The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest single market disruption that the global economy has seen in decades. Even in a more localised or sector-based context, events such as the recession at the end of the 80s, the oil crisis of the 70s, and the 2008 financial crisis impacted fewer areas of the economy and more slowly than the current COVID19 outbreak. The great depression of the 1920s and the impact of the two World Wars are looking like the benchmarks for the economic disruption that could be witnessed.
But in all of the 24 hours news and social media cycle of doom, business people need to keep their heads, create a plan and work their way out of the situation that they find themselves in.
Can I Pivot my Marketing Messages?
For some of the hardest hit it is particularly difficult time. Airlines, hotels, bars and restaurants are all facing catastrophic market impact. Some restaurants are trying to re-invent themselves by providing take-away food and even contactless delivery.
However, the majority of the economy is not being hit as hard as these sectors and it is here that pivoting your marketing messages can make a real difference to how your business copes with the difficult times ahead.
If you can still provide your offering, and you still have market access, and supply of the product / service for your customers then you should review your messages.
How do I pivot my marketing messages?
First look at the problem your product or service solves and the needs that this creates.
- Has the problem that your product solves changed?
- Do we solve a problem that didn’t exist or was not significant before?
- Are there new reasons for people to buy your product?
- Have some of the old problems / needs we addressed now gone?
- Has the new environment created an urgent need?
- Can we apply what we provide in a different way to allow it to address a different need?
You need to understand what is the problem or need that you are addressing is because this should form the core of your marketing message. You need to acknowledge to your potential customer that you understand her / his problem and then provide information to help them understand how what you can will solve the problem. Don't know straight in and bombard them with features and benefits - they don't want to buy a list of features they want to buy resolution of the issue that they have.
How have your ideal customer personas changed?
You should have already had your ideal customer personas documented as part of your base marketing strategy. You may need to draw up new customer personas in response to you thinking about needs that are fulfilled and problems that are solved by what you do.
- How have these personas changed?
- Are they still relevant in the new reality?
The personas are important in the formulation of the message as how they view a problem will be different based on their perspective. Do you need to talk in strategic ways to address a CEO or Managing Director? Or do you need to talk in terms of practical, getting things done and delivering results, like you might to a Regional Sales or Operations Manager?
What messages will now resonate?
Based on the target audience and their problems, you now need to think about the messages that will resonate with them. Take it back to basics and work back from the needs / problems and the people you are addressing – don’t look at what you currently have and try and change it. It’s blank sheet of paper time.
Your new messaging might now be about the fact that your solution works for people that are widely distributed (e.g. working from home). This might not have been a priority in the decisions to buy your product / service before, but this is why revising your messaging is so important.
There could also be a competitive advantage exposed as something that is important to buyers now your rivals don't have. You might be looking to get people to switch to you rather than simply going after greenfield sales.
Your messages might also be about timing – can you provide what you do fast which might now be a priority over cheap, for example. Timing may also be about long-term as well as short-term – so invest with us now and you will get benefits over a longer period. Or it may be about the timing of things; economies go through cycles of up and down typically these are every 11 years.
Spending with you now in the downturn could be timed to give advantage in the upswing. Within marketing the big brand players know, and the empirical data supports this, that if you invest now in the downturn you get a disproportionate return on investment on your marketing spend as the cycle moves to upwards. (We have more about this in our blog about better marketing in a downturn) The clever operators, and those with pockets deep enough to see them through tough times, will know this and will be investing. It's like a six-point relegation match in football - If your competitors cut marketing and you don't its like getting twice the benefit. Doubling-down on marketing with doubling your spend. For your market space, are there targets that have cash reserves now which you can approach for new business? This takes us to how we are going to actually get your new pivoted messages out to the right audience in the right way.
Delivering your Pivoted Marketing Messages to the Right Audience
So, if you are reading this having cancelled a swathe of in-person events, from exhibitions and conferences to masterclasses and dinner gatherings, you know that how you were going to communicate with your audience has gone right out of the window.
Even those who were mostly or entirely focused on digital marketing as a way to reach their audience need to review the delivery of messages as not only have they changed but the audience has changed. If the need has changed and your personas are now different, where they spend time and attention is different.
Shift from offline to online messaging
Rather than reabsorb in-person event budgets back into the central reserves, these should be redirected to online marketing activities. Other offline advertising, such as billboards, should be seriously reconsidered as the pictures of deserted streets in many cities show that people are not out and about even when there is no enforced lockdown. Fewer people in the streets means those messages are being seen by even fewer people, and those that are might not have their minds open to marketing messages anyway!
Online messaging will allow you to engage with your audience where they are. The data from China shows that, in the areas quarantined, online usage increased by more than 20% between January and February. They don’t have as great a proportion of knowledge workers, many of which will be in the B2B space. Vodafone were reporting a 50% increase in Internet usage on their systems in the first week of the lockdown in mainland Europe. People are off the streets and online! We should be expecting online usage in the UK, Europe and North America to climb even higher than this. So, go where your audience is and go online!
The specifics of selecting your digital channels needs to be thought about. Depending on your proposition and the audience you need to balance where you want to be seen. The short-term fix of pay per click search can be good, but only if you think you can get the buyers to move forward right now. Depending on the selling cycle you may be better to blend paid with organic search investment. While the latter takes longer (mostly) there could be quick wins immediately that can generate traffic (especially if you are exploiting a new need/reason to buy) and you get on-going value from organic search. Paid search is an expense. SEO is an investment.
Be careful of the big shiny social bubbles
Some might encourage you to invest a lot of time / money / effort into social media channels. Treat this advice carefully. Remember the core proposition of social media is to help people waste their own time. Are they in the mindset for your product? I find it surprising that B2B companies get lured into platforms like Facebook simply because of audience numbers. They don’t think of the context as to why people are there. Imagine you are in a bar chatting to some friends and then someone comes up to you and starts trying to sell you a business IT system. You are not going to be very receptive to what is being said are you? You are there to relax and get away from things, not be told why this IT system is so much better than another. People are on social media, now more than ever, to substitute from in person social interactions like being in a pub.
Just because an audience is there doesn’t mean it’s a good time for you to engage with it. This is even more relevant in the current times when people will be looking for information and engagement about what is going on in the world. Blundering in with sales messages are likely to get ignored at best and offend people and damage your brand at worst.
Think of where your audience would benefit from seeing your messages and be receptive to them. It might be some social media platforms, but be selective. And one final word on social media – check the real conversion benefit of the platform. We see platforms trying to take credit for conversion from people that may have simply been on a page when an ad was shown to them but not interacted with it at all. Google Display Network calls these ‘view through conversions’. Other platforms don't acknowledge the weakness in assigning conversions in this way. Did they really help get that conversion? Be sceptical and validate your data, the platform is always going to present the best view of their value.
Message delivery through helping
Your evolved message(s) may be best delivered through helping people in the form of great content. Go back to the problem that you are solving now. The need that you are fulfilling. Write about this. If you are confident in your offering, write about the alternatives to your offering that might also try and solve the problem. Write about things peripheral to the problem. Write about the granular detail of solving their problem. Bring everything back to be helping your potential customers, not selling to them. If you help them in the right ways they will want to buy from you.
Bringing the Work Together
So, you have carefully thought about your product / service, re-examined the needs it can fulfil or the problem it could solve in the light of the highly disrupted market. You understand your target personas, even though these have evolved from the previous ones you had documented. You have then crafted the messages around the needs and problems that will resonate with the audience and how you will help them. You have decided to use a number of digital channels to get these messages in front of your audience, not only where they are but when they will be receptive. Now what do you do? You measure and you analyse, and you continue to evolve.
Measurement and analysis are essential to success and they are two different things. You need to have accurate data, but you also need to know what to measure and how. Once you have the measurements which produces data you need to analyse it to find the insights. Skills and brain power need to be applied to understand what is working and what is not. Remember, you may not be able to convert straight away so measuring engagement, as well as MQLs and SQLs, when examining the performance of different channels is important. You also need sufficient data to give you statistical assurance as to the performance of different channels. It’s not enough to let it run for a day and then move budgets around based on a small amount of data.
In times of great change, doing nothing when things are failing is not an acceptable strategy. While pivoting your message and feeling like you are unpicking what could be years of getting you to where you are, if your results are failing in the face of a massive market shift you have no choice. Business is not a place for the indecisive or weak at these times. Be bold and, if you need help, reach out to your team, the people on the ground or experts to help guide you through these turbulent times as successfully as possible. Remember, in times like these your actions now could define the survival of your business or rest of your career.
Contact Innovation Visual
If your business needs strategic help during these challenging times, we are happy to chat things through with you to help at no cost. You may or may not want to take that conversation forward but we want to use our skills to help as many businesses as we can at this time.