With the COVID-19 crisis forcing many marketers to throw their plans out the window, many are now adjusting to the new normal. Speaking with B&T, Campaign Monitor VP of commerce product strategy Adii Pienaar shared some of his tips for surviving these turbulent times.
B&T: What are some lessons from the GFC marketers can apply to the current scenario?
Adii Pienaar: The very first thing marketers should do is take a step back to review (and update) their understanding of their own customer personas, characteristics and why those customers are purchasing specific products from their brand. During economic downturns, customer and buyer psychology changes depending on both individual considerations (i.e. the amount of disposable income available or just stress levels), as well as the type of product that you sell (somewhere on the spectrum from absolutely essential to most-definitely-a-luxury). Any marketing initiative that is then undertaken should happen within this framework and understanding.
With that in hand, there’s two actions that marketers should subsequently take:
1. Switch marketing initiatives to longer-term messaging. Focus on building a brand that nurtures relationships with existing customers and effectively creates the space until individual customers feel ready to purchase again. Tactically this means switching messaging from being salesy and urgent to more conversational, engaging and personal. Think about this as a 1:1 conversation with every customer.
2. Apply great restraint when it comes to investing in marketing initiatives. What helps is cutting costs (actual cash that leaves your bank account) in favour of being more scrappy about the kind of marketing you’re doing and can handle internally (guerilla marketing tactics may help with this). The other part of this is to be very disciplined about ROI and only taking on initiatives that will is highly likely to return a positive ROI in the shorter-term.
B&T: How can data and analytics be used to help businesses that may be struggling at the moment?
AP: In the last couple of weeks, I have often heard the phrase “never waste a good crisis” being thrown around (in meetings about how businesses should navigate this pandemic) and it initially didn’t sit well with me considering that real humans were suffering. It eventually resonated with me when I realised that in times of hardship, we often have the greatest opportunity for introspection.
The global environment is way beyond an individual business’ control and there’s little that one can do to change market conditions. What one can so however is take that internal perspective and change the things over which we do have control.
As a starting point, businesses can dig deep into their all of their financial data to determine which parts of their business is not contributing as it should and then either eliminate those costs completely or make necessary changes to move them to a positive ROI. Beyond that, one could also do a deep dive with customer and product data to make informed decisions about updating or refining one’s product catalogue.
B&T: What are some of the first expenses you should be thinking about getting rid of? On the flip side, what are some expenses you should be holding onto for as long as possible?
AP: Right now, you have more control over your expenses than you have over revenue. If you were able to reduce your expenses, you improve your cash position and increase the likelihood that your business can outlast this pandemic.
As our businesses grow, we all incur a few luxury expenses or indulgences that make our work more fun. But in tough economic times, these are the first expenses to cull. We also recommend completing a full audit of online subscriptions and apps.
Your employees and staff are likely the biggest cost center in your business. Some ways to address this include pay cuts, possible short term layoffs or temporarily outsourcing employees to businesses that are thriving.
Review your inventory levels and reduce the amount of cash you have tied up in inventory. It’s important, however, that you don’t merely try to cut half of your inventory in one go, because that may harm your business.
Additional ways to boost cash can include becoming an affiliate, trying to get all receivables paid, (Re)Negotiate payment terms with your creditors or supplier and possibly negotiating with your landlord and financiers.
B&T: How important is it to continue marketing at this time?
AP: Your business—and thus your marketing, communication, and customer interaction—does not need to come to a complete standstill. And while it’s true
that the business environment has changed and continues to change, this simply means it’s critical how you put yourself, your business, and your brand out there.
The best way to achieve greater levels of empathy is to change your communication from sales-driven to people-driven.
That means toning down communication or campaigns that are too salesy, pushy, or overly aggressive in your brand marketing. We also highly encourage businesses to not leverage the situation in which we all find ourselves at risk of profiteering. The biggest risk here is coming across as insensitive, which might irreparably harm your business.
It is also okay to be honest about any serious financial trouble in which you may find yourself right now and using that to connect to your customers or audience for support. The key here is to be authentic and truthful—and not to abuse this trust. It only takes a single miss-step here for your customers to feel abused, resulting in them ignoring further requests for help.
B&T: Where can email marketing fit into this? Is it an effective channel at this time?
AP: One big positive in times like these is the value of your email marketing and the fact that you own your mailing list. Time and time again, email marketing proves to be one of the most cost-efficient marketing activities that businesses can undertake. Email is the channel to consistently reach your audience.
The very first thing you should do is a full review and audit of your existing email marketing automations. In reviewing your emails, update and adjust your voice, tone, and selling according to the current. It’s more imperative today than ever before that you meet your audience where they are at.
As the COVID-19 outbreak has shown, it’s crucial to communicate to your customers what actions you’re taking and how those things may affect them.
These assurances should, however, go beyond pandemics or temporary, extraordinary events. Giving your customers assurances that you have their best interests in mind will increase the likelihood that they’ll still purchase from you.
One of the best things you can do with your emails right now is to be more personal than you have ever been. The key is to be lighthearted and positive without being insensitive. You want to be the silver lining in your subscribers’ inboxes whenever you send them an email.
Sales-heavy campaigns are unlikely to deliver the same results at the moment as they would’ve in the past. Flash sales, deep-discounts, and promotions just don’t feel as good at a time when your customers are probably experiencing real scarcity and urgency for necessary goods.
Using great segmentation in your email marketing is one of the best ways to better personalize your emails, which means finding your customers where they are right now. Making decisions based on your customers’ past behaviors and adjusting your email marketing to trigger and adapt accordingly will improve your ROI from email marketing.
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