As devastating as the pandemic has been on both the humanitarian and sales front, it’s not all bad news. This unprecedented crisis has taught us much about the strengths and weaknesses of our marketing teams, our growth strategies, and our brands. The pandemic galvanized some marketing teams and paralyzed others. It’s allowed us to see the vulnerability in our brands and shore up weaknesses. And it has introduced 10 positive marketing themes that are here to stay. If you are not currently leveraging each, in the spirit of Patton, there’s no better time than today.
1) Elevation of Marketing’s Role
For the last several years, a number of Fortune 500 companies have pushed their marketing teams away from the table when it comes to big-picture strategic planning — looking at marketing as simply a faucet to turn on or off for lead volume and awareness building. The COVID crisis has reminded the C-Suite of the critical role that marketing plays in managing the relationship with the customer, which is the veritable lifeblood of the organization. Never has it mattered more that brands understand who their customers are on a deep level, that they have a bank of trust already established with those customers, and that they are nimble enough to pivot every single communication channel they manage, seemingly overnight, in response to an unprecedented global catastrophe.
Many of the country’s biggest corporations that eliminated the CMO role in past years have reinstated the role this year after realizing their ability to pivot is handcuffed without marketing’s involvement in key decisions. And middle-market companies are following suit by inviting both in-house marketing execs and external agency partners to the decision-making table like never before.
2) Higher E-Commerce Investment
Not only are brands large and small realizing how critical a positive online experience is for consumers, and investing in major e-commerce upgrades as a result, but they’re also increasingly investing in advertising on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Walmart. Why? Because U.S. retail e-commerce sales rose by more than 30% during the first and second quarter of 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and in-store advertising opportunities plummeted during the shutdown. Also, e-commerce platform advertising offers hyper-targeting capabilities — all the way down to consumers who have placed particular items in their carts before but never purchased. Talk about one-to-one advertising.
3) Enhanced Brand Experience
From private, by-appointment-only shopping with high-end fashion retailers to virtual home services like interior design and broader home delivery of every consumable imaginable, brands have been forced to get wildly creative in their customer experience models. If you’re expecting consumers to be satisfied returning to the previously limited delivery channels, get ready for disappointment. They expect both the old and the new options available at their discretion.
What’s more, brands are working double time to find creative ways to create a personalized brand experienced online. For example, King Arthur Flour took advantage of a pandemic baking craze by revamping their website and publishing a series of baking shows. Planet Fitness started livestreaming free at-home workouts daily on its Facebook page. If you’ve identified creative delivery models to allow business to continue through the pandemic, give thought now to how to make those strategies sustainable and profitable for the long haul.
4) Virtual Sales Confidence & Expanded Markets
COVID has inspired business decision-makers to think differently about their willingness to partner with companies virtually, and it has increased sales rep confidence in doing so. Where a Zoom call with a prospect used to be unusual; it’s now the norm. Where never meeting a prospect in person before a big deal wasn’t common; it’s now the way we do business. Before your team returns to its old ways, rethink your sales growth plans, expand your market, and lower your cost to acquire a new customer notably along the way by leveraging virtual sales techniques, long term.
5) Increased Social Investment
Social-media marketing has been a part of the marketing mix for most brands for years, but pre-COVID there was still a mindset that it’s generally just a vehicle for creating awareness and engaging with consumers. But now, up to 51% of U.S. adults have increased their social-media time investment since COVID, according to a recent Harris Poll. With this increased time commitment comes a 20% increase in consumer purchasing via social platforms, according to Business Insider, and advertisers are paying attention — to the tune of a 56% increase in social-media spend in the third quarter versus the three months prior.
6) Crisis Preparedness
Sales and marketing teams across the globe learned they can pivot far faster than they once thought. Now that you know what an optimum protocol looks like when faced with a crisis, document it. Formalize a task force of the most forward-thinking change-agents within your organization who demonstrated strong leadership traits during the crisis. Bring them together, formally, once a quarter to look out on the horizon — a quarter, a year, five years — to what crises could have the greatest impact on company performance. Identify the most effective strategies for retaining and growing revenue through those crises, as well as the trigger points that tell you it’s time to begin deploying those strategies. And if you’d like a hand facilitating these discussions, we’d be delighted to help.
7) Heightened Importance on Brand Purpose
In addition to a global pandemic and resulting recession, 2020 also brought the most significant movement to abolish racial injustice since the 60s — a movement that has heightened consumer desire to know what a brand stands for.
In a recent report by Edelman, over 70% of respondents expected brands to take some kind of action in support of racial injustice. This is not the time to remain on the sidelines. Be courageous in telling your customers what your brand stands for, and do it often.
8) Enhanced Test-and-Pivot Capabilities
In times of dramatic and rapid change, there often isn’t time to fully vet a new campaign or messaging strategy. Instead, your only choice is to throw something against the wall for reaction or risk missing an opportunity. That’s certainly been the case through the pandemic. Brands are gaining confidence in deploying a variety of small-scale tests in quick succession and then pivoting with great speed based on the results.
If you’ve read Great by Choice by Jim Collins, this is his “bullets then cannonballs” approach to innovation.
What’s fascinating about using this approach for vetting digital marketing campaigns is that you can test dozens, even hundreds of variables at the same time through large-scale split-testing — like a real-time, rapid-fire focus group to the masses.
To embrace this approach to marketing, get comfortable with failure and see it for the gift that it is. Just fail fast and adapt as you go.
9) Rapid-Fire Decision Making
The brands that are thriving despite the pandemic generally share a common trait: quick speed of decision making. Those that have been idle, taking a wait-and-see approach through the pandemic, are being left behind. Quick decision making doesn’t mean perfect decision making, but it’s accepting that in times of change the best decision is simply to make one.
10) Deep Customer Profiling
When the shutdowns first began, salespeople in the B2B space were in agony. They couldn’t reach their customers and prospects and without them, they don’t eat. Only the brands that knew their customers WELL had any hope of breaking through all of the chaos and making contact. After all, taking sales calls was not a top priority for most executives during the early days of the pandemic. But returning the calls of trusted partners who knew them, were concerned about their well-being, and were offering to help in ways that were uniquely relevant to them made the top of the list. The pandemic showed the C-Suite whether or not their sales teams had those kinds of relationships and deep customer knowledge.
On the marketing front, nearly every marketing message a brand had ever developed had to be scrapped in the short term lest the brand would seem out-of-touch. Rapidly crafted new messaging had no hope of breaking through unless those brand marketers knew their customers inside and out — their demographics and psychographics. What’s important to them? What do they value in times of crisis? What are their life priorities? How do they communicate in times of stress? Brands with well researched and documented ideal customer profiles were able to break through. Those with a largely speculative view of what makes their customers tick struggled greatly and likely lost trust and loyalty points.
If you could use an objective pack of sales and marketing strategists to collaborate with you on an aggressive return-to-market plan or to better optimize the plan you’re already executing, we’d be delighted to speak with you.
We are all in this together. RedRover is deeply committed to businesses fighting their way through the current health and economic crisis. Knowing what to do next can be difficult, especially when you are so close to your business, and we stand ready to help.