Marketers rewrite employee playbook for post-COVID era
Not very long ago, an e-commerce leader at a brand was expected to be an “evangelist,” someone who could help convince others that digital is a crucial part of the sales mix and should be allocated more resources, talent and financial support. Thanks to COVID-19, there’s no longer any persuasion required when it comes to e-commerce jobs.
“You look on any job boards, you will see that there are a lot of open jobs in e-commerce right now,” says Sarah Hofstetter, president of Profitero, a performance analytics platform. “It’s definitely something becoming increasingly more important to brands.”
New roles and responsibilities in e-commerce are just one of many new personnel priorities for marketers brought on by the pandemic. COVID-19 shook up more than just the way people shop and how they get their products delivered—it changed fundamental things like how businesses structure departments, what roles they are hiring for and the types of training they offer.
Companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods are re-evaluating their corporate structure, eliminating silos and promoting flexibility for remote workers. Others, like Anheuser-Busch, are switching up their marketing departments to be more local and closer to consumers.
“You think about what we uniquely provide, which is this inspiration and support that surround the transaction and that’s still relevant and more relevant than ever,” says Frank Crowson, chief marketing officer at Best Buy. “It’s how we deliver it that’s evolving.”
The pandemic helped accelerate e-commerce with online and non-store sales increasing to $969.4 billion, or 22% of total retail sales, in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation. The trade organization predicts that e-commerce will grow between 18% and 23% this year to as much as $1.19 trillion.
Brands are capitalizing on this growth, inventing new positions around categories like packaging and delivery. E-commerce innovation around price pack architecture—such as how certain sized packages may sell better in stores versus online—is a big area of focus for companies right now, according to Hofstetter. Companies are also looking into how they can package items for home delivery in the most efficient, and profitable, way, she says. “That all becomes very interesting when you think about the weight of product and what’s getting shipped and what’s getting picked up in store."
The benefit of data
Much of the direction is derived from data, another department of investment for marketers. Dick’s Sporting Goods saw e-commerce sales skyrocket during the pandemic. The Coraopolis, Pennsylvania-based retailer recently reported a 100% rise in e-commerce sales last year as shoppers took advantage of delivery models like buy online, pick up in store. To maintain that growth, the company has embedded data scientists into its operations and products, according to Vlad Rak, executive VP and chief technology officer at Dick’s Sporting Goods. All of the new hires, including engineers, are multi-dimensional and able to work across in-store technology, the brand’s website and its app, he says.
“This convergence toward the omni-experience is changing,” Rak says, noting that previously such departments were siloed into e-commerce vs. stores vs. merchandise vs. supply chain. “We are growing in those areas around data science and data engineers that can truly support that omni-space—the product and design resources.”
At Best Buy, the online shopping surge sparked by the pandemic has forced the company to promote employee flexibility. Staffers are constantly pivoting between different ways to interact with customers, including through virtual sales, chat or phone, remote support and package delivery, says Crowson. He notes that Best Buy is unique in that after a shopper buys a product, they will still need tech support and help with that product moving forward, so staffers must be well trained in offering advice and engagement. Now, more than ever, amid pandemic lockdowns, consumers need such support from their retailers.
“As I think about how our digital tactics touch consumers on the front end and the post-purchase end of that journey, I’m looking for and building out a team that, yes, focuses on digital acumen, but also people who understand humans and human behavior,” says Crowson.
New normal means getting better
Even before the pandemic, AB InBev was planning to spread out its in-house agency Draftline to other cities around the U.S. in order to be closer to the consumers who buy its beverages. That plan was expanded to include the marketing department. Within two years, half of the current New York marketing team will be spread into four additional consumer hubs around the country beyond New York—Miami, Los Angeles, Austin and St. Louis. Each marketing office will vary in size from 25 to 55 people, according to U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Marcel Marcondes.
“We reached for cities we believe will have the biggest impact on the trends for this country moving forward,” Marcondes says, noting that the new branches will receive local intelligence faster and use that data to inform marketing decisions. In addition, AB InBev has created an e-commerce team within Draftline to better connect data results with creativity.
“The mantra for 2021 is let’s not simply go back to normal, we need to work to get better,” says Marcondes.
Marketers are also taking their COVID learnings as an opportunity to improve training and recruiting of employees. Realizing supply outstrips demand when it comes to e-commerce gurus, Dick’s Sporting Goods has personalized its career development plans for employees, Rak says. The company has also loosened its rules on where workers can be—it has hired qualified staffers from beyond its Pittsburgh-area headquarters to work remotely from their homes, for example.
“The fear was always are they going to be as productive,” says Rak. “But most of it is beneficial so far from what we see—we’ve opened up the aperture and are able to see so much more talent applying to our roles.”
To maintain enthusiasm at a time when many employees are facing burnout amid pandemic fears, AB InBev recently began inviting outside guests to biweekly virtual training sessions. The program is meant to keep workers motivated and inspired. Recent sessions have included high-profile guests like actress Rashida Jones, who spoke about advancing representation of women of color in media and entertainment, and race car driver Bubba Wallace, who discussed the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in NASCAR and pro sports.
“It’s a different way to hook in people in moments when everybody is feeling overwhelmed," says Marcondes.