Gloom, Zoom to Boom!
After a period of gloom that few could have predicted, and more Zoom than most of us could have imagined, the world is reopening with some semblance of normalcy – and a significant sense of abnormalcy. The shock of restricting commerce and shutting down entire sectors of the economy means organizations everywhere need to refocus their product and service offerings and reassert their value to customers. The marketing teams that do so successfully will start by answering some fundamental questions:
Do you and your customers have an innate sense of your company’s Shared Purpose – the value proposition that makes you relevant, differentiates you from competitors and guides your employee´s actions?
Is your portfolio of products and services focused on the elements that are driving profitable revenue?
Are your CRM and marketing automation systems helping you to efficiently target your most likely buyers in the current environment?
In the deluge of digital media, are you creating content that stands out and drives your audiences to action?
Your sales teams may be feeling the urge to jump right in and sell, sell, sell at the first sign of unfrozen budgets. But you need to make sure you have the right offer, the right message and the right creative to get your customers´ attention and tools that will help you reach them cost-effectively.
Have You Shifted Away From Your Shared Purpose?
In order to rebound and reignite revenue growth, companies should have a firm grasp of their Shared Purpose, a clear and straightforward answer to the question: What value does your company offer and why? For businesses with a myriad of offerings, this may be a time for introspection. Considering all the services the company offers and the “new normal,” what is the essence of your strategy? What is core to your business, the real Shared Purpose that defines who you are, how you are unique and why are you better than your competitors?
In 2008, Howard Schultz returned as Starbucks CEO. He thought the company had lost the “essential magic” that had made its cafés so popular and worked to restore the emotional attachment with customers that make coffeeshops feel like the soul of a neighborhood. As the global financial crisis intensified and the company posted a 53% annual decline in net income, Starbucks reinvented itself based on the value of bringing a neighborhood together. Starbucks retrained staff, opened forums where employees could share ideas, added music to stores, poured energy into social media and donated money to social causes.
Today, Starbucks is a strong business once again, with a unified message. And that message has become even more important in the wake of the pandemic. Starbucks remains the center of neighborhoods as the company begins to reopen with safety precautions in place. Moving from a “contain and mitigate” phase with limited service at drive-through locations, Starbucks is welcoming business with its new phase of “monitor and adapt” that continues to make the health of customers and staff paramount.
Many brands cut their marketing budgets to the bone in light of current market uncertainty, financial stress and necessity. But successful brands are taking the disruption as an opportunity to evaluate their marketing to ensure they have a message that gives customers a reason to buy and employees a reason to believe – a clear Shared Purpose. Depending on the industry and circumstances, their Shared Purpose may have changed slightly, dramatically or not at all amidst the crisis. Starbucks is lucky to have a strong product, loyal customer base and a purpose that unites people in stressful times. All organizations have the chance right now to revisit, and if necessary, re-envision their Shared Purpose to assure it is a clear and compelling articulation of the true value that they provide to customers and employees in the post-Covid world.
From Adversity to Opportunity
Just when it seemed we couldn’t become more inextricably interwoven with our screens and devices, Covid-19 struck with unprecedented impact. Technology helped (and continues to help) connect us to each other and to brands. Brands that have leveraged technology in new ways can reach their customers and drive sales.
The shoe company Allbirds was just beginning to really break into the Chinese market when the coronavirus hit. The organization had already leveraged digital marketing to familiarize Chinese consumers with the sustainable shoe brand and took advantage of opportunities to use technology to engage with consumers even more during the crisis. Many potential customers were contacting the customer-experience team in Shanghai, mainly via online chat, and Allbirds decided to innovate their customer service platform, connecting consumers and store staff in real time over video. Using various technologies, including technology from Alibaba, customer service offered to video chat when consumers asked questions of a certain nature – like “What outfit do I wear Allbirds shoes with?” Customer service could then show consumers clothing combinations, as well as different shoe styles and colors. Customer service shifted to customer experience with technology enabling high-impact interactions and sales opportunities. This new way of selling wasn’t an option pre-Covid-19. The staff in stores were too busy. But the success of the program may prompt more customer service innovations as e-commerce will always be a significant channel for Allbirds’ sales. There’s no chance online shopping will fade away even after our face masks are history.
On the employee side, companies should analyze where the adaptations they made out of necessity have staying power. Many companies are opting to extend their “work from home” policies. Amazon and Microsoft employees who can work remotely will be allowed to do so through at least October. Google, Facebook and Zillow are allowing the majority of employees to work from home for the remainder of the year. Going a step further, Twitter will allow employees who don’t need to be in the office to work from home permanently if they choose. Given the right circumstances, remote workers are more productive and profitable than in-house employees (Airtasker). Of course not all businesses have the option of remote work. But where possible, working from home is an example of a way companies are tightening operations, saving money and respecting their employees, all at the same time. By eliminating the anxieties, complications and distractions that offices may present, companies can help employees focus their work on doing what the company does best, and making it even better. Building a stronger brand may mean not returning to business as usual but rather meeting the new world where it is now and increasing performance in new ways.
Increase the Impact of Your Marketing Investments
It might come as a surprise for a strategic marketing agency to recommend that it’s a good time to cut marketing. But it’s time to cut a specific kind of marketing: the kind that doesn’t directly support sales. Even in the best of times all brand marketing should support revenue-building activities and sales. If your sales and marketing activities are well-aligned, slashing the entire marketing budget will only starve the sales engine. Maintaining relationships with current customers and familiarizing potential customers with the brand remain essential drivers of growth. But not all types of communication work right now. Brands need to harness their purpose and align it with marketing strategy and tactics.
As part of its Covid-19 marketing shift, Unity Technologies, a B2B organization that makes a popular gaming engine, has offered three months of premium content from its Unity Learn to interested game developers. The program offers instructional content to help developers build games using the company’s technology. Unity Learn content includes online lessons, courses and sample projects for inspiration. Alongside this marketing push, Unity has launched a free virtual coding class, Create with Code Live. By engaging, educating and extending community, Unity can drive revenue and long term customer loyalty.
These two marketing tools align with Unity’s Shared Purpose: “to make it easier and more intuitive for you to achieve your aspirations.” It’s a smart way to showcase its tools and draw in potential users. And while the offering is tied to Covid-19, it is available through most of June and the benefits could drive revenue for years to come.
Export Development Canada (EDC), a provider of insurance and financial services to Canadian exporters, investors, and international buyers has also aligned its marketing spend. EDC developed a library of Covid-19-related content to help customers with topics such as Covid-19’s implications for business investments and how to manage risk during the pandemic. Aiding current clients and helping potential customers creates a new level of value add for EDC that can help drive sales and increase brand awareness over the long term.
How can your marketing activity (with purpose, workforce and offering aligned) drive revenue today, while laying the groundwork to grow your customers and their lifetime value for the years to come?
1. Strip Out the Fluff and Strengthen the Core
Customers are sifting through the noise to find brands that deliver a clear offering that fulfills a need in their lives and lifts up the community at large.
When asked what would help them through a recession, US B2B buyers’ answers focused on vendors providing better resources: Roughly a third said they would need better quality and accurate information about what they are buying, while 23% of respondents noted they would need to have more confidence in the purchases they are making.
Businesses will need to use resources efficiently, ensuring they target the most promising and profitable customers and focus their marketing efforts where they can yield the biggest dividend. Take the time to understand what your customers (old and new) need now. For every industry and product category it will be different but every industry must face the fact that their customer base may have changed.
As companies commence with reinvigorated outreach in a Covid-19 era, they should be clear on who they are as an organization, who their customers are and how they are asserting and expressing their Shared Purpose. Do your sales pitches articulate specific business value with clarity, empathy and social consideration appropriate to this extraordinary context? When messaging, stick to straight talk that eliminates jargon, connects with critical needs and drives commercial results.
2. Shatter the Status Quo
Speaking broadly, there is never a good time to be lazy about creative… and you certainly don’t want to be phoning it in now. Avoid trying to be “the Apple of the _________ industry” and resting on current trends like minimalism claiming sophistication. Apple became Apple by not being like everybody else, and now everyone wants to be like Apple in the hope of achieving similar success. This strategy won’t allow you to break through to customers. While you don’t have to be immune to trends, your company should have a unique and proprietary verbal and visual sensibility that is consistent across all points of contact with the business and the brand.
Be sensitive to the fact that your audience may differ depending on their different roles and responsibilities across an organization. It’s up to you to make sure what you say speaks to those with whom you need to connect the most. Make it clear, concise and concrete and easily digestible for those you intend to see it.
When you’re looking at your overall creative strategy, consider the following:
Does the creative support the brand, making sure it’s aligned with your Shared Purpose?
Are you saying something memorable? Practical and useful are important, but will it stick with those who see it, on an emotional level?
Is your copy clear, concise and free of foolish business buzzwords?
Does the visual style and sensibility of your communications align with the intended tone of the message?
Remember that marketing exists to drive sales – your ideas might be fun, cool, interesting, but if it doesn’t drive home a call to action towards the sales funnel, its effort wasted.
Inspired communications means using your imagination, pushing what’s available. Innovate with each new initiative, drawing a thread that provides familiarity and consistency with room for playfulness. Don’t put a new bow to retread what you did last year and hope nobody will notice. Maybe nobody will notice anything… and that’s the biggest problem of all.
3. Invest in Tools That Deliver Results
Companies need to facilitate action by setting their salespeople up for success. Providing salespeople with tools that are accessible, easy to use, engaging and informative is the minimum requirement for preparing them to tackle the pain points clients will pay to solve.
The value your company offers today may be different from what it was in 2019. But it doesn’t have to be diminished value – it can be new value that matches the circumstances with even greater alacrity. Aligning the marketing and sales teams creates a stronger, unified force for driving revenue. Explore alternative tools and systems salespeople can leverage and work with your sales team so that they understand how to use these tools effectively and specifically for your market.
Your marketing and sales teams may already be leveraging virtual webinars, meetings and conferences, but so is everyone else and there is always an opportunity to stand out via improved quality, content, design and production value. If people continue to avoid large gatherings, explore the idea of holding smaller face-to-face meetings that are local to customers. More fundamentally, ask yourself if those massive in-person trade shows and events were actually driving revenue in the first place. If they weren’t successful in supporting sales, adjust accordingly so that each marketing effort results in revenue.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each company will need different tools and timing to execute well. When reviewing your communications arsenal, consider the following:
- What’s the best medium for the message? Would trading in yet another digital newsletter for a direct mail campaign garner more attention?
- Create webinars, emails, social media and other digital communications that are short and succinct, respecting your audience’s time and the additional stress people are under.
- Whenever possible try to show your face over video to foster human connection.
- Consider timing and frequency – when and how often is it appropriate to reach out to your audience? The cadence of commerce has probably changed from pre-Covid-19 days.
What are you waiting for?
Prior to Covid-19, the world was awash in poorly-executed creative and marketing clickbait, saturating and cluttering our inboxes. We believe the current circumstances give businesses the opportunity to reexamine and refocus their efforts, to build stronger relationships with their customers and employees, perhaps not so much marketing at, rather than with them.
It isn’t easy – especially when working with limited resources. But honing your resources and messaging for immediate revenue will strengthen your company in the long term. This is a time to strive and reach for excellence. To be provocative while still respectful. To engage your customers and prospects on their new terms. Every winter eventually comes to an end, including the winter of the coronavirus pandemic. All across the world, it’s starting to be spring, for once at the same time! Are you ready to grow?