Marcel Hollerbach is the CMO at data integration company Productsup. He speaks to Econsultancy about the importance of communication, the acceleration of ecommerce innovation, and more on the impact of Covid-19.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Having previously founded several adtech and martech companies, I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my life. At Productsup, where we deal with feed management and content syndication for global brands and retailers, I took on the challenge of building our marketing and partnerships strategy, as well as representing us, shareholders, as a member of the board.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
With so many colleagues and stakeholders in London, Munich, New York, and other cities around the world, some of my meetings have always been done remotely. One thing that has changed, though, is the amount of communication. We’ve learned that in a time of crisis, there’s no such thing as “over-communicating”. Keeping everyone up-to-date, so the team can react quickly, is essential.
We’ve implemented a 15-minute daily “Corona update”, to keep the information between the leadership team and all other teams flowing. We discuss sales, customer churn, cash flow, and, most importantly – the well-being of our global team. We’ve also started having weekly updates with our shareholders, who’ve been sharing amazing advice on how to deal with the crisis, since some of them have dealt with a few crises in the past.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
I think a structured day is what keeps the productivity high. For me, that means a fixed starting time in the morning (one that my family is also fine with), a one-hour lunch break (I sometimes do remote lunches via Google Meet), and of course, shutting the laptop down in the evening, to spend time with my wife and kid.
In my role as CMO, creativity is very important. One thing I do to boost my creativity is playing guitar or piano. It also helps me unwind, it’s like meditation to me.
Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?
I strongly believe that how you deal with your employees and customers during a crisis will define your brand for years to come. I was particularly impressed by companies and entrepreneurs who dealt with this in not only a professional, but humane way.
Airbnb, for instance, was incredibly transparent about their reasons for downsizing and their path forward and they communicated it all in an open letter. LinkedIn did the same just last week. Aldi reached out to smaller suppliers saying that they would pay their invoices within days, to ensure cash flow and help them through the crisis.
On the other hand, we’ve also seen companies like Adidas, who announced they stopped paying rent for their physical stores. They were quickly forced to apologise after seeing how much outrage the decision caused. This is, overall, very different from the financial crisis of 2007/08. Everything seems much more transparent. The companies that understand the need for openness and transparency will be the winners of these crazy times.
What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
We became more active on social media, that’s for sure. We now have Instagram takeovers, so every once in a while, someone else in the company takes over Productsup’s handle and shares their home office day through Stories. We’ve started releasing more video content and, in lieu of physical conferences, started doing online events.
While it’s important to stay open and humble, to understand what people are going through and to adapt accordingly, I don’t think brands should just “jump on the Corona bandwagon”. Many of them did, that’s true, and ended up with so many almost identical ads. Yes, be mindful of the challenges people face, but don’t turn your brand around to make it all about that. Try to sustain closer relationships with all your stakeholders, but stay true to yourself!
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
What happened so far in 2020 in the ecommerce space would have probably needed a few years to develop without the pandemic. A crisis always drives innovation and accelerates underlying trends and what we see now is that ecommerce is booming not only sales-wise, but also when looking at capabilities.
Just recently Google launched Shoploop, Snap announced the global expansion of their Dynamic Ads, Walmart announced Walmart+ and a partnership with Shopify. Consumers shop online mainly for convenience and speed and it definitely looks like the industry is going above and beyond to deliver better and better experiences for them.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
I think 2020 is all about creating more personal, intimate relationships with customers and prospects, so my advice is to find a way to connect to your audiences, even if it’s tricky. Let’s talk about events, for instance. Although big trade shows like DMEXCO or Shoptalk had no other choice but to become digital events, there’s something about real-life interactions that can’t be reproduced on Zoom. So instead of working on booth designs and swag for hundreds of visitors, my team and I are planning a series of smaller events, in casual settings, with a small number of people. Everything, of course, in line with each city’s Covid-19 guidelines.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?
Our long-term mission of breaking through the digital walls of the 21st century has not changed, but the way we go about it has. We are now working on new work concepts, ways to utilise our office space in the future.
We’re attending DMEXCO @home this year and we’re generally striving to have more flexibility in our thinking. As the world keeps changing from one day to another, job descriptions can also change over night. I personally enjoy the time right now. As an entrepreneur, I’m used to dealing with constant change, I actually thrive on it. Companies that stay agile and keep an open mind will do just fine.