A page of essays by Grant Lee,
Chartered Professional Marketer (CIMMO)
COVID-19 Chronicle 2020 – 2021
(30 minutes) In the beginning
Like many evenings during the holidays leading into 2020, I was with “the guys” in a back ally near my winter home in the Philippines enjoying idle conversation in the outdoors leaning on a messy food-laden table, drinking too many beers, bourbon, and gin. The warm evening air was still, and music and song were everywhere. I watched the full moon poking through the tall palms for a while, fully aware of the laughter and banter around the table in two languages and a dialect. Life couldn’t get much better.
In January we heard news from Wuhan about an epidemic that was raising concern throughout China and some countries in S.E. Asia. By February it was a pandemic and people in the Philippines were being infected by travellers from other countries. I wasn’t too worried because I carried a permanent resident card, and my wife was a dual citizen. We could travel to and from the Philippines from Canada at will and had a return flight in April. I thought there was time for the virus to be contained, and growing anxiety in my town would pass by the time of my planned departure. How naïve we all were!
A sense that something ominous was fast approaching dawned on me when the Taal Volcano erupted on January 12 spewing ashes as far north as the region in which I live. My close friend lived on the shore of the volcano lake, and he was texting me what he was seeing. We had visited friends on the volcano numerous times and knew it well. School classes were suspended, work schedules interrupted, flights were grounded, and the lights went out in towns and villages near the eruption. The devastation was much greater than first thought. While this was happening, the Philippine national government was working with local government units to act against the virus that was spreading beyond ports of entry. Filipino health official and scientists were warning of potential catastrophic impact of the pandemic on the Philippines if action was delayed. As a precaution, citizens were advised to wear a mask (if they could buy or make one), wash hands frequently, keep a couple of metres away from each other in public places, and limit travel from homes. Guards at public offices, malls, retail outlets, and banks recorded temperatures to turn back anyone with an abnormal reading. I knew I must take a generator to my friend 4 hours away by road because he needed it and too much uncertainty was in the air.
In early March I delivered the generator and began helping with the cleanup of about 3 inches of hardening ash on everything by cutting and clearing damaged vegetation. My driver (who had studied nursing) and I travelled with masks in the van and used them sparingly but when entering fast food restaurants sat away from others, wore masks until food and drink arrived and washed our hands with extra care before and after eating. Upon entering the van, we sanitized our hands and masks. Our behaviour was being altered unknowingly. We worked and partied “mask less” with friends near the venting volcano and returned home after a couple of days. My flight in early April was still on schedule and later in March returned to retrieve the generator since power had been restored to most areas affected by the eruption. That was the last trip before lockdown.
On March 12, President Duterte, paying attention to science and public health officials announced that 12 million people living in Metro Manila would not be allowed to leave or exit by land, local air travel, and local sea travel from midnight March 15 until April 14. He placed the region under community quarantine. That action placed my flight to Canada in early April in doubt. It wasn’t long thereafter that Duterte’s government extended the lockdown to Luzon Island until the end of April, idling the country’s economic engine and home to most of its population to counter the spread of COVID. Any plans to return to Canada in April were gone. COVID was spreading and the government was acting quickly. Federal and local funds were appropriated for feeding the needy and helping small and micro businesses cope with the shutdown. Hospitals and clinics were on alert. Frontline workers, especially nurses and doctors were being honoured and given special treatment by businesses and citizens to keep them motivated and healthy.
The Canuck rescue
The Canadian and Philippine national governments cooperated with Philippine Airlines to fly stranded Canadians back to Vancouver and Toronto in April. “Sweeper” flights continued into May with a hefty $CAD3,000 one-way ticket price. That is about the price of an economy class return ticket pre-COVID. My rebooked flight for May was cancelled again by Philippine Airlines because of international travel lockdown but my trusted, long-time agent in Georgetown Ontario rescheduled a flight in June. My wife and I had no concerns about remaining in the Philippines because we were safe at home with family and friends, had local health insurance plans, and access to any medical needs that we had in Ontario. We were legal residents of the Philippines.
Change, hard love, and compassion
The Manila and Luzon lockdowns changed everything. Even before Manila, Duterte was taking action to save lives by shuttering schools in February and encouraging a paradigm shift in education to an online experience. The move was upsetting and disturbing to parents, students, and teachers, but life goes on and people adjusted. His government’s decisions were backed by aid and compassion at the federal level but mostly at the provincial and local levels by governors, mayors, vice mayors, barangay captains and citizens. The nation’s leaders worked very much in unison to help each other manage the crisis.
Mayors and governors issued local rules and passed ordinances to force people to protect themselves and in doing so protect their neighbours, the elderly, and children. In May, curfews were in place in my town between 7 pm and 5 am. No spirits and beer for purchase or sale, no restaurants could open, and non-essential businesses shuttered. People were warned not to consume alcohol in the home. No visits to homes of friends, no birthday parties, no church gatherings, no funeral celebrations. People over 65 and under 15 were confined to their homes unless to access food, medical help, or banks. Malls were closed. No celebrations of any kind during curfew. Mask-wearing in public was mandatory. There were penalties for repeat violators of the rules. People violating the mandatory mask rule were escorted to the local police station, booked, lectured, and then ordered to perform street sweeping and cleaning in Memorial Gardens (cemeteries) for a few hours to give them time to think about their misbehavior. The Philippines was preparing for a fight to save lives. The economy would someday recover.
Returning to my summer home
It seems that in a blink of the eye since the first news out of China, it was time to return to Canada on the June PAL flight. Before travelling into Manila, still under lockdown, we needed a sealed and signed pass from the mayor’s office saying that we lived in the town, and a signed pass from the town’s national police office to leave the town and for my driver to return. In addition, our van needed modification with a plastic curtain between my wife and I and our driver, and we were ordered to wear a mask (in the van and out of the van). We carried hand sanitizer and used it frequently. We were prepared for the strategically located police and military check points, should we be stopped for inspection of documents.
When we left our town, I thought that we would be stopped several times, but not so. Arriving at the airport, guards checked our temperature at the vehicle entrance security checkpoint, and we were waived through to the entrance to the terminal. Quick farewells with our driver and a masked porter guided us through the entrance security check and into the terminal. Because we are seniors, we receive special kindness and assistance. Then we waited for processing. From that point to the gate, was routine – except for the mandatory mask wearing at the gate and on the aircraft. Some passengers were wearing shields over their masks. I thought it was excessive.
En route – Philippine Airlines
Reality bit on the aircraft where flight attendants were dressed in full PPE head to foot over their uniforms – including face shields. They must have been uncomfortable, but polite and as accommodating as ever throughout the flight of about 14 hours. They were constantly cleaning lavatories. I knew then that Filipinos were taking the coronavirus very seriously and it was time for me to pay attention to my environment, especially now that I was entering Canada and unknown territory as far as COVID precautions were concerned. For the first time since March, I was becoming concerned about the heath and safety of my wife in Canada. She has a weak immune system. I did not read about Ontario COVID precautions but was fully aware of the disaster unfolding in the USA and perhaps there was overflow into Ontario. On the plane I filled in a form for submission to immigration giving details about our place of quarantine for 14 days. I had been following stats from John Hopkins and was optimistic about Canada because the spread seemed to be controlled. It was late spring, and temperatures were warm. The humidity around the Great Lakes felt much like our winter home in the Philippines. But something seemed unsettling.
We knew that upon arrival, we would be self-quarantined with my daughter, since we were staying at her residence. Because we came from a country that took the virus seriously with all kinds of precautions, we understood the situation and complied without question, waiting for the quarantine to end. During the quarantine, I received three phone calls in the first week – two in one day from two different people asking if we were in quarantine and if we had a temperature or a cough. That was it.
After 14 days we were permitted to go anywhere we wished at any time. I saw neighbours on the street without masks. Everyone at malls wore masks, a few below the nose and the odd one around the chin until entering a retail outlet or grocery store. My daughter was careful about staying within her family bubble and only a family of close friends could visit the house to play mahjong sometimes twice a week. My two daughters were protecting us, and I felt some tension. I have a cabin in the north and whenever possible my wife and I stayed there for extended periods away from people. In our travels we saw people following guidelines and wearing masks and only a few that seemed not to care. Restaurants were open as were bars and people were there, physically distancing where possible and wearing masks when not eating or drinking. I did the same on occasion but did not go indoors.
A sense of immediacy to return to the Philippines
Soon after arrival I began to sense that precautions were weak for people in my town to protect each other from COVID. My daughters understood the situation, but neighbours and friends seemed ambivalent or unsure. I am old enough to remember the warnings of my father and grandparents about world wars and how life can change quickly. I know I am in the moment of one of those generational events. To this day I cannot explain in words, but something was not “comfortable.” The Philippines has a population of close to 110 million in a land mass the size of Labrador, On June 2, there were 18,997 cases and 966 deaths. In Canada, with a population of 38 million, there were 92,399 cases and 7,395 deaths on the same date. My instincts were saying that I must return to the Philippines before winter and bought tickets for an early November departure.
An incredible journey to my winter home
In less than 8 months, COVID-19 changed travel through international ports, forever. I doubt very much if the requirements of a visa and passport will ever again be the minimum requirement for travel. It is early times to give definitive comments on any cohesive strategy of travel companies, airlines, government agencies, and support services such as health insurance providers and hotels that will be developed along with new standards for travelers and protocol expectations. I can provide November 2020 insight into what may await international travelers post COVID-19.
Pre-boarding health testing is a grey area. Vaccination cards can be expected as part of pre-boarding documentation. Currently, there are temperature checks, physical distancing protocols, face masks and face shields required for passengers destined for certain countries from Toronto. I travelled by Philippine Airlines (PAL) to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila from Toronto on November 5. Masks, face shields and temperature checks are mandatory boarding requirements of PAL. Masks and face shields must be always worn during departure security and documents checks, and during the 16-hour flight except for drinking and eating. The pandemic limits travel to Canadians with dual citizenship and Permanent Resident visas. No-one, well into 2021 was allowed entry into the Philippines on a tourist visa.
Before departure, Canadians must travel with certain additional documents if not travelling with a Filipino passport. These may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, and proof of Philippine citizenship.
In addition, travelers must register with the Philippine Bureau of Quarantine before departure and book a room in a Department of Health-approved “quarantine” hotel in Metro Manila before departure. Transportation to the approved hotel must be arranged for presentation to security before leaving the airport. Three days or less prior to departure, travellers must file with the Bureau of Quarantine for three types of swab testing. Receipts with a QR code are emailed to applicants, and the codes must be presented to test personnel before proceeding to immigration clearance. At the airport in Toronto, PAL agents asked to see the QR codes of passengers.
At check-in, a PAL representative verifies travel documents. Two more forms are given by the PAL agents: registration instructions and the PAL Health Screening Form that must be completed and submitted prior to boarding the plane.
In flight, more forms are distributed to be completed and submitted upon arrival. These include Health Declaration Card; Arrival Card; Customs Form; Case Investigation Form (Red Cross); Affidavit of Undertaking; and the IATF Declaration Form. Bring a reliable pen and an extra because it will be well used. Flight attendants are outfitted in full PPE attire including gowns, gloves, masks, and shields. Passengers are not allowed to change seats once seated in their pre-assigned seats and there is no cart service in flight and meals are served in boxes in economy class. Passengers are given one litre of water each for the flight.
Upon arrival, passengers must remain in their seats for instructions from the crew. There is a new protocol for deplaning. Coast Guard and Health Officers will board the plane upon landing to collect the Health Declaration Card. Each passenger must undergo a temperature check and deplaning is by section.
In the terminal, passengers must remain at the gate area (row by row) for the payment of the required swab tests. Passengers must have their Bureau of Quarantine QR Code before payment and testing. Your passport and boarding pass will be requested, the QR code scanned, and information verification conducted. Payment for the tests is by cash or credit card. After payment, you receive a receipt and 3 stickers that identify your specimens. Results may take 24-48 hours while you rest at your quarantine hotel.
Following testing passengers proceed to Immigration for port of entry arrival stamps. But that is not the end of the port of entry protocol.
You cannot go to the carousel to claim your baggage. You must proceed to the hotel verification area to present your hotel and transportation reservation and sign the affidavit of undertaking distributed during the flight. The affidavit is verified and stamped and must be submitted to the Coast Guard prior to leaving the terminal.
Following hotel verification, a porter has your luggage, and you are permitted to proceed to a Coast Guard officer staffing the Customs desk for leaving the terminal. S/he will ask for the stamped affidavit of understanding. But the process is still not over.
The hotel and more health and safety precautions await
Outside the terminal a Coast Guard officer will ask for transit details to the hotel. The driver will be summoned by the officer and you, and your bags are loaded into the vehicle, and you are on your way directly to the hotel. Upon arrival, staff inform you of their COVID-19 protocol, and you cannot leave the hotel until receipt of a negative result from the testing. You are escorted by staff in full PPE to your room and the floor is isolated from the rest of the hotel. Elevators to and from the floor are disabled. Food is ordered and delivered to the room by staff in full PPE.
When we received notice of our negative test in less than 12 hours, my driver was summoned to fetch us at the hotel in the morning, but there is more. The van was once again screened so that the driver was separated from my wife and me. We had to always wear a mask and face shield in public. The driver held passes for entry and exit from Manila and into the province. Once home, we began 14 days of quarantine despite the negative results of our COVID test of less than 24 hours.
The day following our arrival home, I was visited by two nurses from the local barangay office who checked our COVID test results and issued forms to record data during our quarantine. We were required to take temperature readings twice daily and record the data. After 14 days with no symptoms reported on the form, I reported to the barangay office where forms were carefully reviewed by nurses, my temperature checked, and a receipt issued for the form. I then reported to the local health unit with the receipt and was issued a stamped “graduation certificate” allowing my wife and I to enter the community.
Our town has changed
When we left in June, the town was in total lockdown. Non-essential businesses were shuttered, and citizens were limited to what they could do. There was no travel other than commerce between towns without a special pass. Some people were separated from their families in neighboring towns because no travel meant no travel and they got caught in the travel ban because it came suddenly. Mothers, fathers, bothers and sisters had to wait out the lockdown with friends and family. Some were separated for 3 months.
Within a week of our return, Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco), hit Luzon hard from November 11 to 12. Filipinos were already struggling with COVID hotspots in Manila. Natural catastrophes and COVID-19 were relentlessly attacking the Filipino people, but its infrastructure in governance and disaster relief is now entrenched throughout the nation. COVID, it seems is just another unwelcome visitor.
From November until we left for Ontario on April 15, we remained confined to our property. Seniors were protected. We could get a pass from the barangay captain’s office to visit a local mall for shopping and accessing our bank for business. The pass had to be presented to a guard to enter the mall, who checked the name, age, and place of origin. Face shields over masks were mandatory in public facilities and retail outlets. Shoes were sanitized when entering public offices and malls and hands sanitized by a guard upon entry.
Guards in the malls and banks reminded people about physical distancing and walking in proper paths and lanes, and temperatures were regularly taken and registered with name and address when entering retail outlets – even those inside the mall! In transit, drivers can be stopped and fined if seen by the police driving without a mask. Many passengers including me, wore a mask in my vehicle. The big change is that all retail had re-opened, and people were spending and making money. Businesses were recovering slowly with limited capacity rules and takeout food only at restaurants. Small businesses continued self-regulating contact with the public. Streets were busy but void of seniors and children under 15. They were at home. Schools operated online and teachers, students, and parents were coming to terms with a new education model. Neighbours were friendly, some masked, loitered by gates to their homes. Curfew began at 9:00 and ended at 4 am. Sadly, all celebrations were banned over Christmas and New Year, including week-long fiestas in January and February. After 9:00 at night, neighbourhoods fall silent except for barking dogs and roosters. This was modified lockdown in a small town, but the local economy was recovering, and the number of new COVID cases in the province and nation continued to fall until the beginning of summer.
New variants of COVID-19 were reported in December and the Philippine authorities reacted quickly and decisively by closing flights to and from countries reporting the variants. The Philippines closed its ports of entry to Canada because it was on the list of countries reporting cases of the variants. Seemed like déjà vu of March 2020.
Call to action
COVID returned in March hitting major cities hard, especially those in Metro Manila. Daily cases spiked with a record of about 15,000 cases reported in one day in early April. The nation of 110 million reacted quickly by locking cities down and limiting travel between and within urban centres while imposing curfews. Businesses were shuttered except for essential services. In our province and town, we returned to Modified General Community Quarantine as cases rose to 150 since August 2020. The Mayor and his Council were taking no chances.
In April when cases were reported, entire barangays were barricaded, and guards posted at the barricades and entrances of homes that reported infected family members for the 14-day routine quarantine period. Food and money were distributed to the needy to help them get through the quarantine.
My wife and I being over 65 had not left our property except for medical and banking purposes since arrival in November 2020. We were safe in our home in the Philippines while COVID spread throughout the world. Vaccines were entering the Philippines but available to people working in jobs labelled essential only. For the rest of us, we practiced what was advised by public health officials – distancing, isolation, masks and shields in public places, frequent hand washing and no socializing. We remained healthy and safe from the virus. I worked in my hibiscus garden, worked with AGL Marketing clients online, and developed microbusinesses to pass the time.
The rules of entry
Following delays in our departure dates, we were confirmed to travel by Philippine Airlines on April 15. Within 72 hours of the flight, we had to obtain negative test results from a RT-PCR COVID-19 test from an approved medical facility and lab.
In addition, we needed to register with ArriveCan and obtain a receipt for our registration. Then there was the notorious government approved “COVID Hotel” room reservation for 3 nights at an inflated price recommended by the Canadian federal government. We had the test results, booked hotel room confirmation for 3 nights, and receipt from ArriveCan.
It was easy to get the COVID testing, but the cost was over $CAD300 for two. Instructions from the Canadian federal government was that travellers must book a hotel room through their agent and that could take up to 3 hours on the phone. Government instructions clearly noted that there was no other way to book with a hotel directly. And the cost could be $CAD2,000 to $3,000 for 3 nights. Uh huh! I adjusted my Bell account to add $CAD80 to my data package so I could call the agent. I waited almost 3 hours to be told that I could not book with a hotel until 48 hours before the flight. Yippee, thanks feds, I have money to burn! Then, I heard that people were booking rooms in approved hotels online, so I contacted a “COVID hotel” by the airport. My room was reserved online within 6 or 8 minutes, confirmed, and I was charged about $CAD1,300 including taxes. We were ready to travel to Ontario. I was not getting much love from federal employees in my birth country.
Travel to Manila and checking in
This time, travel rules had changed, and Manila was on lockdown. My van did not require plastic screens between my wife and I and our driver, and we could be seated together. The local detachment of the Philippine National Police informed my driver that he required no permit from them to deliver us to the airport and return directly without stopping anywhere in Manila. And indeed, the police at the checkpoint on the ramp entering the expressway did pull us over and lectured my driver about returning directly after delivering us. He had a copy of our airline tickets and passports if documentation was required for verification. We were required to travel masked but no shields until we arrived at the airport.
We were travelling with a binder of documents that could pass for a student’s research project, but all were current and ready for easy inspection. Boarding passes first, followed by the COVID negative test results, then the ArriveCan receipt and then the hotel room booking confirmation, then all the other documents that we were required to present when entering the Philippines in November. No-one could be too careful, and I have no issue with travelling with extra documents during the pandemic.
Upon arrival at the airport passengers’ faces were masked and shielded. Porters were organized and polite as was the wheelchair attendant who stayed with my wife to the departure gate. An airport security guard checked our temperatures, passports, boarding passes and negative COVID test results before we could enter the terminal. We immediately went through body and luggage scans and then permitted to proceed to the Philippine Airline agent who checked documents required by immigration officials in Manila and Toronto. While in line, more Philippine government and Philippine Airlines forms were completed to permit boarding. Having checked in our baggage, we were escorted by the wheelchair attendant to a second screening area and immigration officials for passport exit stamps. The officials asked to see the COVID test results. Then, onward toward the departure gate. Along the way, passengers were once again directed to a scanning station for inspection of carry-on baggage and anything in clothing. They too asked for the COVID test results, all the while protected as we were with mask and shield. We were directed to sanitize our hands several times along the way. I thought we were done with the document checks and scans of body and baggage, but no.
When we arrived at the gate, all travel docs, including ArriveCan receipt, Switch Health account, and COVID test results were once again inspected and then we were walked through another scan of our person and carry-on baggage. Still with us, the wheelchair attendant seated us in an area for passengers requiring mobility assistance and told us he would return to push my wife into the ramp for boarding – and he did. One last temperature check and we boarded the plane.
On the plane
Once again, flight attendants were dressed in PPE over their uniforms, gloved and wearing shields over face masks. While in flight passengers were required to keep masks and shields on except while eating and sipping fluids. Service was reduced and warm food delivered in cardboard boxes for limited interaction between crew and passengers. But all the while, the smiling eyes of flight attendants and their training made the 14-hour flight more comfortable than expected.
Arrival at Pearson International Airport Toronto
Unlike our arrival in Manila in November, there were no public health or security officials boarding the aircraft to take temperatures and collect pandemic-related documents. There was no orderly disembarking with proper distancing. Everyone was on their own to collect their bags in overhead bins and line up in aisles to leave the aircraft. There was no physical distancing. Since my wife required wheelchair assistance, she was immediately collected by a friendly airport attendant and whisked away to immigration and the mandatory RT-PCR COVID-19 test by Switch Health staff. We waited with a group of 15 passengers requiring mobility assistance for about 20 minutes before it was our turn to make arrival declarations to the immigration officer and have our passports checked. The process went quickly and there was the obligatory presentation of the COVID test results, Hotel room confirmation for 3 nights, the ArriveCan receipt, and question about registering for our airport COVID test. Onwards to collect our baggage.
By the time we reached the baggage area, most passengers had left, and the wheelchair assistant helped me get a luggage cart and waited with my wife while I collected our three bags. He then escorted us out of the baggage area, past security and into the COVID test area. He knew his way around and because our papers were in order, we quickly filled in forms and were tested.
Since the hotel was within the airport compound, the wheelchair attendant stayed with us and delivered us to the entrance of the hotel and left. My wife and I were still wearing face mask and shield, but since arrival, airport employees and immigration officers were wearing masks only. At the hotel, no documents were checked, and there was no security to ensure that we quarantined on a secure floor. We were quickly registered, more money taken for food and a form for three days of food submitted, and we received a key to our room with a reminder to not loiter in the lobby. We checked ourselves into the room and were completely self-policing ourselves at this point. Either of us could leave the hotel for fresh air and return to the room while masked. One guest strolled outside without a mask. There was no sign of police or immigration officials. Quarantine at the hotel was not being taken seriously by the Ontario government or feds.
Hotel discharge and self quarantine at home
It took about 30 hours to receive our negative test results. We had spent two nights in the hotel and were not going to spend a third. Rules from ArriveCan said we could leave the hotel and go directly home to continue the 14-day quarantine.
At home again
Things had changed from our arrival in June 2020. At that time, testing was not required, and we could leave the airport and go directly home to quarantine for 14 days. In June, there were two calls in one day to ask if my wife and I were Ok, if we needed food, and if we were following the quarantine rules. Never heard from anyone again.
This time, there was the pre-flight test requirement, registration with ArriveCan and Switch Health, and testing upon arrival along with the very expensive hotel stay while awaiting results. Every day, I had to complete and online survey from ArriveCan that amounted to: Do you have a fever or cough? Yes/No. A person would spot check and go through a check list of questions to complete the survey form at their end. There was no documentation required for daily temperatures, but there was a visit by a health representative who knocked on our door asked a few questions and left, never to return. And yes, there was the self-administered test on the 10th day of arrival that was picked up by the lab.
The new world of travel between Canada and the Philippines
A vaccine may change much of this protocol, but I expect a few procedures to remain in place to secure a healthier and safer international-travelling public and the citizens of host countries.
• Vaccination certifications before departure. No vac | No entry
• Pre-flight registrations with agencies of countries at ports of entry answering health-related questions
• Rapid testing for certain viruses upon arrival
• Mask wearing will become common whether mandated or not
• Technology will create comfortable, effective, and fashionable masks
• Elevated health and safety rules at hotels and resorts to safeguard citizens of host countries. Masks will not be unusual sights in bars and restaurants. Some will make fashion, political, and social statements as mobile advertising platforms
• Travel documents between provinces or regions within countries to track visitors
• Personnel of all organizations and agencies who are points of contact with travellers will have elevated training in customer experience management due to the need for repeat customers in a new world of greater competition for the cash of travellers
So, what does all this mean?
This is where it is important to look at science and the data. As of June 11, 2021, 17 months following news reports of an “epidemic” in Wuhan, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University reports that the Philippines has reported 1,300,349 cases and 22,507 deaths. The spread of the virus is being managed while vaccines from several sources trickle into the country. On the same date, Canada, now in late spring, reported 1,405,906 cases and 25,849 dead with about 6% of the population fully vaccinated.
There are many reasons for the differences in data, and numbers alone do not reflect the tragedy of the story that continues to unfold. I can only tell my story during COVID-19 in two countries that I call home. Citizens and governments have reacted much differently, and I do not claim any action better than the other. I am, however, a social scientist by education, a land use planner and marketer by trade, and an international traveller by choice. I can say with certainty that my wife and I are safe in a town of 62,000 three hours north of Manila, following strict rules of behavior. Our town was COVID-free until August 2020 but now has recorded 267 cases and 10 deaths.
Eliminating ageism and age discrimination in consulting marketing
(5 minutes) According to the Ontario (Canada) Human Rights Commission, the term “ageism” refers to two concepts: a socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons (http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/ageism-and-age-discrimination-fact-sheet).
Throughout my careers, it has been natural to gravitate toward people with similar life and business experiences. By doing so, it seems easier to build and maintain a relationship because there are underlying assumptions about touch points, language comprehension that includes unspoken words and nuances, values, and level of knowledge, to mention only a few points that encourage empathy between individuals. For many consulting marketers who view their career as a source of income rather than a lifelong purpose, they are startled with a reality that their circle of clients and prospects has contracted or disappeared. It is too late to build a client base of other generations because their skills and expertise have become redundant and not saleable. They themselves have triggered ageism in their careers and contributed to their demise.
I continue to be overly critical of competing for work through the proposal competition method. It is based on the presumption that the best service for the best price comes from inviting 3 or more individuals or enterprises and then selecting one by committee. I have been on both sides of this process and it is heavily flawed mainly because the proponent takes little time to research and understand the services being sought and the capabilities of the parties being invited to submit a proposal. The reasoning is that the parties come with experience, skills and knowledge to fulfill a need by the proponent and the proponent is entertained with documents and presentations until one feels better than the others and the price for services is within budget. The real need is not identified often, nor the person or business most capable of solving the problem.
I venture to say that this flawed model is used for the selection of individuals or enterprises for consulting marketing services. One of the differences is that today, proponents go first to websites and social media pages to help prequalify consultants. And we know that information online cannot always be trusted. At this point, the potential for age discrimination may become real because of short profiles and photos of consultants. A Boomer-run organization might gravitate to a team of young-looking entrepreneurs because the notion is that youth and online technology are a match. I have made that mistake. Millennials will spend more time discussing a project and “brands” who may be a fit for their project, and they will scan websites and social media pages. It is unlikely that they will read many articles and other publications by potential candidates to “quote” on assignments. They will certainly view video. Again, by seeing images of candidates, they may dismiss some outright as they appear too old for the assignment and the assumption is that they are not familiar with implementing online technology needed for the assignment. A lot of assumptions here, I know, but they do exist.
It is incumbent upon aging consulting marketers to continue to upgrade technical skills and refresh themselves about modern marketing standards, principles, and ethics. They must be familiar with the generations in play in their markets and how to communicate through visuals and words. You can disguise age, but you cannot hide incompetency. Aging consulting marketers must demonstrate proof of their knowledge, experience, and skill set. This will keep them engaged in the profession. Clients and prospects must consider decades of knowledge and experience that elder professionals hold about what works online and offline. Both online and offline environments for consulting marketing services have merit today, some more, or less than others depending upon an assignment. The rewards of success and failure are etched on the faces of older professional marketers.
There is age discrimination in consulting marketing. And it is a reality that will remain throughout the ages. It does not need to be a determining factor in the success of a business or the career of a professional marketer when the reality is accepted, and action is taken to do something about it. Skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced professional consulting marketers no matter what their age will always find happiness in the reason for which they offer marketing services. And for me, my friends, it is to help the world to be a better place through marketing.
Client Experience Management is in place under COVID-19 international travel protocol – and it will improve quickly
(10 minutes) I can testify that preparation for travel through international ports has changed in the blink of an eye. I doubt very much if the requirements of a visa and passport will ever again be the minimum requirement for travel to many countries from ports of origin. It is early times to give definitive comments on any cohesive marketing strategy of travel companies, airlines, government agencies, and support services such as health insurance providers and hotels that will be developed along with new standards for travelers and protocol expectations. I can provide November 2020 insight into what may await international travelers post COVID-19.
Pre-boarding health testing is a grey area. Currently, there are temperature checks, physical distancing protocols, face masks and face shields required for passengers destined for certain countries. I am travelling by Philippine Airlines (PAL) to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines from Toronto on November 5. Masks, face shields and temperature checks are mandatory boarding requirements. Masks and face shields must be worn at all times during departure security and documents checks and during the flight except for drinking and eating. The current pandemic limits travel to Canadians with dual citizenship and Permanent Resident visas. No-one is allowed entry into the Philippines on a tourist visa.
Before departure, Canadians must travel with certain additional documents if not travelling with a Filipino passport. These may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, and proof of Philippine citizenship.
In addition, travelers must register with the Philippine Bureau of Quarantine before departure and book a room in a Department of Health-approved “quarantine” hotel in Metro Manila before departure. Transportation to the approved hotel must be arranged for presentation to security before leaving the airport. Three days or less prior to departure, travellers must file with the Bureau of Quarantine for three types of swab testing. Receipts with a QR code are emailed to applicants that must be presented to test personal before proceeding to immigration clearance.
At check-in, PAL representative verify travel documents. Two more forms are given by the PAL representative: registration instructions and the PAL Health Screening Form that must be completed and submitted prior to boarding the plane.
In flight, more forms are distributed to be completed and submitted upon arrival. These include: the Health Declaration Card; Arrival Card; Customs Form; Case Investigation Form (Red Cross); Affidavit of Undertaking; and the IATF Declaration Form. Bring a reliable pen and an extra, because it will be well used. Flight attendants are outfitted in full PPE attire including gowns, gloves, masks and shields. Passengers are not allowed to change seats once seated in their pre-assigned seats and there is no cart service in flight and meals are served in boxes in economy class. Passengers are given one litre of water each for the flight.
Upon arrival, passengers must remain in their seats for instructions from the crew. There is new protocol for deplaning. Coast Guard and Health Officers will board the plane upon landing to collect the Health Declaration Card. Each passenger must undergo a temperature check and deplaning is row by row.
In the terminal, passengers must remain at the gate area (row by row) for the payment of the required swab tests. Passengers must have their Bureau of Quarantine QR Code before payment. Your passport and boarding pass will be requested, the QR code scanned and information verification conducted. Payment for the tests is by cash or credit card. After payment, you receive a receipt and 3 stickers that identify your specimens. Results may take 24-48 hours while you rest at your quarantine hotel.
Following testing passengers proceed to Immigration for port of entry arrival stamps. But that is not the end of the port of entry protocol.
You cannot go to the carousel to claim your baggage. You must proceed to the hotel verification area to present your hotel and transportation reservation and sign the affidavit of undertaking distributed during the flight. The affidavit is verified and stamped and must be submitted to the Coast Guard prior to leaving the terminal.
Following hotel verification, a porter has your baggage and you are permitted to proceed with baggage to a Coast Guard officer staffing the Customs desk for leaving the terminal. S/he will ask for the stamped affidavit of understanding. But the process is still not over.
Outside the terminal, a Coast Guard officer will ask for transit details to the hotel. The driver will be summoned by the officer and you and your bags are loaded into the vehicle and you are on your way directly to the hotel. Upon arrival, staff inform you of their COVID-19 protocol, and you cannot leave the hotel until receipt of a negative result from the testing.
Upon receipt of a negative test, my driver is allowed to pick me up at the hotel, but there is more. The van is screened so the driver is separated from my wife and I. We must wear the mask and face shield at all times in public. The driver holds passes for entry and exit from Manila and into the province where our home is located. Once home, we enter into 14 days of quarantine.
Welcome to the new world of international travel. A vaccine may change much of this protocol but I expect a few procedures to remain in place to secure a healthier and safer travelling public and the citizens of host countries.
I returned to Canada in June when precautionary travel procedures and restrictions were being implemented. Airport personnel of all agencies and organizations were very polite and respectful. You could not see smiles beneath the masks, but smiling eyes don’t lie. In flight, the attendants were cordial and professional to help make difficult travel conditions as comfortable as possible. Wearing face masks was mandatory at all times and some passengers had face shields. Flight attendants were outfitted in full PPE. There was limited in-flight service but the food was tasty and warm. There was cart service on the June flight for soft drinks, tea, and coffee, but no alcohol. Flight attendants were constantly cleaning lavatories.
These are the protocols that I believe will remain in the new world of international travel.
- Vaccination certifications before departure. No vac | No entry
- Pre-flight registrations with agencies of countries at ports of entry like health and quarantine
- Rapid testing for certain viruses upon arrival
- Mask wearing and face shields will become common whether mandated or not
- Elevated health and safety rules at hotels and resorts to safeguard citizens of host countries. Masks will not be unusual sights in bars and reataurants
- Travel documents between provinces or regions within countries to track visitors
- Personnel of all organizations and agencies who are points of contact with travellers will have elevated training in customer experience management due to the need for repeat customers in a new world of fewer travellers
Email marketing campaigns require a well-maintained email database
(6 minutes) My consulting marketing career has taken me to several regions of the Earth on assignments for SMEs, associations and microbusinesses. From the advent of software and companies specializing in email marketing campaigns, I have observed that there is a common failure and fundamental reason for success of every campaign that I have created or managed. A well-maintained database is critical to the success of any campaign.
The reasons for success and failure are not cultural or technical. The problem lies with management and knowledge of marketing and modern communications with clients and prospects. Many managers and owners of small and medium sized enterprises that have engaged my services tend to overlook the value of an email database. There remains a tendency to think of marketing as promotion and advertising rather than communications in all ways – online, offline, immobile and mobile. How can a buyer ever be presented with a product or service by a vendor if there is a communications vacuum? In the absence of communications, how can a vendor close a sale?
For many of Generation X and Baby Boomers entrepreneurs, the realization must soon hit home that we left the marketing norms of the 20th century long ago. We live in an online business environment that is rapidly moving into a virtual world for marketing. For the time being, however, the most common thread that links the technology for communications between vendors and buyers is email. Yes, there are many other platforms for communications like the popular short message service and “over the top” that use telephone contact databases with data packages or WIFI. I have used WhatsApp in an African country to distribute a link to a survey using Survey Monkey and it worked as effectively as if I had used an email database and an email marketing campaign software or service.
A robust and well-maintained email database exported to an email marketing campaign service like Constant Contact and MailChimp can access many features in those services to enhance the marketing campaign of a small business in a major way when built into an online social media network and corporate website. Added bonuses are metrics reports for fine-tuning marketing tactics and making direct contact with clients and prospects that have an interest in the application of a product and service included in a campaign. And, there is compliance with the anti-spam legislation and privacy laws of Canada and Europe.
The place to begin for a small business without an email database is the Excel spreadsheet. Enter the first name and last name of the contact, company name and email address in different columns. You can add as much information as needed for managing relationships with a client, but for a campaign, that is all that is needed.
A campaign can begin with a database as small as 50. If the messages are valuable to the audience, an open rate of 60 to 70 percent and higher can be expected. That translates into an audience of at least 30 opened the campaign and may have read the teasers. Some will click the links to read more. The metrics add more value.
Email databases remain vital to the marketing campaigns of MSMEs. An integrated marketing communications program using offline and online tactics can speed up sales and build a base for repeat business.
Using corporate social responsibility to boost a brand is risky business
(7 minutes) Corporate social responsibility (CSR) appears in business in many ways. A small business that contributes to helping with community sports teams, or volunteering expertise on community projects might be demonstrating good CSR. A company that has moved as close to a paperless enterprise as possible can be recognized for helping change consumer behavior while conserving natural resources. It gets harder when a small business tilts toward full engagement in sustainable development, but it is possible to thrive in such a business environment. A company using CSR solely as a marketing tactic for boosting a brand to increase sales, or change an opinion is taking a risk.
When CSR is implemented with a full understanding of the notion, small businesses benefit when employees actively support an initiative that allows volunteer time during paid hours. Under these circumstances, staff support the corporate brand and become strong corporate ambassadors. When residents and other businesses see the commitment of staff and the corporation to an initiative, any support of the brand is earned and likely to be sustained through continuous involvement by the brand. The result is likely to be brand loyalty and recognition.
With loyal customers and long-term clients recognizing the brand that works within a community to build a better local economy and a healthier workforce, sales do follow. Retailers that support fundraising events and teams are prime examples of businesses that earn the business of local consumers. Professional services companies keep their clients and grow as the community prospers.
And with CSR comes trust and relationship building that alludes businesses who blatantly engage in shallow CSR. Businesses that may be challenged for insincere CSR would engage in political events during campaign cycles to garner perceived favours should their candidate win. If such brands are seen only during the few months of a campaign, their commitment to community for the years leading to the next election come into question. Startup businesses often believe that by flashing their logo at events proclaiming a green or “natural” product or service will result in immediate sales are mistaken. Brand loyalty through CSR must be earned and that takes time. Startup businesses might be well advised to use marketing tactics that demonstrate why a product or service is filling a local need or demand at a fair price.
Logos of brands that are overbearing at social activities rather than being subtly displayed may be insincere support. They tend to be screaming, “I support you, therefor you should support me – I care for you.” Really? People see through that tactic and prospects may be offended by the brand, forever. Tag lines and event messages associated with intrusive brands are usually laced with references to family, environment, and health. All tug at emotions, since the brand tries to influence a decision to buy something.
You know a brand has sincerity if it is present, quietly and consistently, supporting community events in the middle of the week in the dead of a Canadian winter. That is proper CSR and an effective marketing tactic.
The value of people – the 5th P of the marketing mix cannot be understated
(7 minutes) Unwittingly, I have become a student of the 5th P of the marketing mix – people. A brand’s touch point is its people. It is the staff of a hotel that caters to guests and influences the overall customer experience.
When engaged in international consulting marketing, it is not unusual to live in a hotel for weeks. Life becomes routine in a hurry, especially when English is a second or third language and you are not accustomed to cultural nuances. Hotel staff become familial.
Dining room staff is trained in the fundamentals of service. Tables are set properly, and cutlery is clean. Wait staff approach at the right time to take a beverage order, present a menu and take the order.
Grounds staff are uniformed or identified in a way that you know they are employees. Courtesy is the rule and that is present in abundance, along with the obligatory smile, and a greeting. Bar staff is well-trained in the handling of alcohol and routines are well-managed to encourage the second round.
Security is present, yet not obvious, and willing to help with accessing services offsite. Basic training is clear all the way to room service and the people who sweep the halls. It is the trivial things, however, that make the experience memorable and exceptional.
North Americans tend to speak English rapidly, and there are numerous accents. Even when hotel staff is well-schooled in the English language, there is often incorrect messaging when English-speaking guests speak too quickly and use slang and jargon common to the society from which they came. Polite staff nod and seem to understand what was said, but they really don’t understand the nuances of the language. English-speaking guests must slow their speech, speak clearly enunciating words, and use words that although simple are not patronizing. Hotel staff who know how to help guests communicate in a friendly animated way rate high on my list.
The bartender and wait staff make a difference in customer experience management. Bartenders know management well and how the hotel works. Wait staff knows who the long-term guests are and what to expect when there are hotel events. Wait staff can tell you who people are, if you are seeking someone, and can make introductions. If their service is remarkable, like serving the right drinks quickly, bringing snacks without being prompted, and keeping the table clean, it is very hard to not recognize them and the establishment for excellent service.
The ladies (seems to be always ladies) that clean your room and bathroom daily, place fresh linens, wash floors and restock rooms with soaps, lotions and packets of coffee, tea and accessories receive little attention. Incredible! It is the cleaning staff that delivers the most basic needs of a guest. Every day rooms are restocked, cleaned and fresh bedding prepared for a safe rest. Rarely are they recognized. Most work for minimum wage; any gratuity is appreciated and makes a difference with the level of care given to your room.
The 7 Ps of the marketing mix are vital in positioning a brand in the marketplace. In all sectors of the service industry, people determine whether a brand attracts loyal customers and repeat sales, as well as recommendations.
Proposal competition – avoid it if you can
(8 minutes) In most instances, people who issue a request for proposal (RFP) are shopping for the lowest fee. Professional services are viewed as a commodity and little else. Avoid an RFP if you can. If you are seeking something with an unsolicited proposal, unless the outcome is essentially pre-determined, be prepared for a long process.
Where to start?
If you are asked to submit a proposal, or are considering an unsolicited proposal, the very first question you must ask is:
“Is the project, and the effort I must undertake, worth the expected outcome?”
If yes, be prepared for a lot of work. Proposals must be treated seriously and engaged with intent to win.
Need to know
It is critical, when considering competing for a project, or the favours of a donor or sponsor with an unsolicited or solicited proposal, to have enough intelligence about the project and prospective client. Intel can be gathered through research and readily-available information to make an informed decision.
- Know the target organization and any competitors (SWOTT) – strength, weakness, opportunities, threats, trends (market/economy/politics).
- Be certain of the objectives of your employer and/or client.
- Available resources to compete with a proposal (staff power and technical capability).
- Timing for submission of the proposal. Is there time to do it right?
- Intelligence gathering – knowing all that is needed to know about the target and competitors.
- Presentation – at the beginning be prepared to present the proposal to the target.
- Language – Who is the audience that will recommend approval of the proposal and accept the recommendation? The proposal must be written for comprehension by a representative of Generation Y, X, or a Baby Boomer.
- Are the cultural nuances (if any) of the targeted proposal recipient known and understood?
- Profit margin – if there is a need for profiting from the proposal, does the profit margin promise to be worth the effort to compete with a proposal?
- Does the prospect favour another proponent?
- Have you had a successful project with the prospect?
- Is there a need for local staff or a specific individual on the project team to ensure success?
- What is the “opportunity cost” of the proposal? Is the proposal to help raise the brand awareness (if successful) or will it damage the brand if unsuccessful, reduce staff with increased technology, or place more pressure on staff with increased workload?
- Clearly understand what is asked in the Terms of Reference. You may need to clarify points with the prospect.
- You may wish to determine if the prospect would accept alternatives to the terms of reference, new ideas or a different approach to solving the problem.
- Who is the main competition, if a competitive environment exists?
- How many competitors are there, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
- Determine the project team names likely to be included in a competitor’s proposal and know their strengths and weaknesses, and existence of a relationship with the prospect.
- Have an idea of the depth of the competitor(s)’ resources and their pattern of fee proposals (i.e. low bidder or fair fee proponent).
- Consider strategic alliances to win a portion of the work that fits best with the strengths of your employer or client.
- Clearly understand and be committed to the amount and nature of work to be contracted.
- A field visit may be warranted.
- Alert the prospect without tipping competitors if inconsistencies exist between your research and the terms of reference.
What is the real purpose of the Request for Proposal?
Terms of reference are usually drafted for a component of a larger challenge facing a proponent. Interview the proponent to determine what is really behind the proposal call or the mandate of a donor/sponsor organization and see if this can be addressed in the proposal.
The goal of any proposal is to set the stage to negotiate a contract for a project and bring closure to the process (i.e. sign a contract).
A proposal is a document that outlines a scope of service and sets a price. It is a legal document and forms the basis of a contract. It should be submitted with the corporate endorsements. It is a sales tool that can edge your firm past the competition if price is not the deciding factor.
The art of proposal competition is to close the gap between what the prospect wants and what the proponent is selling.
Rules for preparing the document
- The proposal competition activity must be managed
- Identify the proposal team and their duties and responsibilities
- Select a project team. The project team is the people who will complete the project. Some may be members of the proposal team, others may not
- Develop a schedule for producing the proposal
- Respond to the criteria in the Terms of Reference
- Assess a joint venture or association with another organization to be successful
- Consider graphics and printing to support the brand of the entity responding to an RFP and draw an emotional appeal to the proposal
- Plan for timely delivery
Being unique is key
Successful proposals are unique. What sells are the differences, not the similarities to competitive proposals.
Unique services must be translated into benefits to the prospect and claims must be supported with evidence and testimonials.
- No relationship or contact with the organization issuing the RFP and key people
- Too many people/firms on the project team
- Non-specific identification of similar jobs completed by the project team
- Verbose – too much information and too many words
- Misreading the budget signals, if there is a budget that is included in the RFP
- Failure to package the proposal to reflect the corporate culture and brand of the entity submitting the proposal
- Failure to determine if funds exist and are available to carry out the project – and when the funds are needed according the project schedule. It is important to understand the budget cycle of the entity calling for a proposal and when funds are available for new projects (if unsolicited)
- Taking on a proposal that does not suit the business plan or resources of the entity responding to the RFP.
Reasons for failure
The most common reason for failure is “Failure to respond to the Terms of Reference.” The number 2 reason is price, or not understanding the availability or timing when project funds are available.
Elements of a successful proposal competition
- Selecting the proposal manager and preparation team that can complete the project according to the terms of reference.
- Accurate background information and research.
- Accurate competitor assessment.
- Abort/Proceed decision carefully debated and considered.
- Establishment of a good relationship with the entity issuing the RFP and key people of the entity before a proposal is submitted.
- Selection of a project team acceptable to the entity issuing the RFP before the proposal is submitted.
- A Table of Contents that takes the reader of the proposal to sections of interest very quickly.
- Graphics including images, charts and graphs that are appealing to the RFP entity.
- A proposal preparation schedule/timetable that will result in a submission that is on time.
- Clear assignments for each member of the proposal team.
- Identification and presentation of unique elements of the project in the proposal.
- Set fees and pricing that are acceptable to the prospect.
- Review of first draft by the proposal team and members of the project team.
- Final edits by proposal manager.
- Production of the RFP according to plan and schedule.
- Submission on time and to the right people or person.
- Follow-up as if negotiating a contract.
- Preliminary preparation for presentation of the proposal by the proposal team or key project team member.
The case of the wrong perception
(7 minutes) In another time and place, I was hired to manage and provide marketing services for an industry that was being overshadowed by the marketing activity of competitive products. Internet access was limited and debate over its cultural acceptability and value for business raged. PCs and laptops were affordable for businesses and being used primarily for engineering and word processing. Cell phones were novel. Notebooks, pads, smartphones, and other mobile devices and the software to drive and add value to the machines were still in their infancy. We were experiencing the dawn of a new era in marketing and communications.
To effect change in perception, the platforms available were traditional offline print media, lobbying, research into competitive products and relationship building to influence specifications. The Internet was of no value.
In the 1980s and early 90s, thermoplastic conduit for drainage pipeline systems and culverts was entering the construction market in a big way to compete for market share held by corrugated steel and precast concrete. Thermoplastic conduit and corrugated steel were much cheaper than concrete when only the capital cost of the flexible products was considered. Concrete could not compete on capital cost alone. The threat from the thermoplastic industry was nothing short of visceral for the many small independent companies that produced concrete pipe. Representatives of thermoplastic conduit materials had successfully changed the perception of concrete pipe for drainage systems, declaring that a new age had arrived and that concrete pipe was a dinosaur and ready to be relegated to the fading light of history. All drainage products were being treated as commodities to be had for the cheapest capital cost.
I had entered the land use planning and marketing world 12 years earlier while working for a large private sector engineering and planning firm established in 1912. There wasn’t much of Ontario’s infrastructure that the company had not been involved with at one time or another. Working with civil, water resources, and environmental engineers and land use planners educated me about why products and materials were specified and sometimes, how. I promoted the engineering company through publishing stories about major public works and private sector projects that used all materials for site servicing. The consulting firm enjoyed great successes and wealth, recognized by awards to its engineers and projects. I came to the concrete pipe industry with a different way of seeing infrastructure development and a sound foundation of marketing professional service in an extremely competitive environment. I was ready for a fight.
From the perspective of an outsider looking through the dusty windows of an industry that had been around since the late 1800s, there was too much reliance on contractors to do the right thing and specify concrete pipe. The problem is that contractors must bid on projects and the lowest cost bid almost always wins. Cheaper drainage products in the bid equated to lower bid prices and perhaps a win for the contractor. If concrete wasn’t specified by the owner of the project or consulting engineer, chances of having concrete placed in a bid were not high. Tight relationships with the owner of a pipeline construction contractor were vital.
Perceptions about concrete pipe had to change quickly. Quality was improving, availability was assured, the industry was united behind a well-funded concrete pipe association.
The marketing guy introduced an advertising campaign in media read by consulting engineers, contractors, specifiers, public works officials and municipal/provincial government politicians. The first two advertisements would embrace the age of the concrete pipe industry and pitch the durability of concrete pipe that has a service life much longer than that of thermoplastic and corrugated steel. He created an emotional appeal to the concrete pipe industry message by showing images of seniors performing youthful physical activities like lifting weights and rollerblading. There were no pipe photos in the ads, only an image that stood out and a message proclaiming, “Don’t let our age fool you.” These were the first and best of a series of display ads that ran for several years, repeated on posters at trade shows and special events. Slowly perceptions changed and set the concrete pipe industry on a new course that focused on lobbying, while editorials and occasional display ads continued in major industry offline media.
Tactic learned – Pull the competition into an action to distract them, while new fronts with new tactics are opened.
An essay on marketing strategy and tactics learned from battles past and master warriors
There is much to be learned by a professional marketer from past military battles and wars waged by generals who were masters in understanding human behavior and basic needs of the body and spirit. Sun Tzu is known for the tactical side of military strategy while Von Clausewitz believed that strategy should be based on flexible principles. Mao Zedong was a master at guerrilla warfare. Many marketing professionals specialize in strategy, tactics and guerilla marketing techniques. There is a lot to learn from the masters to hone the skills of marketers who plan and initiate marketing programs that are good for business.
History confirms that innovative technology can win the field for a while, but to maintain the momentum of success, marketers must be experienced strategists and tacticians to gain market share and hold what has been taken.
The Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066 between the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson was a Norman victory where the plan of battle was heavily influenced by the Norman longbow. The technology introduced to the field thinned the Anglo-Saxon lines when Norman archers loosed volleys of arrows that rained on Harold’s army positioned on the high ground. The Anglo-Saxon infantry pressed together seeking protection of shields while leaving their flanks exposed. Norman cavalry took advantage of the weakened lines and shattered Harold’s defenses to take victory from a force that had the best field position. The powerful longbow had created opportunity for victory.
The battle of Hastings demonstrates how a marketer can champion a modified technology to help capture market share. There are numerous products that share a common function, but improved features can increase market share. Much like the Norman longbow, Tide laundry soap is one of many soap products. When Procter & Gamble introduced cold water Tide, it contributed to the reduction of electricity in the home used to heat water. Through marketing campaigns, consumers believed that they could save money by purchasing Tide, designed for use with cold water. Market share was gained at the expense of hot water laundry soaps. Understanding the technology of competitors can open opportunity when existing technology is modified to overcome defenses set up by competitive products.
Sun Tsu believed (among many other teachings) that it is imperative to assess “war” under five fundamentals: the way, the weather, the terrain, leadership and discipline.
Some say he described the “way” as examining yourself and your opponent to determine who is most likely to prevail. This action is very much like performing a SWOTT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat, trends) analysis or PEST (political, economic, social, technological) analysis of a corporation, brand, product or service when starting a business, entering a new market, or introducing a new product or service. Only after conducting a SWOTT and PEST analysis would you mobilize forces or assemble resources and examine the 7 Ps of the marketing mix.
The weather means the seasons. There are good times of year and optimal periods in the business cycle to carry out campaigns. It is inadvisable to enter a competitor’s territory at an unfavourable time. Consider the winter campaigns of Napoleon in Russia and the fate of Hitler’s 6th army at Stalingrad. From a marketing perspective, it is wise to enter new territory or launch a campaign when the conditions are favourable for success. Disney takes advantage of the seasons in North America to release new movies during festive seasons when people have the time and inclination to entertain themselves and others by gifting and spending time together.
The terrain is to be assessed in terms of distance, difficulty or ease of travel, dimension and safety. When you know the terrain you can enter a territory directly or a circuitous route. Ease of travel determines the use of infantry or mounted troops. When you know the dimensions, then you know how many troops you need—many or few. When you know the level of safety of the terrain, you can decide to do battle or disperse.
For a marketer, it is vital to any level of success to have a clear map of the marketplace. That means the geographic extent of the marketing campaign, competitive territory whether it is a notion under siege or a physical place. Marketers should understand how to build and use mental maps of markets that clients and customers perceive to be able to provide the best service and customer experience (CEM) possible. And, marketers must have some premonition or knowledge of the consequences of entering a new territory with regard to public safety of products and services that may well reflect on the health and safety of the marketer personally! Poor choices can be career-limiting.
Sun Tzu remarked that leadership is a measure of intelligence, trustworthiness, humanness, courage and sternness. Intelligence is to know when to plan and change effectively. Trustworthiness made people aware of punishment or reward. Humaneness means love and compassion for people being aware of their toils. Courage means to seize opportunities to make certain of victories without vacillation. Sternness according to Sun Tsu is establishing discipline in the ranks by strict punishment.
Professional marketers are leaders and may report to corporate officers for guidance and strategy/budget approvals in a corporate environment. They should know what constitutes leadership, and if they have none of their own in an organization, they must seek champions that can take on the leadership role in implementing a marketing campaign. All successful marketing campaigns have strong leadership with a will to be successful by mobilizing staff and other resources to achieve desired outcomes.
Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian general and influential military theorist. He is most famous for his military treatise Vom Kriege (On War).
A company must look for weak points in the positions of its competitors and then launch marketing attacks against those weak points.
General von Clausewitz preached that wars are won in almost every case by superior forces. Translating that to marketing strategy, Al Ries says that bigger companies normally can defeat smaller companies and it’s difficult to dethrone a king. The defensive form of war, Gen. von Clausewitz writes, is in itself stronger than the offense.
There are three basic principles of defensive marketing warfare, according to Marketing Warfare, by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
“Defensive Principle No. 1: Only the market leader should consider playing defense. The problem with this, says Mr. Ries, is that he has never met a company that didn’t consider itself a leader. Most companies fool themselves with creative definitions of leadership. Companies don’t create leaders, he writes, customers do. It’s who the customer perceives as the leader that defines a true category leader.
Defensive Principle No. 2: The best strategy is the courage to attack yourself. In other words, you can strengthen your own position of leadership by introducing new products or services that make your existing ones obsolete.
Defensive Principle No. 3: Strong competitive moves should always be blocked. Most companies have only one chance to win, Mr. Ries writes, but leaders have two. If a leader misses an opportunity to attack itself, the company can often recover by copying the competitive move. But the leader must move rapidly before the attack gets established.”
Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao), was a Chinese communist revolutionary and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, which he ruled from 1949 until his death in 1976.
A master at guerrilla warfare, Mao Zedong saw objectives other than the heart of the enemy army’s offensive power. These objectives were the enemy’s supply lines, rear bases, and isolated enemy detachments, outposts or garrisons. If Mao could strike at these objectives, while avoiding the enemy’s main strength, he could force the enemy to defend them. This would give the initiative to Mao’s weaker force and compel the stronger enemy to concentrate most of his strength in guarding his rear and his lines of communication and supply.
Recognizing that the enemy’s rear is his most vulnerable target, Mao abandoned any attempt to defend a front or main line of resistance.
This obliged him to give up orthodox warfare in which one army directly confronts another and attempts to destroy it. In Mao’s system, orthodox war could only come at the final stage just prior to victory, after the enemy had been weakened and demoralized. To prepare for this culminating stage, he adopted indirect warfare, essentially guerrilla in its operation, that avoided a straightforward challenge to the enemy’s main strength.
Professional marketers who represent small to medium-sized enterprises are often engaged in one form or another of guerilla marketing to compete in a crowded market space. Often they have few funds to launch and sustain a long-term marketing campaign.
Modern business owners are looking for an immediate ROI and look to their marketers to produce results regardless of changing market conditions, sales competencies and the strength of competitors.
This is where the best of the best professional marketers stand out. There is much that a marketer can do with a well-funded marketing program, but when you are faced with few resources, guerrilla marketing may be the only option for the enterprise.
Combining web analytics, CEM, sales, and other data will provide a good indication of prospects and where they are likely to spend time online. Social media sites provide metrics that are also valuable for market research, as are the digital and paper files in municipal offices about demographics and community growth. All of this market research data and information are available at little cost—an advantage for businesses with little or no money for market research.
Internal marketing to build the competencies of staff and colleagues in delivering marketing messages enhances the quality and strength of a small sales force. Using YouTube, blog sites and podcasts to message prospects and existing clients can result in building customer bases and leads quickly and efficiently.
By targeting the markets and customers of competitors and entering market space in an unexpected way, it is possible to build market share by offering products and services that have features that strongly differentiate from those of competitors.
There is much risk involved in guerilla marketing techniques—especially if the product or service being offered is of lower quality and of little need or value to consumers. In that case, the professional marketer has an ethical responsibility to the public to provide accurate information about the product or service and to offer a professional opinion to the enterprise of its likelihood of success.
Entering a market space with a low-priced inferior product, while mistaking the tactic for guerilla marketing only hurts the businesses that are already established along with the enterprise behind the “low-price” campaign.
There are volumes published on the way businesses can learn from tactics used in battles past and master warriors—ancient and modern in all nations to market goods and services. This knowledge can add to the skills and resources of the twenty-first century professional marketer. With a foot in the past, a sense of future trends, and an acute awareness of the present moment for decision making and taking, professional marketers have an advantage over those who dabble in marketing.
Von Clausewitz on Marketing,
Mao Zedong’s Theories on Warfare, http://bevinalexander.com/excerpts/terror-future-wars/mao-zedong-warfare-theories.htm
Sun Tzu, translated by Thomas Cleary, 1989, Shambhala Publications
Grant Lee, FCInst.M., RPM