With the worst of the pandemic now in the rear-view mirror, it may be time for businesses to review how their landscape has changed and try to be better prepared for the next big disruption, according to a new e-book by experts at Wharton and McKinsey.

“It seemed like a perfect opportunity to reflect a little and provide a few guidelines in terms of how marketers can be better prepared for any other disruption that might come along,” Wharton marketing professor Raghuram Iyengar said recently on the Wharton Business Daily radio show that airs on SiriusXM. (Listen to the full podcast above.) Iyengar co-authored the book, Resilient Marketing: What’s Next in Growth?, with Wharton marketing professor David Reibstein, former Knowledge at Wharton editor-in-chief Mukul Pandya, and McKinsey’s senior partner Brian Gregg and partner Eli Stein.

The authors organized their guidelines for marketers under five themes: “Building an intentional brand; Getting granular with customer data to drive growth; Adopting an investor mindset; Getting obsessive about omnichannel; and Building crisis reaction into your agility muscles.”

Building an Intentional Brand

The pandemic seems to have forged a stronger connection between the business goals of companies and the values they stand for — and holding them to scrutiny over adherence to those values, such as combating climate change or social inequities. “There’s more of a push from the public than ever before about making sure that brands really are what they say they are,” Iyengar said. He cited Nike and Heineken as “brands that have embraced a particular viewpoint.” Nike has actively espoused racial equity, while Heineken has committed itself to carbon neutrality. “In some ways, they’re giving a signal to their customer base to say: ‘If you believe in these values, so do we.’”

“Purpose matters to consumers,” the book’s authors noted. “A decade ago, priorities like community service, equity, and sustainability weren’t front and center for most companies. Today, consumers want not only savings and convenience, but also for their buying decisions to align with companies that share their values.”

During the pandemic, some companies walked that talk with programs to help customers who faced difficulties. The book cited Hyundai, which offered to make up to six months of payments for car buyers who had lost their jobs; it also offered to waive interest payments and defer payments for 120 days to qualified buyers.

“There’s more of a push from the public than ever before about making sure that brands really are what they say they are.”— Raghuram Iyengar

Chief marketing officers have a role here, the book stated. “Although CMOs can’t call the shots on how products are sourced or whether the company installs solar panels at every location, they can educate the rest of the C-suite about the importance of brand values and demonstrate how closely purpose can be tied to a company’s growth agenda,” the authors advised.

Getting Granular with Customer Data

Businesses have grappled with managing unwieldy volumes of data from their operations and the marketplace, but the trick is in getting strategic about using data, Iyengar said. In their book, the authors list two key practices that can help: Hiring or training the right talent is helpful in marshaling insights from data. “Consistently creating deeper data-driven customer connections requires new levels of collaboration — across channel domains and marketing functions,” they stated. The second piece of advice is to treat customer data as a product. “Instead of managing data using top-down standards, rules, and controls, data assets are organized and supported as products, with dedicated teams or ‘squads,’ aligned against them,” they noted.

“Omnichannel is one step ahead [of multichannel marketing],” as Iyengar put it. “Multichannel just means that you as a company may be interacting with your customers across multiple channels. [With] omnichannel, you’re interacting across multiple channels, but hopefully they talk to each other.”

During the pandemic, more and more customers began shopping for products online and picking them up at stores. But that brought up a new set of expectations. “Customers want to feel noticed,” said Iyengar. “They want to make sure that whatever they do in one channel actually makes them known in the other channels that they interact with.”

Therein lies an opportunity for companies, Iyengar said. With data that covers all those different touch points, businesses can leverage what customers had done in their call centers or websites or stories “[in order to] give them personalized, customized service,” he pointed out.

Adopting an Investor Mindset

“An investor mindset [entails] continuously testing and learning because you can’t always rely on data from the past,” Iyengar said. “Especially during the pandemic, it became clear that you can’t assume that the world will stay the same. Being proactive, testing and learning, and getting a handle on changing customer behavior and expectations become very important as companies think about what investments are worthwhile making in the short run versus those in the long run.”

In order to get there, marketers must extract insights from their data to gain a comprehensive picture of how their customers make their decisions. “Leading marketers are trying to understand how marketing spending in different channels and along each stage of the consumer decision funnel — awareness, consideration, purchase — impacts other channels and stages, creating a complete picture of the experience of each customer,” the authors stated.

“An investor mindset [entails] continuously testing and learning because you can’t always rely on data from the past.”— Raghuram Iyengar

In that notion of a “full funnel,” customer data must be treated as a product, the authors continued. “This ‘full funnel’ marketing combines the power of both brand building and performance marketing, allowing companies to develop a fuller and more accurate picture of marketing’s overall effectiveness and generate more value without having to spend additional marketing dollars.” They noted that those objectives can be achieved with incentives, cross-functional collaboration, and the adoption of agile, test-and-learn capabilities by brand marketers.

Building Crisis Reaction Into Your Agility Muscles

Turbulent times call for agility in businesses. “Agile is about learning from customers by putting minimal viable products, or MVPs, into the market to get rapid feedback, then iterating based on that feedback,” the authors wrote. That effort must be adopted holistically across the organization, they advised. “Agile can’t be just a skunkworks team off in the corner doing things that might impact the broader operations a year from now. The culture should be omnipresent and engrained throughout a marketing organization.”

Iyengar shared an anecdote from his travels in India’s northern parts that border China and Pakistan on either side. “We saw a lot of Indian soldiers who were constantly getting through different drills. They were doing that because when the opportunity arises, it’s not something that they’re learning at that point in time. It’s built into their muscle, and so they are ready to respond.” In much the same way, brands must build such agility, so that they are prepared when adversity strikes, he said.

Iyengar pointed to a Google program called DiRT, or “Disaster Recovery and Training,” to prepare for unforeseen eventualities. He spoke of typical scenarios Google might consider: “What happens if the data from a particular country shuts off? What happens if, for example, a data center suddenly goes away? How would all those models work? How would people react to it? What decisions would be made? ”[With its DiRT program], Google constantly has that mindset of making sure that it is prepared, no matter what happens.”

Ever since COVID struck, marketers “have been forced to change,” Iyengar said, summing up. “With greater tracking, greater accountability [and a sharper] investment mindset at companies, every function – not just marketing – needs to be able to showcase the RoI (return on investment) and track what’s going on over time. Even if some marketers did not want to change, they’re being forced to change.”

The authors noted that economic disruptions are not rare events, and they listed more than a dozen of those that occurred over the past century. “Perhaps the only certainty about economic disruptions is that they will happen again. And when they do, they will bring entirely new sets of challenges to which marketing leaders will need to respond.”

The book is available for download on the Wharton AI & Analytics for Business website.