SalesTech Star

Covid-19 Downtime: How Should Auto Marketers Refocus Marketing Efforts?

A chat with Jim Johnson, VP of Account Planning at

Jim Johnson, VP of Account Planning at joined SalesTechStar this week for a quick chat on the evolving business trends ahead in B2B and B2C while stepping into a key focus area: exploring new opportunities for auto marketers during the Covid-19 downtime.



Tell us a little about yourself Jim …what are some of the biggest highlights of being in tech marketing/sales for you?

“My journey to a career in marketing was circuitous in retrospect, with jobs in the military, journalism, finance, event planning and web design in the span of nine years before landing with an advertising agency. Experiencing as many roles and industries as I did at a young age was incredibly helpful in giving me a well-rounded perspective on life, work and related to my role at, consumer behavior and marketing strategy. The best part of a job working in tech is that the pace of innovation forces you to challenge conventional ways of thinking, which opens new pathways to problem-solving and fosters personal growth. If utilized respectfully, tech and marketing also provide tools for consumers and brands to connect and share with each other, creating a platform for deeper understanding and unity between the business world and its customers.”

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The challenging business environment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic today has forced companies across sectors to change how they function: as businesses reopen and pick up pace now; while several of the workforce stay home and continue with remote work, what thoughts do you have for the way the B2B/B2C tech marketplace is changing and how companies should cope?

“Without question, the speed of change has accelerated incredibly quickly over the past few months. We’ve seen several tech companies extending their work from home policies into next summer to help alleviate employee anxiety, where before COVID-19 there was a bit of tension between some companies and employees regarding working from home. From the employer’s perspective, flexibility will be the operative term. We’ll see any rigidity around remote working disappear as we assimilate back to office life, though it would be entirely reasonable to expect certain roles to interface in person from time to time. The collective “client” will let us know when they are ready to meet face to face again, and that will likely dictate when it’s time for us to return to a physical office as well.

In the meantime, the need for a great democratization of information within companies has never been greater, where access to key client data, business growth strategies, and internal communication simply must be centralized for collaboration, whether in an online repository or otherwise. The old days of silos within organizations will likely end by necessity. It seems odd to view these changes as positives amid a very dark time in our history, but I do feel as if there’s a collective sense of compassion and sharing happening in this and other industries, and I hope it persists long after the pandemic is over.”

In order to focus and achieve better business continuity during these times, how should businesses / marketers start planning out of the box processes and strategies to capitalize better on their customer engagement and customer success initiatives as well?

“My advice would be to start with a Customer Experience Journey Mapping exercise, of which you can find many examples online through CX websites (I’m particularly fond of the one that Rutgers University uses). The idea is to detail each interaction or touchpoint between your brand and your consumer to get a sense of how they discover you, how they use your products and services, how they feel about each interaction with your brand and how you might be able to streamline some of those touchpoints for ease of use or increased relevancy. Even if you’ve done these exercises in the past, the stunning acceleration of digital transformation we are seeing across all industries has likely transformed how your customers are interacting with your brand and how they ideally want you to interact with them. This exercise is a great way to level set in the “new normal” that’s likely to result in some permanent changes in consumer behavior.”

Specifically when it comes to auto marketers, you have shared your thoughts on how the Covid-19 downtime is actually a good time for auto marketers to focus on electric vehicles in their marketing strategy – can you elaborate on this?

“In my relentless pursuit of a silver lining, I feel as if the entire world took a literal and figurative collective breath during this pandemic. For the first time in years, people just dropped their busy lives and stayed in place with family or friends, both physically and virtually. Rather than focusing on work or consumption, we looked inward at our own health and safety. Coupled with the stunning images of our planet healing itself as movement stopped, with vastly improved air and water quality around the globe, our collective consciousness on the environmental impact of human activity has never been as evident. Business realities of electric vehicle adoption aside, we’ve seen vast amounts of social change occurring over the past few months. Promoting EV’s during a time like this is a socially responsible, forward-thinking strategy that is likely to resonate with most consumers expecting brands to do more than just make a profit. We’ve seen Tesla capture significant market share as an early entrant in the past few years and there’s a significant niche to be carved out in the economy EV market for urban areas, as well as the truck market in areas where rugged versatility is needed. Consumers in 2020 are well conditioned to change, so the time is now to change alongside them.”

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How according to you will the rest of the year play out for businesses and the economy, what are your top predictions?

“It’s probably a matter of semantics, but I prefer Scenario Planning to making predictions. This way, if I’m wrong, at least I have a backup plan! I first learned of it while serving in the Marine Corps while reviewing military strategy, but it works quite well in the business world too. I use several different methods to think about how the future might play out and COVID-19 has supplied planners with a lot to think about. Here are a few that I’ll be following as the year progresses by industry sector:

    • Education: Increased in vocational or trade schools. The pandemic has ravaged the service industry and many young people will end up out of work or looking into career changes as a result of ongoing instability in the sector. Skilled trades offer stability, benefits, and high demand, all factors that will result in increased enrollment for trade school and skilled apprenticeships.
    • Demographics/Real Estate: A deceleration in urbanization. We’ve seen some early stage evidence that people are leaving some of the more densely populated cities, such as New York and San Francisco, in favor of suburban digs. This, along with prolonged closings, will unfortunately result in some of the local businesses in these cities to fail. One scenario I foresee is a rezoning of areas once dedicated to commercial real estate for residential, which would simultaneously drive down high residential prices and reinvigorate hard-hit cities with energetic young renters and families looking for bargains.
    • Increasing levels of partnership: Between major brands and local businesses. One example of this would be alcohol brands and local restaurants and bars. With on-premise alcohol consumption a vital part of their business, alcohol brands need restaurants and bars to return to their former prominence in order to maintain profits. The introduction of promotions such as “BYOB night” with a corkage fee subsidized by the brand could help new or reopening restaurants keep costs down while generating brand loyalty for the alcohol brands.”

Any other thoughts for us before we wrap up?

“Many industries and companies are going through an intense period of accelerated digital transformation due to social distancing measures that have made personal contact mostly taboo. We’ve seen auto dealerships move to contactless vehicle delivery, alcohol brands shipping directly to homes, curbside pickup become the norm at retail outlets and drive-in movie theaters transformed into outdoor concert venues. We have a responsibility in the tech world to help these businesses navigate these changes using our skills and knowledge, as their ability to thrive in the new normal is essential to our own. Think of your outreach as the 2020 version of the proverbial lending a cup of sugar to your neighbor. The rewards will be just as sweet, and we’ll remember these times as ones of unity, even if we were 6 feet apart.”

Listen in to How these Tech Leaders Are Helping Their Business Thrive During Covid-19, featuring episodes with Adform, Merkle, Heinz Marketing and more!