The importance of empathy and resilience – insights from LinkedIn, Auto Trader & Virtue

Empathy and resilience will be the watchwords of successful businesses emerging from the pandemic, according to guests at our latest BD Session, a regular Zoom gathering created to bring the BD community together to hear brands and agencies share insights and advice.

The trio giving perspectives on business trends, consumer behaviour and agency-client relationships this time around were Caroline Collinson-Jones, Chief Strategy Officer at creative agency Virtue, Laura McNally, head of Social Media at Auto Trader and Will Aldington-Smyth, EMEA Agency Lead at LinkedIn. Regular host Ali Woods ran the session with his usual light touch and Propeller Director of Content Branwell Johnson oversaw the Q&A interaction.

The world is changing

The trio gave a topline view of possible future trends that could impact society – and hence marketing. Caroline pointed out there could be a shift away from the individualism that has characterised our society for some time “with a move towards a more collectivist mindset” and brands and agencies will have to pay attention to this in positioning products and services and accompanying messaging.

She pointed to ‘resilience’ as a quality likely to overtake ‘mindfulness’ and seep into society and business: “Instead of thinking about sustainable businesses talk about resilient businesses … a resilient business will be a healthy, profitable sustainable system nourishing for everyone working there.”

Will added that smart businesses will take much more account of stakeholders – be they consumers, communities or employees – alongside their shareholder responsibilities when they emerge from the current upheaval.

He said that on LinkedIn there is a lot of evidence of collaboration and sharing of knowledge between businesses – even those considered direct rivals – and this trend may continue. Brands were now being more understanding in both their employee and business relationships, and he added: “We have seen a huge amount of empathy and compassion throughout the crisis so far.”

The overall feeling was that people will expect and be looking for change after this period of radical upheaval and brands and their agencies will need to think deeply about their offering and whether consumers wants, and needs will have changed.

Lessons for the next phase

How the guests plan to move business forward as conditions change, and how they will make use of lessons from this period,  is instructive.

Laura explained that Auto Trader moved very quickly to restructure its teams once the pandemic forced lockdown. It created “new working groups to address where it saw the biggest opportunities.” These new teams are much more fluid and adaptive and Laura said that as the Auto market picks up (and research is seeing a lot of pent up consumer demand), the intention is to keep a much looser, less siloed approach to the marketing function.

Auto Trader sees an opportunity to take a role as a brand with the heritage to reassure and offer expert advice to customers with a hefty dose of empathy. The business has created an asset for a comeback campaign featuring Auto Trader ambassador Rory Reid sitting in a car outside his house talking about new features being offered in Auto Trader ads including home delivery, live video viewings and Covid 19 safety measures.

Will also pointed to the trend for learning and education and said LinkedIn data showed a huge appetite for learning and advice over the past few weeks – there’s been a 60% year-on-year increase in content creation recorded to meet this need. Agencies should think about how to meet this appetite creatively.

Agency opportunities and the new dynamic

Auto Trader’s work with agencies is currently on pause but Laura said: “We are as keen as ever to pick up with and reengage with the agencies we planned on working with before the pandemic began. It’s just a case of when, not if.”

Her advice for agencies looking to engage with brands was to avoid any kind of templated email but rather to devise a tailored communication, even though this takes more time and effort. Laura highlighted good examples where agencies have shared insight on their sector as a good pre-empt to a conversation.

Caroline stressed: “We are trying to be a proper partner to our clients, not to be opportunistic or salesly but to help them navigate this stuff. We are doing lots of scenario planning to help them.”

She pointed to the idea sharing sessions her agency network holds every two weeks and the open source Google doc shared by all Virtue strategists to make predictions on the changes ahead as ways her teams were pulling together to find creative ideas for clients.

Caroline said she hoped that as agencies prove themselves a useful partner that brings added value to clients, they will be paid the true worth of their ideas. Will added that he had found people are more willing to have a conversation at this point and advised: “It’s a good opportunity  to reconnect with people, revisit relationships and be bold about the new relationships you want to have.”

Will wrapped up by saying: “ For advertising from our perspective there is a feeling among agencies and clients that generally investment in ads has been deferred rather than cancelled and hopefully we’ll all benefit from that in the second-half of the year.”

Join us for the next in BD Session on Thursday 11th June. Sign up for more information here.

In the meantime, we have set up a LinkedIn Group to keep the discussion going, click here to join us.

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