As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt even the best-laid marketing plans, learn some smart strategies for planning and succeeding with your marketing even as everything remains in flux.
In the recent weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic, marketers around the globe have had to come to terms with the fact that their carefully laid marketing plans can’t stand up to the new normal of social distancing, remote working and economic disruption.
Maybe it was a marketing plan that relied heavily upon generating leads at in-person tradeshows, which are all cancelled for the foreseeable future. Or perhaps it was a plan that called for a clever direct mailing to members of a B2B audience, who are now working from their homes instead of offices. Or perhaps you are a marketer for a retail or hospitality business with physical locations, and nearly everything has changed. No matter the specifics, as marketers, we have all had to pivot our plans to suit the current climate.
But how do you alter your marketing plans effectively when business conditions are in a constant state of flux as the pandemic evolves? How do you balance the near-term with long-term goals? Here are some of our top tips:
Re-examine your budget. Financial forecasts and budgets are one of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended for businesses. With the economic fallout that has accompanied the virus, many organizations around the world have reduced non-essential spending and re-examined budgets. That means marketers will have to do the same. Before moving forward with any new plans, be sure that you know how you will pay for it and if you have the budget to do so. And avoid making assumptions. For example, if a big tradeshow has been canceled, those funds might end up going back to the company’s overall operating budget rather than staying with marketing.
- Re-evaluate your organization’s goals. Successful marketers align their actions with their organization’s business goals. Much like budgets today, it’s safe to say that these goals may have changed. Be sure that your team understands exactly how business goals may have changed before deciding upon any new short- or long-term plans. As an example, some businesses may focus more heavily on customer retention than acquisition during these changing times. Or perhaps your organization will focus more heavily on selling certain products and services that better suit the times than others. Once you know these goals, you can put a marketing plan in place to support them.
- Document how audience behaviors have changed. For many of us, life looks very different today than it did just a short time ago. This means that the ways businesses once marketed to their audiences may no longer be applicable or effective. For example, if your business once relied on targeting a commuter audience with billboards, radio advertisements or transit station advertising, a significant decline in commuters means a change a strategy is in order. Review your marketing personas and document how their behaviors might have changed in light of the pandemic. Also, determine if your target audience has changed. Consider the possibility that while a segment of your audience may no longer need your products or services, another new audience may have emerged. Teleconferencing software is a great example. While schools rarely had a need for it pre-pandemic, the technology is now a valuable educational tool for teachers and students around the world.
- Determine how you can help. We only need to look to the frontline healthcare workers in this crisis to see some inspiring examples of businesses stepping up to be helpful. Shoe manufacturers started making medical masks, athletic apparel companies pivoted to make personal protective equipment and a picture framing company began manufacturing face shields – all to help keep medical workers safe. While your organization’s products or services may not suit helping in the same ways, there are still plenty of ways to use your marketing to lend a hand. Brainstorm to determine what your audience really needs right now and how you can help ease their burdens.
- Embrace digital everything. Digital marketing today is essential. Yet research shows that marketing technology (MarTech) is often not used to its full potential, with marketers using only a small percentage of the features available to them. Now is the time to change that. Dig into your marketing technology and consider how you could utilize currently unused features. If your organization is only using the email marketing tool in a marketing automation solution, for example, create a strategy for expanding that usage. Perhaps start by creating automated nurture campaigns or by sending your customers a survey to inquire about their current needs.
- Be prepared to pivot. Much like the original marketing plan you made for this year, the interim planning that we have discussed here is likely to change too. As we have seen already during this crisis, customer concerns and the business climate are evolving. Marketers need to be prepared to do the same. Try not to be too forward-looking in your planning or in your communications with customers. Do show that you have solutions and answers for your customers questions, even if they only address the short-term. For marketers, as we navigate this crisis, the foreseeable future when it comes to planning will be driven by agility and emphasizing short-term spurts of planning as we look to return to a more long-term view.