In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many organisations have frozen spending plans and pulled funding as they try to cope with the adverse impact that the outbreak has had upon their business and revenue.

But with millions of people worldwide turning to digital tools and methods for work, entertainment, shopping and more, it is more urgent than ever that businesses invest in digital transformation.

According to the third phase of an ongoing survey being carried out by Econsultancy and Marketing Week that examines the impact of the pandemic on the marketing industry, a fifth of large enterprises (with annual revenue of more than £50 million) globally have done just that. Of the more than 300 respondents from global enterprises who replied to the survey, one in five (19%) say that they have increased spending, or invested new spending, in strategic initiatives such as digital transformation for the first half of 2020.

A quarter (23%) say that they have increased their spending, or invested new funds, into technology or infrastructure spending.

Marking professionals are also shifting their messaging to support the digital side of the business. More than half (54%) of respondents from large enterprises say that the best way to describe their organisation’s response to the outbreak is “Shifting messaging to emphasise digital fulfilment/digital products/digital services”.

Agencies are also seeing support for digital initiatives from their clients; when asked to finish this sentence, “If clients are funding anything right now, it’s…” nearly half (46%) of respondents replied with, “supporting digital services/products”. Twenty-three percent of respondents also said that their clients are using them to respond to their customers’ shift to digital channels.

Necessity is the mother of innovation

Shifting focus to support digital products and services is all very well for those organisations that already have a well-established digital ‘arm’ of their business, or are in a position to meet demand via digital channels.

However, a far greater number of organisations have needed to partially or completely rethink their offerings in order to adapt to the ‘new normal’ – catering to a customer base that is increasingly housebound, working remotely, and with very different priorities and concerns than those it would have had two or three months ago.

Encouragingly, a significant percentage of organisations say that they are innovating – and many of them in a way that they plan to continue drawing upon even once the outbreak has passed. Forty-seven percent of respondents from large enterprises say that in the past several weeks, they have observed product or service innovations at their organisations as a result of the outbreak, while 49% have observed innovation in marketing messaging or branding that they might use post-outbreak.

Two fifths (43%) have observed innovation in customer communications, and three fifths (60%) have observed their organisation using new processes that again, they are likely to use once the pandemic is over.

Even more encouraging to note is the fact that twice as many respondents now say they are innovating on their products and services as did a few weeks ago. In the second phase of Econsultancy and Marketing Week’s Covid-19 impact survey, conducted on the 31st March, just 22% of respondents from organisations with £50m+ annual revenue reported observing product/service innovations in response to the outbreak – which has now more than doubled to 47%. Twenty-four percent had observed innovation in customer communications a few weeks ago, which has now risen by 19 percentage points to 43%; and the percentage of respondents reporting marketing messaging and branding innovation has risen by 63% (from 30 to 49%) in the space a few weeks.

Adapting to the coronavirus crisis is far easier said than done, and many organisations aren’t doing it perfectly. But it is nevertheless encouraging to observe that a significant percentage of large enterprises (who might have the most resources and funding, but are also often the least agile) have recognised the need to invest further in digital transformation and technology, and are meeting that with increased or new spending; that clients are recognising the importance of digital products and services, and that messaging is shifting to emphasise those; and that rising numbers of large enterprises are now innovating on their product offering, in ways that will undoubtedly continue to benefit them even after the crisis is over.