This article was first published on substance151.com.
With the initial crisis communications push behind us, many business leaders and marketers are faced with some big questions:
- Can companies continue marketing?
- If yes, how should they engage with prospects and clients without appearing self-serving or tone-deaf?
- What does “good marketing” look like right now?
The risk of getting it wrong is high. The reward of getting it right is even higher. And there’s no playbook.
The global communications firm Edelman suggests approaching your company’s decisions and actions as immediate, near-term and long-term
. Use the same framework for your company’s marketing to determine where you have a role to play and what that role is.
1: Can We Market?
The short answer is yes, you can and you should. The when, what and how will be different for every company.
If your marketing and sales have always been focused on helping your customers do their job, achieve their goals and advance their personal agendas, the main difference is that what your customers need right now has probably changed.
If your marketing is company-centric vs. customer-focused, selling vs. problem-solving, “we” vs. “you,” now is the time to course-correct. How do we make our customers' lives easier and better? The answer to this question should guide everything your company does – especially in times of crisis.
To remain relevant, focus on your customers’ pain points. Can your offerings help them solve their most pressing challenges? If not, what can you do outside of your typical scope to help your customers navigate through the crisis?
- Make sure your contact lists are properly segmented. Scrub your CRM and email marketing list. Only send communications to people who benefit from them (e.g., your operational updates are only relevant to your clients and employees, not your entire marketing database).
- Consider what forms of communications are appropriate for each audience (e.g., email campaigns, personal touches, LinkedIn).
Let humanness drive your brand marketing strategy. Empathy is about walking in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. The more you can understand what your primary audiences – prospects, clients and employees – are thinking and feeling, the better you can help them.
- Customer research is critical to understanding your prospects and clients. Take your team through an empathy mapping exercise, reach out to your customers to ask how you can help.
- Customer experience is more important than ever. Review your customer and employee journeys and touchpoints to find opportunities for adding value and eliminating frustration.
- Pause your scheduled campaigns, revisit your planned content and social media plan and make sure to adjust your visuals.
2: How Do We market?
Strategically, with purpose, empathy and intent.
Use the Brand Lens
Building trust and credibility – the cornerstone of lasting customer relationships – takes more than a well-crafted marketing message. It takes doing the right thing for your employees, customers, community and society.
- Look to your brand for guidance. Your brand purpose (the north star) and values (the guiding principles) must inform all corporate decisions, behaviors and actions.
- Find ways to reinforce your brand with employees – more than ever, they need to be fully engaged with the brand.
- Protect your brand reputation by avoiding messages that may be perceived as a camouflaged sales pitch.
If you don’t have a strong brand to guide your company forward, invest in brand building. Beginning with a brand audit
and developing a strong brand foundation, to better understanding of today’s brand management.
Leverage Thought Leadership
If your company has access to critical information and can develop insights your customer can use for navigating the crisis – leverage it!
- COVID-19 Resource Page. If your company has created a dashboard, or have some timely primary research, information and insight, develop a COVID-19 resources center (could be a single landing page) on your website and promote it using organic and paid marketing.
Maximize Your Digital Channels
Even before the pandemic, if your company did not have an effective digital strategy, it was at a disadvantage. Today, every business is a digital business, making digital transformation
With limited in-person interactions, your website
is more important than ever. Audit and update your website
so that it can carry on your company's marketing and business development activity. And make sure to revisit your SEO strategy.
Use your social channels to increase brand visibility, promote thought leadership, drive conversations and engage with your prospects, clients and industry influencers. Although we’ve seen some decrease in traffic to corporate websites, LinkedIn activity is on the rise. If you haven't been leveraging LinkedIn
for prospecting, networking and lead generation, as they say, there's no time like the present!
- Optimize your company page and key employees' profiles.
- Reach out to your first-degree connections and continue to strategically expand your network.
- Share timely content and resources, engage with relevant content from your prospects, clients and industry influencers.
- Consider sponsored content.
- Identify groups that are active and include your prospects and clients and monitor conversations to identify opportunities for your experts to contribute answers, advice and content.
3. What Do We market?
Are you adding value or creating more noise? Before posting, sharing, forwarding anything, ask: Why this? Why us? Why now?
What can you share that helps your audiences? If you have nothing timely and helpful to offer at this moment, find useful content and resources created by others and share it. Give it some context – frame it to help your audience connect the dots and understand the reason for your content recommendation. Or write a blog post around a piece of content, adding your own insight.
Work on developing an interim content strategy based on your current organizational goals, audiences’ needs and available resources. This will allow you to move quickly while still working toward your long-term goals.
If you struggle with identifying market shifts, emerging trends and your audience’s top challenges, use data, insights and reports published by global research companies or companies in your specific industry. Check out sources, such as Think With Google or McKinsey & Company, or SMPS impact survey
and ACEC Coronavirus resources
However, you can also conduct your own research quickly and cost-effectively.
- Industry Resources. LinkedIn groups and your clients’ and industry associations’ blogs and social channels could be a great resource for identifying issues that are top of mind for your audiences.
- Customer Insight. As part of your client outreach (which you should be doing right now), ask them what's top of mind. A few simple questions will allow you to pinpoint your clients' top issues and identify where you can help.
- Competitive Intelligence. What are your competitors doing? How are they are responding? This may give you some ideas but remember that competitor research is about creating an even greater point of difference for your company – not about copying your competitors.
- Don’t exploit the situation but consider how newsjacking (developing content around the hottest news stories to amplify the impact of that content) can amplify your message and content.
The speed of change and disruption requires a fast response, the ability to react fast, to pivot and be agile. If you haven’t adopted Agile marketing
in your company, now it the time. Look at the strategies you develop now not as short-term fixes for a temporary problem. Make what you learn a critical component of your future marketing strategy.
The task of adapting your marketing may seem overwhelming but consider that many traditional strategies and activities translate well to the all-virtual world. Here are some ideas:
- Use LinkedIn for prospecting, networking and building relationships.
- Move your planned speaking engagements and client education online; many professional associations are looking for presentations and blog content.
- Develop thought leadership content. If your technical experts have some downtime, engage them in researching and authoring a whitepaper, helping you with the next blog post or social media content.
- There’s a thirst for learning – leverage it. Have you been planning to start a webinar series or a podcast? Can you develop an e-book? Now is the time.
- Define and bridge your digital skill gaps – hire if you are in a position to do so, train your existing team, or find ways to outsource what you cannot do in-house.
And, finally, don’t let uncertainty impede your progress.
It’s OK to feel the pressure of the unknown and be worried about making costly marketing mistakes, but don’t let all activity come to screeching halt.
Should you still feel uncomfortable marketing, use this time to plan for the future
. Avoid execution paralysis
by setting realistic goals and incorporating reality-check decisions during your planning stage.