Dept's Melissa Flowerdew-Clarke shares her insight into the impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on marketing budgets.
You’ve cut your budget, paused most of your marketing activities, you are operating with a reduced team, where do you go from here?
Each business will have its own unique scenario, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The changes that you have made, were they a ‘panic pause’ to mitigate immediate cash flow risk, or a long term cull? Have you made the marketing team furloughed, or redundant? Is the marketing budget paused, or cancelled?
Be really pragmatic as you review your marketing strategy; look at the next three months only. There’s not point looking much beyond that because, as recent history has shown, things can change very quickly. You must be prepared to be flexible with your plan.
Take an honest look at what you can afford to invest in marketing (to be honest, ‘zero’ might not cut it), and what skills you have retained. For example, there’s no point plunging what budget you do have into paid search, if you don’t have the skills to optimise and drive and ROI; you’ll just bleed cash.
Review your tech stack. If you’ve invested in a marketing or customer experience platform and don’t think you’re maximising the benefits of it, why not? Is it because of training, integration, ownership? Look to see if you can make your tech work harder for you before you scrap it.
Bear in mind that what worked before, may not work now. For example, you may have reached a new audience over the past six weeks with a different buying journey. Or you may have lost clients that you’ll want to win back. Both will have different approaches.
Q>What are the best marketing channels to focus on right now?
Marketing budgets in the UK have declined at the fastest rate since the 2008 crisis, which proves that we’ve all just ‘held our breath’. As we also learnt from 2008, those companies who invested more in marketing during the recession, increased sales and market share during and afterwards.
It’s worth remembering that overall interest has not diminished. People will still want a new car, house insurance, plumbing materials, lawyers. So, if you’re avoiding contact with your target group right now because you’re not operating, you may be ignored as soon as transactions pick up again. Focusing on top of funnel activity can help to prepare for future launches and provide a needed boost when we start transitioning back to normal.
If budget is on hold, look at maximising your organic channels: social media; SEO; content. Email is also performing well at the moment; there’s been a 20% increase in open rates for retail emails in April vs. March, showing that consumers are receptive to receiving information.
Q>If there was one opportunity for marketers you would like to highlight at this time, what would that be?
A colleague, Diana Erskine, said something recently that really resonated with me. We have a unique opportunity at the moment to be transformative. To think creatively and gain rapid traction on an idea.
There’s a lot less red tape at the moment, as companies recognise the need to move quickly with a ‘let’s try it’ attitude. As Diana said, “at worst, your idea will make no difference. At best, it could revolutionise your business.”
This is also a defining time for the role of marketing. Towards the back-end of last year, McDonalds, Coca Cola and Johnson & Johnson all scrapped the CMO role, which I think is an indication that the role isn’t what it should be.
Marketing leaders should be the glue across the entire business. On the frontline, truly understanding customers and feeding this intel into product development, operations, IT, pricing and more. All against the backdrop of being acutely aware of the financial targets of the business. Without this holistic view, how can you ever deliver a strategy to drive success and growth?
Q>Are there any particularities you want to highlight for B2B?
‘B2B’ is a broad term; some B2B industries have been relatively unaffected, while others have been hugely impacted. Take B2B manufacturers; if you’re reliant on resellers who aren’t able to operate at the moment, you’re stuck. Think about how you can help to support your distribution network right now to help keep your products top of mind with the end consumer. For example, can you launch ‘virtual experiences’ of your products? Or maybe you can fast track any direct-to-consumer (D2C) plans that you had on the backburner. Can you spin up a new brand? Or start selling on marketplaces, like Amazon?
Look at how you can use technology better. If your call centre is impacted and your field sales staff are unable to conduct business how they usually would, think about utilising live chat, AI chatbots and automation. These are not as complicated or costly to install as you may think.
Finally, if you can’t operate right now, become a knowledge centre for your field of expertise. If you can’t sell, educate.
Q>Let’s say in four weeks time the lockdown is lifted and businesses can back to some form of normal, how do we approach this turning point from a marketing perspective, do we just press a button and switch everything back on?
Prioritise. For me, I’d see customer retention as a key priority. If you have lost clients, how can you win them back? First step is to analyse your data (which is hopefully all stored in your CRM or a snazzy dashboard), and understand what it’s telling you as, right now, account based marketing can be your new field sales. Use the data to understand your customers and prospects, and reach out to them with relevant, personalised information. On a simple level, just demonstrate that you understand their challenges and that you can solve them (without cliches and buzzwords – we’re all sick of them); it’s not rocket science.
Whatever you do, be very clear on what the expected results are. Now isn’t the time for vanity projects. I always believe that if you can’t articulate the point in doing something, then there’s no point in doing it.