Sometime between March 1st and March 97th, marketers lost their playbooks. With rising concerns of a global pandemic and in-person business interactions coming to a screeching halt, people and organizations alike are facing unprecedented challenges both today and looking into the future.
Working with 100+ B2B marketers on a daily basis, we wanted to gather information on what we’re seeing in the marketplace, in addition to providing our best advice on how to keep moving, even if you’re feeling stuck in time.
On April 2, we hosted an online “CMO Connect” event with 60+ marketers to discuss the changes to messaging and channels that’s needed to adjust to these newfound challenges. You can listen to the full recording of our session here, or read on for a synopsis of the conversation.
The evolving role of the marketer
Let’s first take a look at the roles and responsibilities of senior-level marketers, and how new challenges and business demands are reshaping this essential function.
In 2017, HBR released an article titled The Trouble with CMOs, which uncovered longitudinal research on the three archetypes of the CMO role:
- Commercialization role: Supports sales via advertising, digital content, social, events, etc.
- Strategy role: Includes customer insight and analysis, product design and feedback
- Enterprise-wide P&L role: In addition to combining the other two roles, it includes responsibility for innovation, sales, distribution and pricing
As marketers, we’re accustomed to operating under temporary clouds of uncertainty. When a crisis arises, such as an impeachment trial or an airplane crash, you take stock of the situation, adjust levers as necessary and it’s back to business as usual within a few days. Where we’re at today is very different — it’s sustained uncertainty. And if you’re stuck in a commercialization role, you’re likely struggling to adapt.
Instead, we should all be trying to embrace the enterprise-wide P&L role, and, at the very least, be looking for constant opportunities to bridge data and knowledge gaps in our organizations. These are the times to be asking the hard questions like: “Do we need to fundamentally adjust a core offering or add an ancillary product to survive?” Maybe you need to target a new customer segment altogether. Now is the time to break out of the mold of a traditional tactical role and into a more strategic position, and to do so, you need to bring the right data to the table to help facilitate those discussions.
Adapting programs and messaging to build relationships, not chase ambulances
For many marketers who are focused on bottom-line revenue growth or are accustomed to a harder sell, messaging and tone used just weeks ago likely doesn’t resonate today, nor will it for the foreseeable future. Below are some steps you can take to make sure that you’re continuing to build the right kinds of relationships. Remember, while they may not become customers today, the people you’re reaching out to in meaningful, authentic ways will think of you when they have a need down the line.
1. Stay close to your customers: both current and potential
With both customers and prospects alike, your audiences’ needs have changed significantly in the last few weeks, and so too should your expectations and scope for how they engage with your offering. Your primary focus should be to help them navigate and excel at their jobs during the current situation, and nothing more.
However, consider that the roles your audiences held two weeks ago may look very different today. With a new landscape to navigate, it’s likely that they are taking on new responsibilities that they need support in understanding. To stay close and be as helpful as possible, you want to get into the mind of your customer, and there are two ways in which you can do so: 1) build your own assessment and 2) just ask them, and keep asking.
As a professional services company, holding meaningful conversations with each of our clients about changes in their business and how we can best support them is pretty standard practice. If you have a SaaS offering or other technology solution, you can take a similar approach. Identify customers you can profile and break down your best assessment of their new pain points based on how their industry is impacted by the current climate. Determine how you think you can best help fulfill their needs now. And then ask them. Have real conversations that ask how their business has evolved and what new challenges they’re facing. You may be surprised to find that they’re willing to share more now than they usually would. This is a great opportunity to deepen relationships with your customers and get intel on new challenges future customers may also be facing.
As business needs continue to evolve, keep checking in on your customers on a consistent basis, but in an empathetic, not salesy, manner.
2. Focus on your messages’ tone, audience and cadence
Week over week, new information and changing norms are driving new emotions and decisions at a faster pace than we’ve seen before. With that, it’s important that your messages are more timely, agile and fluid than ever.
First and foremost, aim to add value. If you’re just creating content because that’s what you’ve always done or you feel like you should, then stop. Take a real look at what is needed. Be selective in your messaging, and most importantly, be authentic.
Work with your teams (sales teams, client success teams and, of course, your marketers) to constantly align on the tone of your messages, and recognize that messaging has to be more agile than normal. Marketers are experts on developing messaging that stands the test of time, but in the current situation, messaging could (and potentially should) change on a weekly basis. Just as importantly, your team needs to be kept up to date on these changes. Multiple touch points throughout the week can help to ensure external messages are aligned and tone remains appropriate with the current climate.
Also consider what messages on emails, ads or other digitally-promoted campaigns need a tone adjustment, or to be paused altogether. Conduct a full audit to make sure your messaging is still relevant to the market and performing well. With our clients, we’re seeing that messaging focused on adaptation and innovation is performing particularly well. Focus on messaging that can help people navigate and scale in this environment, then A/B test to see what’s resonating with different audiences, and shift your programs based on the results.
Don’t forget about your website, too. Does your homepage messaging or imagery need to be refined? Photos of happy people traveling or interacting in large groups may not align with the message your audience needs to hear. Keep in mind that your responsibility right now is to help your audience, and any message or visual that isn’t in alignment with that goal could be construed as tone deaf.
Every industry has been impacted to a varying degree. Consider which industries in your network have been hit the hardest and tailor your messaging to them in a way that shows your empathy and consideration of their unique needs. While you’ll want to take this approach with each of your industries, be sure to spend significant time understanding those that have been impacted the hardest. Sometimes a simple “we’re thinking of you” can go a long way.
Similarly, your audiences will have a wide range of needs and ways in which those needs apply to your solutions. Some industries may really need what you sell right now, providing you with opportunities to build new, lasting relationships. Identify what those industries are for your business and shift budgets and efforts accordingly.
And more than ever, stay in touch with your sales team. Just like you’re working with them to align on messaging, it’s likely that they also have insights on how those messages are resonating, or other information points from their dialogues that you can use to better speak to your audiences in a meaningful way.
Relevance and value is key to knowing how much is too much. Email has always been a favorite channel of marketers, but now, with everyone resorting to online collaboration platforms, it has become even more inundated with outreach from far and wide. Go back to your messaging – if you have something valuable to add, you may be able to maintain or increase your current cadence of things like emails and social media posts, but if you don’t, consider dialing back until you truly have something to add to the conversation.
Budgets are always the first thing under pressure in times of uncertainty. However, these unique circumstances of limited human interaction are changing budgets that traditionally focus on in-person events and conferences and opening up potential to pivot that spend to reach online audiences. It’s essential that you know how to adapt your strategies along these shifts.
1. Know where to pause, hold steady or accelerate
While there may be some marketing efforts you want to pause entirely, such as making a major company announcement, we see many senior marketers shifting budgets toward SEO and other content programs for a few reasons. The first is that now, more than ever, your audience is online. And whether they’re looking for your solutions today or not, your owned content channels on your website and blog are areas where your content can be discovered long term. Taking time now to focus on creating helpful, valuable content not only helps to facilitate conversations today, but will be around long after we’re back to “business as usual”.
Content is also the quickest way to address new pain points for existing and new audiences. Even if your product or offering isn’t directly related to the crisis, think about what content you can produce that would be helpful. If you’re able to speak to solutions around team collaboration, visibility, workforce management or supply chain, to name a few, you have a great opportunity to educate your market while being a resource for your audience.
Smart marketers are also using this time to think ahead to what their audiences will need when the world returns to a more normal routine. Now is a great time to start developing content that will be relevant in the future, so that you’re ahead of the game when the time comes.
In addition to content, online events, such as the one we hosted that facilitated this discussion, and webinars have been performing at a very high level for the last few weeks. It’s possible that the next few weeks will start to see small declines in these areas based on the overwhelming amount being produced. The trick to break through the noise is to listen carefully to the new and evolving needs of your audience and, in turn, create content that responds.
2. Most importantly, don’t freeze up
There are a lot of considerations marketers must take into account right now. While it can feel overwhelming, the most important thing you can do is keep moving forward. Here are some strategic considerations:
- Check out your content performance on a more regular basis. See what is resonating by looking for indicators like clicks, follow through actions (such as additional page views), engagements (such as comments and likes) and conversions. Pivot your content to focus on the things that are working now, but be patient in knowing that those things may change quickly. Be ready to adapt.
- Don’t discount previously-created content or anything currently in the works. You may have old blog posts or a current white paper on a topic relevant to the challenges people are facing today – it may just need tone and messaging updates to make it more timely. Take a look at how your content is performing across the board, and decide what to update from there.
- Consider that your audience may be searching for you in different ways than before. Rely on data to help you create content that speaks to what your audiences need in this moment.
- Come up with a list of quick content topics and types your team can handle creating. Blog posts, tip sheets, quick polls, short videos and online events are all great places to start.
- Focus on current customer pain points and be empathetic to their needs.
- Focus on thought leadership only as it’s relevant to the current market; avoid product promotion in your content, especially to the industries that are most negatively affected.
Most importantly, just take a minute to acknowledge that it’s okay to not have all the answers right now. I did not use the word “unprecedented” lightly at the beginning of this post. While we can learn some things from similar events in history, the truth is that no one has ever been through this exact situation before. If you’re looking for real-time insights as to how your marketing peers are approaching messaging, channels and budgets amid the challenges presented by the pandemic, check out our weekly-updated B2B Marketing Playbook for COVID-19.