A million (or a billion) dollar question first.
Is there a universal set of recommendations you, as a business owner, should follow in the time of global economic disruption?
The answer? No, there isn’t.
We simply don’t have any experience of what will happen with the market and demand in times when supply chains are disrupted so significantly. The last time the global economy took a hit of similar magnitude happened 102 years ago, and it happened in a completely different setting (WW1 was ending).
We don’t know what to expect as we don’t know how long the fight with the pandemic will last.
So, is there anything you can do in order to mitigate the risks in such times?
Luckily, there is.
The survival of the fittest
Although there’s no universal set of recommendations for harsh times that would be applicable to every business, there is one universal rule, and it’s not an easy-to-accept one.
The rule is – change your marketing strategy.
When the environment you act in is drastically changing, you should consider all your options in order to adapt as fast as possible. A quick reaction might be crucial to stay above the water and possibly seize new opportunities while your competition is still weighing their next move.
It’s a fact. The sooner you accept it, the more time you have to adjust to the new conditions.
We’re experiencing a simultaneous drop in demand and supply, a phenomenon unknown in modern times. The impact?
Unimaginable just a week or two ago, but the reality now. A lock-down chain reaction that will change the environment we’re all running our businesses in.
But we all know that even during the hardest times, some find ways to succeed.
Is it safer to be reactive or proactive?
So, what can you do? The first dilemma is: should you react at all?
Should you think proactively and look for opportunities (which will be abundant but with a high level of uncertainty)? Or should you lay low for a while, be passive on purpose but actively monitor the situation and then use all your resources wisely when the situation calms down?
The choice depends on many factors, but primarily on:
- what is your core business
- who is your target audience
- how flexible and prepared are you for quick internal changes
If you decide to be passive, you will be an observer of current events that uses the time you have wisely, to better prepare for times when the crisis is behind us.
Unfortunately, many businesses can’t afford to sit down and wait for things to settle down. They have to be proactive and try to take control. In a changing environment, a lot of opportunities arise that are just waiting to be taken. If you are not going to be the one to fill that gap, someone else will.
As we’re talking about making a marketing strategy shift here, I’ll focus on a proactive approach in the rest of the guide.
A short disclaimer and a word about my background. I’m a co-founder too and a CEO of Point Visible, a content marketing agency focused on awesome content and custom outreach projects, from link building to PR. I’ll try to share my observations about what steps could help at the times of the global market lock-downs of uncertain length.
Some of the samples I’ll use below are actual moves a few of our clients made as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The text in “quotation marks” are advice contributed from other marketing experts.
How to shift your marketing strategy during a global crisis
First of all, ensure you, your family and your team are safe and healthy. Although this is not a guide on how to stay healthy, nothing is more important than that.
Another important note – this is not a guide on how to make a profit during the crisis. It’s a set of recommendations about what to do as a business owner in a highly disrupted market.
Although it’s hard to find positive sides of a global virus pandemic, a business owner’s responsibility is to do so. A quick adaptation can mean a difference between life and death of your business and can save a lot of jobs.
So, what are your options when thinking about adjusting your marketing strategy?
#1) Cut unnecessary costs
An obvious one. The global economy lock-down will result in an equally global chain reaction and it’s very likely that you’ll lose a chunk of your income if you do not provide service we deem essential.
When no one knows how long will the lock-down last, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the pessimistic scenario. Cutting costs can be painful, but it’s vital for other steps to work and to keep your business alive.
Here are some marketing cost-reduction initiatives to consider:
- Do you need access to all of your current marketing tools? There’s a lot of marketing tools a business can use, and some of them are quite expensive. Rethink which ones you need right now (while keeping in mind the tools you might need if you plan to change your marketing strategy).
- Can you pause cash-heavy internal campaigns? Maybe you are running an influencer outreach, maybe you’re in the process of buying sponsored posts, maybe you’re doing some PPC testing for a new marketing funnel. Think carefully if that is what you actually want to spend money on right now.
- Can you negotiate the price with agencies and freelancers you’re outsourcing to? Most of the industries are hit and both agencies and freelancers are afraid of losing work. Most of them will be ready to work for a discounted fee to prevent that from happening.
- Can you bring some of the work you are outsourcing back in-house? Research shows that at least one-third of small businesses outsource part of their business processes. Maybe it is time to pause a few internal projects and do some of that work in-house instead.
#2) Restructure your marketing budget
Decide on the amount of the budget you can invest in your new marketing strategy. Make sure the budget is realistic. Don’t overspend, however, be aware that an investment might be needed in order to execute your new plan the right way.
#3) Pivot to a new marketing strategy that fits the current narrative
Your carefully planned marketing strategy that worked during the regular, business-as-usual times maybe isn’t the right one at the time of a global crisis.
Maybe you need to lay off PPC for a while and focus on content.
Maybe costs per click in your industry will go way down and it is a time to run with PPC.
Maybe you have perfect content on your blog for this situation, ready to gather valuable leads, you just need to get it to rank higher by building some links towards it and running a promotional outreach campaign.
Maybe you need to cut all of your expenses and promote your existing digital assets on all free channels you can think of.
It is hard to be more precise than “maybe” without knowing what your business model is, which industries are you targeting, and what kind of resources you have at your disposal.
“Firstly, it’s important to prioritise looking at what is ‘urgent’ and then what was ‘important’ when it comes to changing your approach. Urgent priorities are any content/copy you already have scheduled that could look insensitive or cause offence due to what was going on currently. Important priorities include changing copy for content that is already scheduled to better meet the current needs of your audience and re-plan content that isn’t as relevant.
For example, we changed the topic of our latest Business Anchors Podcast to ‘Business Survival With Robbie Knox’ as we felt this was more fitting and also moved a public speaking case study we had going live as we felt this would have more of an impact in the future amongst other things.”Dan Knowlton, Co-founder of Knowlton
#4) Keep your clients/customers fully informed
Reassure their worries. At times when we feel lost, clear communication with your clients is vital.
Red Stag Fulfillment, an award-winning fulfillment company included a clear and simple message on their site.
The message is simple but sufficient – “We’re fully operational.”
At times of a global lock-down, a simple post on your website but a major piece of information for their current and, potentially, future clients. Reassurance goes a long way in times of great uncertainty.
You might say that this is only a change in messaging, not a change in strategy. That would be kinda true. You see, not all businesses need to go 180 degrees with their marketing plans. Fulfillment is a crucial part of the eCommerce industry which is still up-and-running for the most part.
Businesses that need a fulfillment partner, now more than ever, are looking for someone reliable, and that is the purpose of that post. However, if the circumstances change, their marketing strategy will have to follow.
“When you want your organization to stay connected with customers or staff with urgent or real-time updates, consider using an SMS bot. 98% of text messages are read, 90% are read in the first 3 minutes. SMS is used by anyone and everyone around the world with a mobile device, which makes it the best customer communication channel for staying connected instantly. SMS marketing examples include everything from company status updates like “we have updated our hours” to internal updates to keep everyone on the team informed of what’s going on in real-time.”
Larry Kim, founder of MobileMonkey
#5) Re-segment your audience
There is no crisis that hits all people and businesses equally. Some of them might see opportunities easier in a changing environment. Make sure you differentiate your messaging to different segments you’ll be talking to.
Identify different segments, research personas for each of them, look for their pain points and problems they’re going through and think of how you can help each segment specifically.
Content marketing, link building, email marketing, PPC…you can use this information at any level to improve your marketing results by focusing on the newly identified audience.
Maybe you don’t need to switch to a completely new marketing strategy.
For example, we have a client that offers a shift scheduling software with time and attendance tracking and a time clock app. We have been doing link building for them for more than 6 months now, focusing on Retail, Healthcare, and Hospitality. As Hospitality and Retail have been one of the most affected industries, we had to adjust the approach.
We didn’t just stop doing link building. Instead, we identified new industries that are expected to perform well during this crisis and that are likely to need such software. We put even more focus on healthcare and made separate outreach campaigns targeting call centers and the logistics industry as they are actually in high demand right now.
“Divide your customers by how hard they got hit and use at least 3, if not more, segments: one for those that are hit full-force, on for those that are hardly/not impacted, and one for those who are in the middle. Then, align your marketing strategy to these three segments.
Factor it in ad campaigns, a/b testing, content creation, social interaction, and emails. Adjust your messaging and potentially your product portfolio. Keep in mind that not all brands have to lower prices or offer a low-cost version of their products. They might have an audience that keeps on buying. So, look at the data first, ask your customers, and then adjust accordingly.”Kevin Indig , Kevin Indig
#6) Change your messaging
Maybe you can make your business more relevant to the new environment with a slight change in your messaging.
Thousand Eyes, a SaaS tool that solves network issues in cloud environments offered a solution for network monitoring for companies that had to switch to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic for free.
It’s a great example of how your core business can become much more relevant with just a heading revision. Promote that change with a PR or outreach campaign and your brand just got in the center of your audience’s eyesight.
“Don’t approach your niche in a tone-deaf way. If you sell high-ticket items, acting like they’re a steal (even if you believe so) while some of your audience have possibly just lost their jobs, is one easy way to be forgotten and ignored going forward. You must accept that a huge part of the audience you are reaching are now worried about their financial situation – far more than before – and be respectful more than ever in how you approach outreach, newsletter updates, ads, and more.”Glen Allsopp, Detailed
#7) Consider content marketing
At times when billions are forced to stay inside, people browse the Internet a lot. Identify your target audience’s behavioral patterns and help them with the content they are looking for in the first place.
This is a great chance to be first. When crises happen, lots of unanswered questions appear. It’s a gap waiting to be filled in. The brands that will provide answers first will seize the opportunity to spread brand awareness when everyone is looking and there is no competition at all.
This guide itself is a good example of what I’m talking about. Work from home articles that are currently swarming the web are another example. Here’s a couple more.
Example – Owl Labs
Everyone is talking about this one single thing now and you have to adjust or you’ll be completely out of context.
People are confused, your target audience as well. Help them. Identify questions that bother them RIGHT NOW and see how your product or service can help.
Take Owl Labs for instance, a company that sells “smart video conferencing cameras that captures 360° video and audio for a near face-to-face experience”. If you look at their blog and content from 3 months ago and older, you will notice that they were talking more about employee engagement, improving communication, and giving remote work tips.
These days, they are very much focused on work from home topics.
Additionally, in one of their recent posts, they also mention how their product was initially developed for business purposes, but that some are using it for video calls with their family and friends.
In times where we are told to practice social distancing, it is safe to assume some people will be willing to invest in such a product even for personal use. While I do not know if this is something they plan to push harder, it would be a perfect example of how to find new opportunities for your business.
Example – Limble CMMS
Here’s how one of our oldest clients decided to adapt. Limble CMMS is a cloud-based solution used by facility and maintenance managers to streamline their maintenance operations.
As many buildings and production floors are empty right now, as I write this article, we are creating content on what maintenance managers can do to improve their plant maintenance while the production is on hold.
Additionally, as the client has quite a few clients from similar industries that have been negatively affected, we are considering doing a round-up where business owners would be invited to share how they are dealing with the crisis as a way to share information and help each other.
At the end of the day, that is what the content is supposed to do.
“When something so huge happens, something that affects so many people so deeply, you can’t just stick to your regular marketing strategy or hold the marketing campaigns you’ve been planning for months. It’s easy to say that “you should just stop”; but that won’t benefit anyone; not you, not your employees, not your customers, and ultimately, not the economy.
As businesses, we can’t just completely stop – but we can adapt. Marketing-wise, we have to keep in touch with our customers and our audiences and let them know exactly what we’re up to and what we can still offer them and what’s more, we can focus on the online: creating valuable content, working on our SEO and focusing on how we can still be proactive in a time when you can’t really do that much.”Lilach Bullock, Lilach Bullock
#8) Leverage “free” channels like social media
While people are forced to stay inside the four corners of their homes, it is not surprising that social media is growing. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are seeing an increase of around 15%, while Pinterest measures only a 5% increase in search interest. The only loser is LinkedIn that is experiencing a 23% decrease in search interest.
Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are filled with content centered around the coronavirus pandemic.
This includes memes, informational posts, social media challenges, the latest news updates, and more. Brands and marketers can use this opportunity to start social media marketing campaigns relevant to current issues.
Here’s an example from the soap brand, Dial, where they posted informative content on preventive measures to follow during the pandemic:
You can leverage social media marketing and management tools to create and execute engaging campaigns tailored to your audience and their platform of choice.
#9) Offer free solutions to those in need
If you’re selling a product, think about donations or solidarity discounts. If you’re in services, think about how you can make them more accessible to those that are in need the most.
If you have a digital product, offer it completely for free. This is, for example, exactly what Digital Marketer did with their Lab courses.
If you have similar digital assets ready, you can share them for free and gain some free exposure as it gets shared around your community.
Don’t think that this can be only done to improve brand reputation by appearing charitable. You can use this as a lead magnet to pick-up a lot of valuable leads you can re-engage with different offers when the circumstances are right.
“In our business, we quickly took stock of what we were offering and its relevance in the current situation. We came to the conclusion that we needed to use our team communication solutions to support businesses in what could be a difficult transition to remote work. Millions of people around the world are being forced to work from home for the first time in their lives, and we realized that we could help with this process.
We immediately launched a promotional campaign to offer 3 months of free service to businesses affected by the crisis. While this will lead to a lot more work for us in the short run without any monetary reward per se, we felt that this was our way of offering support. Of course we hope that once the crisis passes people will be happy to keep using our services, but this of course isn’t a foregone conclusion. That’s a risk that we’re willing to take though.”Stefan Chekanov, CEO at Brosix
#10) Offer help in your local community or niche
A local fashion brand here in Croatia offered their services to produce protective masks for free, as a help to the community when COVID-19 started to spread.
The virus spread risk they helped to reduce was immeasurable, but the brand awareness boost and the positive reputation they got might help the brand to get through the crisis and even grow after things settle down.
It’s a great example of how wins are possible during the crisis too if you start thinking early about possible shifts in your marketing (and business) strategy that will lead to long-term success.
#11) (If all else fails) focus on client retention
As we already said, some industries have been hit harder than others. While most businesses can adapt by changing their marketing strategy, some simply won’t be able to identify many new opportunities.
All businesses, but especially those, should focus more on client retention. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Lower your prices or offer discounts. You’re not looking to profit, you’re looking to survive.
- Use content and other communication channels to reassure your existing customer base.
- Offer more flexible pricing models (month-to-month instead of longer contracts).
- Postpone payment dates.
- If you have a SaaS product, offer customers an easy way to pause their subscription so they can quickly resume when people go back to work.
In the screenshot below, you can see how even a big company like Ahrefs is already making some of these moves.
Whatever marketing approach you decide to take, customer retention is something that should never be overlooked in times of crisis.
“After the crisis, many industries will need some recovering time. Marketing teams operating in crisis-affected companies will be struggling with lower budgets. By implementing the offer relying on the progressive fee, you can create an additional incentive to use your services. This is the moment when you can kill your relationship with many clients or make them devoted to your brand and services. Make sure you do the second thing.”Slawek Czajkowski, CEO at Surfer
Although there is no universal strategy out there for situations like this pandemic, it’s safe to assume we all need to consider adjusting our marketing activities and strategy as a whole.
However, if nothing in this guide is applicable to your business model, don’t forget there is still an option to lay low for a while, cut your costs, and wait for the situation to settle. No one can make this decision for you as you’re the one who knows your business inside and out.
If there is a single takeout from this guide, it is that you should make sure your marketing strategy shift goes in the direction of helping your target audience, not just profiteering. It will feel right and you will do the best you can with your resources – help others and help yourself. After all, people tend to remember who helped them when the times were hard.
There are almost always opportunities to do so if we look hard enough.
Stay safe, stay productive as much as you can, keep the wheels turning, and you’ll live to fight another day. After all, we are all in this together.
P.S. If you have an example of how you adjusted your marketing strategy or have a piece of advice you want to share with business owners, start a discussion in the comments below or reach out to “[email protected]” and we will consider including it in the article.
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