In Her Own Words: CMO Cynthia Thayer navigates shrinking pandemic budgets

News In Her Own Words Cmo Cynthia Thayer Navigates Shrinking Pandemic Budgets

Cynthia Thayer, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Yowie Group, Chicago

As the pandemic wanes, company executives realize what it took to survive. For Cynthia Thayer’s small business known for its novelty candy, the recipe included resilience and adaptability.

“Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of several businesses and industries throughout the world that were forced to modify or cease operations. Two words or phrases come to mind when I think of how businesses — both big and small — have and continue to navigate the global pandemic. The first is “consumer needs” and the second is “flexibility.”

Putting consumer needs first

At the start of 2020, we had nearly finished compiling our marketing plan for the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year. This is a huge undertaking and data from the years leading up to 2020 demonstrated that Yowie Group was growing in terms of product awareness and demand, so our marketing budget was set to continue supporting that growth. However, once Covid was announced as a global pandemic, the marketing budget quickly shrank to a size I knew would require ingenuity and resourcefulness to be effective. Our priority, our consumer, was front and center. In this crazy and very surreal time, what was it that our Yowie consumer now needed?

The retail reality was that our sales were dropping as novelty candy is typically an impulse purchase and trips to the store were sharply curtailed by lockdowns. Despite this, we chose to focus on what our consumers needed even more than a physical product. Working moms and dads found themselves at home with children, juggling their workload, their children’s switch to e-learning, cooking at home 3 meals a day, and having to do it all simultaneously!

This is where we quickly stepped in to offer applicable, readily available content to our consumers across our social channels, even creating a whole new section on our website, to help in very practical ways. Yowie, as an educationally focused brand, wanted to be there to provide all sorts of easy activities, crafts, games, videos — anything and everything we could think of to help our consumer parent keep their little ones busy, engaged and learning while they might need to take a Zoom call or put together lunch. We wanted to be there for our consumers when they needed us most, with resources they could depend on to solve these new everyday challenges. For Yowie it was all about helping meet their needs in the best way we knew how which for us was by focusing on our digital communication channels in a big way.

Flexing our flexibility

In the face of adversity, Yowie adapted quickly and a lot of focus was put on our ability, as a company and a team, to be flexible. We had to completely re-think our existing marketing plans and be flexible enough to see things from a completely new angle and within a completely new reality. Even though sales were suffering, we found ways to fill a dire need and make a difference in children’s and parent’s lives. By offering free creative content and an abundance of fun educational resources, Yowie generated more awareness for the brand in a way that had not previously been a priority. Yowie was helping parents keep kids occupied at home while simultaneously expanding their knowledge through virtual activities.

Flexibility also had to come to bear in many other aspects of our business from re-looking at raw material options, to finding new potential vendors, to investigating alternate production locations and shipping options. I truly believe that one of our greatest assets over the past two years has been the impressive amount of flexibility our team has demonstrated across every area of our business. A ridged branch will break in a storm, but a flexible one will bend and survive. That has been the case at Yowie.

Now that people are out shopping again, Yowie’s efforts to focus on our consumer’s needs are paying off. Yowie has not only remained top of mind with fans, our fan base has grown significantly. Adults are eagerly purchasing Yowie surprise – inside chocolate eggs to reward children with a treat they feel good about. Parents appreciate being able to give their child clean-label milk chocolate and a surprise that creates an educational moment with a high-quality collectible you want to keep, display and learn more about, instead of one that gets thrown in the trash a few minutes later.

Looking forward

It is so unfortunate that many wonderful businesses – some with long histories and others with incredible products or services – had to close their doors. For the companies that do remain, I advise business leaders to ask them about their stories. How did they survive? What did they do to weather the storm? How did they practice and inspire resilience among their teams?

It is hard to believe we are approaching the two-year mark of Covid-19. I am proud to say that Yowie was able to fulfill a genuine need by helping parents engage children with fun, educational content at home. I am also proud to say we inspired resilience – among ourselves and the families we serve. We don’t know what tomorrow brings, but if we are able to remain flexible and keep our focus on our consumer’s needs, we stand a good chance at navigating what comes our way.”

This is a time for virtual community and sharing. If you would like to contribute to this ongoing narrative on the impact of the pandemic, please send an email to [email protected].

Ellen Sherberg is a longtime reporter, editor and publisher at American City Business Journals, Bizwomen’s parent company.