Iconic naturalist Charles Darwin famously theorized that the survival of any species relies on its ability to adapt to — and to adjust best to — the changing environment in which it finds itself. This couldn’t be more apropos for us all in our present pandemic situation. Individuals and industries that are able to pivot may not only survive; they could thrive.
While marketers think the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines creates hope for a rapid return to in-person events, the question remains whether organizers can safely get things up and running again. One company that has evolved to meet current challenges and beyond is Vita Coco. We spoke with Field Marketing Manager Amanda DeFelice for insights.
When it comes to planning in-person events, DeFelice thinks that people across the CPG industry are planning and proceeding because they need to have a strategy in place. “I think that we’re reacting to it [the pandemic], but at least in our case, still planning and hoping that it will lift,” admits DeFelice. “Everyone’s trying to hope for the best, and I think that’s a little bit of what you see coming through with events. I think people feel if they book a few things in advance, or a few months out, at least they’re giving themselves some type of buffer and buying themselves some time for things to improve by that day.”
Simultaneously, virtual experiences show no signs of slowing down, which DeFelice says is definitely helping certain industries. “Fitness, for example — it’s certainly working for them. They’re able to stay alive through all of this, but there’s also value in that. I don’t know that there’s value in field marketing being virtual,” explains DeFelice. “The whole point of it is having that connection and finding consumers at a time of need when they’re really able to experience the value proposition of your product. Going virtual kind of takes that away a little bit because you can’t always guarantee it. It’s difficult to get people to experience the brand or product over the Internet, so I’m not so quick to believe that things will necessarily stay like this.” She adds that there is one thing she knows for sure: Nobody knows what will happen.
“I think that people are always going to want human contact, and it’s just human nature to want to be together. Yes, the virtual aspect will be here to stay with some industries and some things, but we have to get back to being around each other.”
Meanwhile, as so many companies have struggled during the age of COVID, Vita Coco has experienced success. “That’s been the kind of almost cringe-worthy part. I mean it’s a great thing to not struggle. You see certain industries are just booming, which is great because they’re keeping the economy together,” says DeFelice. “But we knew right away whenever everybody was stockpiling, we were in a good spot to do something to give back. That’s when the donation to Feeding America came about and the Bodega campaign rolled out because we understood we might be doing fine, but the people around us and people we care about aren’t — so what can we do? I think that’s been a theme for everybody. I think that the people benefiting from certain aspects of the pandemic are trying to do what they can for others.”
One major challenge for the Vita Coco team has been switching gears in their day-to-day routine and adapting to their new normal. “It’s a little weird. I get told a lot, ‘I miss sampling,’ and I know they do. Before we were bouncing around, meeting new people, and seeing things. Compared to pre-COVID, it’s a little bit less crazy. We’re not going here, there, and everywhere anymore,” notes DeFelice. “We need to keep safety in mind, so really we just pivoted our priorities. Instead of doing certain activations like guerilla sampling and events, it’s been a lot of helping out our sales team. We’re really just helping out with whatever’s needed right now for the brand team and kind of making sure that we’re prepared for when things start to come back.”
And until things do come back, the Vita Coco team — which DeFelice says has always been close — has come together to stay connected. “Despite all of the challenges that everybody’s having right now, it feels good that the team has been able to lean on each other. We’re really close group. We’re so fortunate that nobody had to be let go and that we have Zoom,” says DeFelice. “I think everybody would agree there’s a lot to be thankful for still, and I think that innovation is definitely keeping us going. We are looking at all the new things we can do, and that’s keeping some excitement. There’s also the hope that this will end one day because we’ve got to get back to our office — and I think we will. We have the mentality that everybody had in March and April where it was like, ‘we’re all in it together. It’s happening to everybody. It’s affecting everybody,’ so that gives you a little bit of a comfort.”
Then what does DeFelice see for the future of field marketing? “I feel like there could almost be this transition where we take something more virtual to implement at activations,” she explains. “Where there’s a ton of room to play with is the experience consumers are having while they’re in your space. I think there’s a virtual element that could be implemented. It could almost be more of an incentive for people to come out and really enjoy an event again. I feel like maybe we can just focus on improving what we did before — now that we have the time to reset.”