer has been part of our Take 20 webinar series, created by the PDMI Brand Response Council.

As 2020 comes to an end, what do you consider the two biggest moments for your business in reacting to and living with the coronavirus crisis?

Amit Agarwal, Shop LC: The first would be our team’s ability to quickly react and prepare while our local government ordered businesses and staff to stay home.

The second: our ability to anticipate the essential needs of our elderly customers and provide them with access to critical merchandise to support them through this pandemic.

Burge Diemer, The Habit Burger Grill/Yum! Brands: As a fast-casual restaurant brand, our No. 1 priority has been to keep our employees and guests safe by implementing various safety measures.

Consumers are looking for a contactless experience, so we leaned heavily into digital order channels, such as mobile app and third-party delivery. We rapidly launched a very successful curbside pick-up program to offer our guests the ability to order ahead via our mobile app and have the food delivered to their cars.

With many shifting to a work-at-home environment, how were you challenged by managing your team from home? What solutions are working to motivate yourself and others? And what steps can you continue to take to avoid burnout in the new environment?

Agarwal: Our biggest challenge was not shifting to a work-at-home environment, but more so staying connected in a way that was meaningful. Our IT team was able to quickly identify work-at-home needs for each employee and accommodate them with very little downtime — if any — to the business.

We quickly assembled a COVID-19 task force to monitor the situation, keeping management and employees up-to-speed with local ordinances and recommended safety measures, and facilitating questions and concerns.

We continue to have a weekly "all-hands" meeting to connect with as many employees as possible — typically 200-plus team members. We use this time to educate, inform, say "Hi" to each other, and have a little fun in the process.

Diemer: Our team quickly adapted to virtual working, and the overall productivity has been great. In a dynamic, multi-generational work environment, there are varying levels of technology skills, so we had to train each other on how to use certain features.

Communication and staying connected are key, so we have 30-minute virtual huddles to discuss our key priorities for the day and the week. We also remember to have fun by celebrating birthdays and having virtual happy hours to celebrate our successes, which keep everyone engaged and motivated.

Looking ahead to 2021, how far out are you planning your marketing efforts? And how have the events of the past nine months changed future marketing planning within your company?

Agarwal: We keep our marketing timelines fairly tight, operating three-to-six months out. This helps us stay nimble and helps avoid wasted costs that could be incurred with change of direction. The past nine months are a reminder to continue to think about how we do things. Especially with COVID, we are finding that our customers need empathy and — more than ever — just need someone to talk to. As we make our way out of COVID, we will continue to emphasize the customer experience throughout our entire customer journey.

Diemer: We are still focusing on implementing our key strategies for growth and remaining laser-focused on ever-changing consumer needs. We have built in flexibility and contingencies to shift our marketing and promotions calendar.

Which media outlets do you believe will be most effective in a multichannel, performance marketing campaign in 2021, and why?

Agarwal: There are several outlets that are strong for Shop LC. However, we believe the most effective for the coming year will be: lower channel positions on traditional TV platforms, streaming, and social influencers.

Diemer: Targeted social and digital media with relevant content will continue to be key vehicles to increase awareness and trial for our brand.

How can marketers both safeguard their business’ success in these shifting times, while also taking the kind of calculated risks that often push them to a new level?

Agarwal: If you don’t try, you will never know. I always encourage my team to A/B test where possible to seek to truly understand what worked and what didn’t. Likewise, we will continue building a culture of innovation and rewarding people for great ideas — even if they fail.

Diemer: We have taken a fail-fast approach. When we introduce a new technology or order channel, it is all about testing, learning, and pivoting versus perfecting a product or service from the get-go. We rely heavily on our field operations and guests to provide us feedback for improvement.

What is your one fearless prediction for the performance and direct-to-consumer marketing world in 2021?

Agarwal: COVID-19 has forced all things digital to accelerate! The days of waiting in a checkout line on Black Friday may be over. The important thing is that you don’t sit still and wait for someone to figure it out for you.

Keep thinking of ways to reinvent yourself and your company. If what you are doing today isn’t working, then what are you going to create that does work. For example: don’t make crayons when kids want keyboards. Figure out a way to develop a solution that solves both.

Diemer: Consumers’ experiences with COVID-19 will redefine their behavior and the brands they engage with. The savvy marketers will continue to invest in building new technologies and analytics capabilities to engage with consumers one-to-one and serve relevant messages throughout the customer journey.


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