Marketing Post-COVID: Amy Scissons, Chief Marketing Officer, International @ Mercer

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing Podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in the post-COVID-19 world. Today’s guest is Amy Scissons, the Chief Marketing Officer for Mercer’s International region. Mercer is a professional services firm that helps clients with the health, wealth and careers of their people. Amy, thanks so much for joining us today.

Amy Scissons:
Thanks for having me, Brian.

Brian Erickson:
Great, so first of all, how are you during this time? How has work changed for you and your colleagues? I’m sure it’s been pretty dramatic.

Amy Scissons:
It is a crazy time, personally I’m at home with two little ones, learning the basics of math and science and getting back into that but professionally, it’s really been about shifting the way we think about how we work with our clients and it’s been a fairly significant shift in professional services. We’re very much about being in front of clients and with clients and it’s required us to think differently about how we help them through this time.

Brian Erickson:
Absolutely, as it has in many segments. I think you’re probably feeling that more than most, right? Leading marketing for international markets at Mercer in more than 40 different countries. Can you share a little bit of the global perspective that you’re seeing, with widely different outcomes, I would imagine, during this pandemic and given that you’re working with organizations that are seeing widely different outcomes during this pandemic, how is this reshaping your overseas marketing strategy?

Amy Scissons:
I mean, it’s been really fascinating, the pandemic, for me, at least, because I’ve always, although Mercer is a global firm, we’ve always taken a very local approach. We tend to put our expertise out there into the marketplace but we really sell locally, we connect with our clients locally, we’re locally relevant and what’s really interesting about the pandemic is that it’s really accentuated that fact in the sense that in Asia, clients are at a very different stage than, say, in Europe, or in North America or even in Latin America, and so what we’re finding is that our strategy can’t simply be, we’re going to help clients in the same way globally. We’re having to think differently about, okay, where is that client, at what stage in their journey are they at the “leaving work,” are they at “trying to maintain business as usual”? Are they at the “return to work” stage? Which is what our Asia clients are at. So what’s forced us to do is really become much more client-centric and not necessarily thinking about taking a global idea and pushing it into the markets.

Brian Erickson:
So that’s a great theoretical approach, right? But I’m sure logistically, it’s been something that you’ve had to adapt on the fly to. How are you tactically addressing those concerns?

Amy Scissons:
So from a tactical standpoint, we’ve really had to give the freedom to the marketers in those local markets to really craft what makes sense for that local market and it’s tricky for a global firm, as you say. It’s a balance, right? So how do we wanna be helping clients? What do we wanna be saying to them? And so what we’ve done is we’ve sort of said, okay, let’s have one global framework that makes sense for our clients.

We know that when they’re communicating with their employee base, they need to really help them feel comfortable through this difficult time and that’s in the heading away from work. And then the return to work, really, I mean it’s taking best practices from countries and locations where they’ve had a lot of success with that, staying close to clients and really pulling that expertise across into the new market. So it’s been a bit of freedom at a local level, combined with a global framework that can help marketers globally and then the third piece has really been taking best practice from certain markets and pulling it across. So it’s been sort of a three pronged strategy.

Brian Erickson:
Very cool and obviously as a management consultancy, Mercer is highly attuned to the needs of people and it’s certainly reflected in your brand and marketing strategy. I guess, how have you worked to stay empathetic and maintain focus on the situation, without kind of blending into a sea of sameness? I’m not sure if you’ve seen any of the coronavirus ad mashups on YouTube but a lot of the similar language talking about “together at home” and “we’re in this together” and just kind of a lot of the very safe language. How do you take an opportunity like this to both be empathetic and also stand out in the crowd?

Amy Scissons:
It’s tricky, right? Because especially in the professional services world, it’s very difficult to be very commercially oriented right now. Companies are pulling back, they’re reducing budgets, they’re being much more conservative about how they partner with special services firms and to your point, there is a lot of sameness and the way we’ve sort of looked at that is two ways, one is our brand.

We went through a fairly interesting brand relaunch over the past couple of months where we really thought about what is our core and how do we wanna think differently about that and what came out of it was, is that our brand is really about empathy and economics and the marriage of those two concepts and what’s interesting is empathy has proved to be very, very helpful during this time.

And so we very much leaned on that part of our brand and very much staying close to people issues, health, wealth and career is very much at the top of mind. You know, people are thinking about how to maintain their career but also their health and what does this mean for them long-term? And what does this mean for their financial wellness? So it’s allowed us to take our core value proposition and put it onto the market in a way that’s very meaningful. So we’ve actually stayed very true to our core, that’s the first piece of this, is just staying true to what we’ve already built and then the second piece of it has really been to say, we’re not going to be very aggressive in the market. We’re instead just going to stay very close to our clients and help them through this difficult time and help them in a way that makes sense for them. And what we’re seeing is fantastic results as a result of that, where we’ll open up webinars where we have our consultants spending time online with clients and we are having thousands of people attend these webinars across the globe. So I think just staying true to our core brand beliefs and making sure that our value proposition is relevant to clients and really backing away from that aggressive commercial stance has really helped us.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah, I mean I think it’s a really great time to focus on building just good will in the marketplace and whatnot and as you alluded to in terms of content creation, people are home and online right now, right? So how has your digital strategy evolved to keep up with that fact?

Amy Scissons:
Well we’ve had to move to digital much faster. We’ve had to be much more agile about that. What we’ve found is that we’ve struggled with really educating the business that guess what? You don’t always need to be face-to-face in front of clients. In the past we’ve struggled with that, now it’s very easy to have that conversation with the business. So it’s changed, our digital strategy first of all has been gaining much more acceptance across the business, which is great.

Second piece, which is really making sure that our content is relevant, as you said, in the sea of sameness, everyone is talking about COVID-19, everyone’s talking about the impact on employees and making sure that we’re careful about where we put our energy. Our marketers are busier than they’ve ever been, right? Because we’re maintaining our existing work and we’re adding a whole layer of COVID work on top of that.

And so one piece of it is really prioritizing the work that we do, to make sure that taking a step back and saying first of all, is this the right time to put these messages and this content out into the market? And second of all, does it have the right tone and the right sensitivity? And third of all, how can we become much more careful about doing less? Less is more and being much more thoughtful about that and that’s really what’s underpinned a lot of the work that’s gone into our additional strategy now.

Brian Erickson:
So obviously a lot of what’s gone on to date has just been kind of reacting to the situation and normalizing what’s going on just in the short term but I think everybody’s seeing— and probably even internationally, right—that this is not going away completely any time soon. We’re gonna have to, in some way, shape or form, move on. So I’m undoubtedly, we’re gonna find ourselves in a new post COVID-19 world or just living with COVID-19 world, how do you expect your own high-level marketing strategy will adapt just kind of longer term to meet this new reality?

Amy Scissons:
I think that we’re going to make a much stronger shift to digital than we would have before. We still, in the professional services world, we spend a lot of time on physical events, wanting to be in front of clients and that will shift, radically, in terms of, how do we engage with them digitally? How do we provide them with the content that’s really relevant and becoming much more agile about how we put our content out there? And also, too, we’re also finding that we have to be more careful about our channel strategy, in the sense that we can’t expect that our clients are gonna come to us, we need to go to them. We need to go where they’re relevant, where they’re talking about the issues at hand and so I think it’s forcing us to be much more agile. I think it’s forcing us to think more cleverly about an adaptive channel strategy and it’s also going to shift our investment. Less investments in the physical world, more investment in digital and I think those are all really positive changes.

Brian Erickson:
So on a tactical level, it sounds like budgets have shifted and focused on different channels has shifted pretty significantly?

Amy Scissons:
Yes, in the short term, budgets are being pulled back. It’s also forcing us to re-evaluate some of our vendor relationships. We’re taking a deeper dive into say, you know, based on this work that we’ve done with the following providers, what kind of return on investment are we seeing and do we see this as making sense for our new strategy, as we move forward? But it also is creating more awareness of how fantastically trackable and measurable the digital work we do is. And that’s been wonderful for us in the sense that we’ve been able to really show some very quick wins to business about the type of value that we get out of investing digitally. So I think it’s, one is just forcing us to be much more strategic of how we invest our dollars and secondly, it’s allowing us to change those conversations with the business.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah and that’s definitely something that we’ve been seeing across industries, is just a greater emphasis than ever on actually measuring and being precise with how your spend is performing and the return that you’re getting on it. So definitely seeing that across different verticals as well. Okay, so outside of Mercer’s business specifically, how do you think marketing as a whole is gonna change in a post-COVID-19 world? I know we’re talking about a shift to digital, we’re talking about measurement. Are those universal changes that you think are gonna become more important?

Amy Scissons:
Yes I think that for sure, digital’s gonna become much more important. I spent some time on the phone yesterday with a very interesting vendor talking about, how do we take the learnings from games, from online games like “Fortnite” or those types of games, and turn those into digital and virtual events, where we can allow people to network, we can allow them to have this fantastic, immersive experience, digitally and I think that’s really going to create a lot of really interesting opportunities about how individuals connect and how they think about their world and their work. I think that’s gonna be fantastic. I also see, in thinking about the future of work and what we spend a lot of time talking to our clients about, is it’s going to create a lot of opportunities, I think, for people in the workforce. A lot more flexibility, opportunities to bring in talent that otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to because you wanted them physically in your offices and I think it’s going to also broaden our awareness, culturally and globally. What I’m seeing now is, New York is always, as a metropolis, is very outward-looking but I’m seeing a lot of really interesting conversations about people talking about what’s happening in Korea, or they’re fascinated by what’s happening in Italy and I think it’s forcing individuals to think more globally. I think ultimately, we’ll become global citizens as a result of this, which is such a fantastic outcome, as we become much more culturally aware. I see a ton of opportunity in the way people will work together, the way we’ll think about the world, new opportunities for work and then overall, just general sensitivity to the needs of others.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah, I think there will definitely be some really positive, lasting changes that come out of any crisis, the silver lining that emerges there. So you talk about flexibility and looking at the workforce and whatnot. One of the darker sides of this is that we’re looking at potentially 20% unemployment right now, right? And many marketers are gonna find themselves in transition. What skills, outside of just what company strategies are changing, what personal sorts of skills should be developed and what personal strategies should folks that find themselves in the job market emphasize to remain competitive and to stand out?

Amy Scissons:
I think that’s a really great question because I think that it can be very difficult to find yourself without work in this type of an environment, right? We’re feeling a lot of psychological, emotional pressures. There’s thinking about the health and wealth of our families. It is a very stressful time to be without work and I think there is a lot of opportunity for marketers to think about re-skilling and repositioning their work.

There’s always a ton of demand for great content and not only just as a good writer but a strategic content. Content that really resonates with clients and prospects and people out in the market. So I would encourage marketers to think about how can I hone my skills on really effective, strategic content development?

I would also really recommend honing up on digital skills. SEO, paid search, understanding digital channel strategies and what that means because those are hugely valued skills and they can really be done from anywhere. So you could be working for a company in the Midwest or a firm in London, still based out of your home and doing some really great work and adding value. So I recommend content, I recommend digital and I also recommend always that marketers think about business strategy and make sure that they understand how companies make money and be able to always apply that strategic lens.

Brian Erickson:
That’s definitely some good advice. So I think a lot of times, marketing can get a stereotype of being a softer skill and kind of being a little bit fluffy, let’s call it. And not being as focused on the business strategy, as you allude to. Would you say that it’s really necessary for somebody to get into spreadsheets, start to develop some financial acumen or are there ways that folks that might consider themselves more on the creative side of the business can compliment themselves with partnerships with other folks in the organization that might have those skills?

Amy Scissons:
I think there’s always a baseline need for that type of skill. You really do need to know your way around a spreadsheet. It’s important to at least get that baseline in there but I think also, you can rely on others in businesses but I think if you can also learn the basics of AI, or start to understand what predictive algorithms will do for the business, or even understand how they work, I think that type of knowledge, using this opportunity to gain certain skills, I think, makes individuals really marketable and I highly recommend certain baseline skills for sure.

Brian Erickson:
And even just having the ability to communicate across departments and across disciplines, right? Even if you can’t actually execute, at least being able to speak the language is certainly helpful.

Amy Scissons:
Exactly.

Brian Erickson:
So if you were able to give one piece of advice, if you were to say to folks that are in a similar industry but maybe in a mid-market company or a SMB sort of situation as a marketer, what would you say is the most important thing that marketers can do right now, based on your experience and kinda folks that are in a similar situation, maybe at a smaller company?

Amy Scissons:
I think that the biggest piece that I would say right now is to take a step back and really look at the core value of your brand and to make sure that it’s resonating and relevant to the marketplace. I think it’s a really good time to step back and reflect, because I think this is going to be a bit of a turning point for many companies and it will really depend on the value that they can put into the marketplace and how they position that brand as to how successfully they will come out of the pandemic. So I definitely recommend taking a look at your value, what it means to clients and prospects and consumers and sort of take it forward but with a very thoughtful, strategic lens.

Brian Erickson:
That’s some great advice and I think it’s important to recognize that consumer needs have changed, right? And that doesn’t necessarily mean that your brand values have to change but it might mean that they align with the consumer needs in a different way or they might align with a different set of consumers in a different way.

Amy Scissons:
Exactly.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome, well Amy, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Amy Scissons:
Delighted to be here, Brian. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Brian Erickson:
Great, well, you can look Amy up on LinkedIn and many other social platforms. She’s doing some great work with Mercer. This is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach. Thanks again for listening and please make sure to check back for more senior marketers sharing their perspective of what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

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