There is little argument that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is wreaking havoc on business and industry across the globe. Many companies have temporarily halted production or have changed over to producing medical supplies. Others - many “essential businesses” - are experiencing exponential growth in demand and struggle to keep up. The rest of us are working to operate as normally as we can.
Leading in a Crisis
Depending on the available working capital, companies are deciding how to scale back expenses or reallocate budget to weather the economic storm. These decisions are being made in an effort to preserve resources and - where possible - to retain employees. Fellow business owners I’ve spoken to all agree, we’re in a recession. The move to preserve resources is smart and natural.
Given our current crisis, there are a host of reasons for your business to evaluate all areas of spend, including digital marketing. These reasons, while many, all represent uncertainty about the future.
Shifting Your Mindset From Surviving to Thriving
Leadership begins with leading one’s self and strategic thinking helps you see beyond today. It’s helpful - and possible - to anchor your decisions in a strategic perspective rather than gut or fear even during a crisis by understanding the level of uncertainty and revising your plan and lead effectively during a crisis. Even simply understanding the level of uncertainty can help ground and give a framework for decision-making.
It’s also helpful to remember that money doesn’t disappear, it moves. Your business - and your marketing - needs to move with it.
Those that can successfully navigate uncertain waters will come out on top when the current crisis is over. You can be one of those business leaders. To do so, you’ll need to shift your mindset from surviving to thriving. I know it might feel like a leap, but stay with me.
This is a time of change. I’m asking you to entertain the following for ideas. What might you create that can help your customers or a lot of other people during the downturn? How might you create the possibility of gaining market share, gobbling up customers from competitors or hiring the best employees from competitors? What might need to change in your business and your marketing to support this shift?
Pivot Your Online Marketing
Lost sales, reduction of cash flow and less working capital can force business leaders to make some quick and tough decisions about cost-cutting. When making the decision about what to trim from expenses, there are a few line items that immediately come to mind because they are variable costs that can be easily adjusted. Marketing is one of these expenses that should give you pause and consider how you might pivot. And given our current remote working situation, Internet marketing is even more critical to your marketing than before.
Segment Your Customers
Remember what I mentioned about “money moves”? Your first step is to think about where money is moving to so you can get ahead of it.
Begin by understanding which businesses are essential. Then, segment the sectors of your industry into three (3) groups - winners, losers and by-standers. Unfortunately, losers will take the biggest hit. It can’t be helped. Whereas, winners will thrive in this environment. By-standers will experience some ups and downs but will overall be unaffected. Incorporate this into your strategic planning. Then, meet with your digital marketing team to ensure that your digital marketing plan includes these segments.
Understand Historical Industry Trends
Google Trends is a great tool you can use to explore search volume in your top business categories and search terms over the past twelve months. Use this to understand historical growth and decline in demand.
Here’s an example.
We entered a top category for one of our clients who do business on a global scale. We set the date parameters to cover the past two years. From the graph in Google Trends, we can tell that April 2018 and April 2019 naturally experiences a dip in search volume, but it picks back up in May, June, and August.
Using this information, you’ll know what trends to watch for changes. You may also be able to make an informed strategic plan given this information and using your grounded approach to decision-making in a time of uncertainty.
In this example, our client would likely miss out on leads in the coming months if they suddenly stopped marketing. Although the number of leads may not be as high as previous years, they will still generate a stream of revenue during the pandemic.
Consider Competition & Competitive Advantage
During a time of crisis, it’s not uncommon for some companies to fall out of the competition. Do you believe some of your competitors will stop marketing? At the risk of sounding opportunistic, this can give you an advantage. This is why some companies doubled down on marketing during the last recession. In a down economy, businesses that market successfully gain competitive advantage.
Analyze Traffic Trends, Test & Be Agile
Successful digital marketing campaigns are built on data. Nothing about this has changed - except maybe the data.
You may see search volume may increase, decrease due to shift in demand for products and services. Or, you may see it remain constant. You’ll need to check and see.
Have your marketing team check tools like Google Search Console and paid advertising platforms for shifts in search impressions, click-throughs and cost-per-click (CPC) to help you quickly observe changes in demand.
You may want to shift your search marketing strategy while repositioning your business. We’re seeing clients make gains in search rankings even as search volume shifts. If you’re heavily invested in SEO and organic traffic for your industry is showing a large downward trend, ask your digital marketing team to help you explore options in display ads, Adwords, PR, social media, or virtual events.
Our approach to keyword testing remains unchanged; feel free to borrow it. Using paid advertising for keyword testing, we know which phrases drive business and can test new phrases for clients as needed. Using this information, search marketing is focused on revenue-generating phrases. Testing phrases for SEO is more important than ever due to the need to avoid opportunity costs during a recession.
Don’t Forget About Existing Customers
Successful companies don’t consider marketing optional. Marketing is an essential cost of doing business. It’s not only about acquiring new customers; marketing also helps to retain existing customers. Ask yourself, “How can we continue to help existing customers?”.
Modify Your Messaging
One of the most common questions is how to message during a crisis. It’s not a time for “buy now” or “pandemic fire sale” messaging. However, a crisis doesn’t mean you can’t launch new products or have sales. Your messaging just needs to be thoughtful given the current situation.
You can also see lift by changing your messaging to reflect concerns about - and reassure buyers of - inventory levels and delivery dates.
While you’re at it, have your team make sure all the messaging is valid. For instance, if you’ve discontinued focusing on a segment or offering a product, make sure the appropriate changes are in place.
Riding the Wave of Uncertainty
The economy has changed but it is not closed for business. There will be no “return to normality” but there is an economic recovery in the future. You don’t have to wait for the recovery. Your challenge as a leader is to discover how to thrive in the current market conditions.
Marketing isn’t optional; it’s an operational necessity. This isn’t a time for status quo or drastic cuts. Be a strategic and grounded marketing leader for your business and you’ll find new opportunities. Talk to your marketing team - or reach out to us - as you’re exploring your options. We’re here to help.
Diona is a managing partner at Knowmad. Her areas of expertise include digital marketing strategy, project management, brand management, search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising, inbound marketing, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, social media marketing and website design.