A deadly pandemic. Worried customers. Employees forced to work from home.
Recent weeks have been unsettling for companies large and small—and catastrophic for some. A volatile stock market has only added to the confusion and wavering confidence.
Marketers have given pause—literally. A recent report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that about 24 percent of marketing decision makers have paused all ad spend for the first and second quarters of 2020. Equally concerning, the survey of nearly 400 media planners and brands predicted that COVID-19 will hit advertisers harder than the 2008 financial crisis.
With much of the country in lockdown mode, business leaders are digging deep into the U.S. government’s stimulus plan to see how it will benefit them. They’re being forced to play it one week, if not one day, at a time.
So, how should marketing leaders navigate this period of great uncertainty?
Keep your eyes open
First of all, don’t get overly optimistic too soon about the return of demand for your products and services. In its investigation of the implications of COVID-19 on business, McKinsey & Company offers the following:
“Troubled organizations are more likely to believe in a faster recovery—or a shallower downturn. Facing up to the possibility of a deeper, more protracted downturn is essential, since the options available now, before a recession sets in, may be more palatable than those available later.”
It’s fine to keep your eyes open for opportunities; just make sure you maintain a realistic attitude.
Plan. Listen. Anticipate. Adapt.
Gartner offers a sensible four-part approach for adapting your marketing strategy to the unfolding pandemic.
1. Engage in scenario planning
Identify the best, worst, and in-between scenarios for how the crisis could affect your business, your customers, and your key business partners. Be sure to drill down to the level of your marketing department, and to share notes with your peers in other departments like HR and finance.
2. Listen to your customers
Pinpoint how your customers are feeling and behaving. Talk to salespeople and others who are out on the front lines. Also, monitor customers’ touchpoints with your business—emails, calls, and chats—to understand the prevailing sentiment. Check out our previous post for a deep dive on the four categories of buyers and how each reacts in an economic downturn.
3. Anticipate operational impacts
This step is all about coming to terms with the challenges of product and service delivery, such as disrupted supply chains. You need to set realistic expectations about product availability, launch dates, and the like. You should craft messages to help your customer service teams and ramp up your capacity to handle online interactions. And optimize your marketing budget by looking for ways to be more efficient and reduce or postpone less important obligations.
4. Adapt your marketing plan
Use the best, worst, and in-between scenarios you’ve identified to anticipate likely and possible changes and take alternative actions. You’ll want to focus on areas like:
Event-based programs: Social distancing has caused the cancellations of numerous industry trade shows, not to mention other popular activities like concerts and sporting events. So you’ll need to find new ways to reach the prospects you’d normally interact with. If you do it right, though, you can actually come out ahead.
Deliver compelling content: With travel greatly reduced, people are going to be looking online for information. Create some engaging content that’s uplifting or encouraging to get their attention.
Examine and adjust your media placements: Every company is reexamining their marketing mix, so work with your media planners to secure access to the right publications.
Innovate. Yes, you read that right.
It’s probably the last thing on your mind right now, but as Forrester points out, now—when everyone is working from home and we’re forced to do things differently—is a great time to launch a companywide innovation campaign. And as an Entrepreneur article notes, black swan events like pandemics tend to change the trajectories of businesses, economies, and governments alike. They also give birth to high-growth companies like Uber and Airbnb, which emerged after the Great Recession as people with less income and savings were forced to share rooms and car rides.
Ask yourself this: How can I keep my company playing offense as much as possible? It’s easy to retreat into defensive mode, but too much of that could cause you to fall behind when the economy recovers.
People aren’t going to shopping malls right now, even if they’re still open. But what about when the social distancing period ends, and things start to slowly go back to “normal”? Older individuals have typically been laggards when it comes to e-commerce, but this eMarketer article suggests that even they might start shopping more online in the coming months.
Automate lead nurturing
In a downturn, it’s especially important to have lead scoring that helps you identify your highly engaged prospects and lead nurturing to engage qualified prospects who aren’t yet ready to talk to your salespeople. Here’s a quick check-up that will help you assess your current level of marketing automation to ensure the right leads are being engaged in the right ways.
Give your website some love
With people turning their attention online, it’s smart to make sure that your website is in tip-top shape by looking at things like your site architecture, page speed, and mobile optimization. Check out our refresher on technical SEO for some helpful guidance. You might also want to perform some A/B testing to optimize your key landing pages and increase conversions.
Advertise. Don’t irritate.
There’s an old adage: “When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.” Why? First, some of your competitors will be cutting back, so it’s less noisy. Also, if you advertise in the right way you can reassure your customers in trying times. Plus, you can probably get some good deals on your media placements.
The main thing to remember is to be strategic in your marketing communications. Don’t deluge people with emails, for instance. The New York Times noted that as businesses started to shut down from the coronavirus, they flooded their customers with emails—some helpful, others just plain annoying.
People look to familiar things for assurance in difficult times, and your brand may very well be one of those things for some of your customers. But they can spot disingenuous messages from a mile away. So continue to be who you are, no matter what.
Derek Smith's skills as a reporter serve him well as a senior writer here at Element Three—and if you need a coach for your soccer team, he's got you covered. He's worked as a content strategist as well as a copywriter, so he's always thinking about the why behind every word and every piece of every campaign.
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