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Okay, Marketers. What Now? Areas of Focus in Times of Uncertainty.

Courtney Beasley

The world is a much different place than it was a week ago with uncertainty building around COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy. The good news is that being productive and staying connected are sweet spots for us marketers, and today, with our teams working remotely and some unpredictability around what’s next, the importance of these qualities is at an all-time high.

Though some industries are more affected than others, all are feeling new pressures and addressing new challenges. So, where can we focus our efforts and budgets to make the most of this time? Below are our recommendations on how to best remain focused, productive and connected with your teams and audiences. Whether you need to prepare brand messaging or plan for a new campaign, there are suggestions for pivoting your marketing program during this unexpected situation to ensure you stay on track to hit your marketing goals.

Content and Messaging

Where to focus now:

  • First, focus on the message

Before moving forward with any marketing efforts, take this time to really think like your customer and consider how they’re being affected. Just like your team, their priorities have likely shifted, and your clever messaging from last week may no longer be appropriate. Instead of operating business as usual, take the time to review all outbound messaging – from ads to scheduled social and more – and shift your tone if necessary.

This is a great opportunity to adapt your messaging to address your audience’s newfound pain points and let them know what you can do to help them through this time. For example, Avis is waiving young driver surcharges and some age limits for college-age drivers trying to find a way home with universities closing. This creative and thoughtful approach addresses a real need with a new audience who have an opportunity to become lifelong customers.

  • Create relevant content that adds value

The needs of your audience may have shifted, but you can still provide relevant content that speaks to their current pain points. To create content that adds the most value for your audience (and perhaps, for their audiences, too), think about where you can offer the most genuine, effective support based on what you know of your market.

For example, one of our clients in the HR technology space has shared thoughtful content and insights around how job candidates can make the most of virtual interviewing while a large percentage of the workforce works from home. While they sell software to corporate HR departments, by providing timely advice to job candidates forced to navigate this new reality, they are adding value to society in a time of crisis and doing so in an authentic way.

Consider content you can develop that is focused on the business impact of COVID-19. However, to do this well, you must be authoritative and credible, and it has to be helpful rather than promotional. Timeliness is everything, so if you’re planning to prepare these materials, create and distribute them quickly.

  • Be empathetic on social media

Once your updated messaging has been defined, make sure your social channels reflect it. Instead of simply pushing out your regularly scheduled content for the sake of keeping the lights on, focus on what your customers are going through first, your business needs second.

This doesn’t mean you need to stop all other social efforts, but you should increase focus on being empathetic, and double down on engaging with your audience through authentic and helpful posts. Take advantage of social listening tools to better understand how your audience is being impacted, and consider how your brand can join the conversation in a supportive way.

How to plan ahead:

  • Build audience personas and perform a content audit

If you find yourself with some downtime to plan out future content marketing activities, building or updating your audience personas is a great place to start. Identifying personas can help you target prospects with a higher potential to convert into buyers, as well as inform customer-focused content to ensure your brand assets meet your audience’s needs.

After taking the time to analyze and establish your target audience, you can then take a critical look at your existing content and identify what needs to be updated or created to ensure your content truly resonates with your customers. If you’re looking for guides on how to do this, our Seven Steps to Generating ROI with B2B Content white paper walks through our proven methodology for building buyer personas and performing a content audit so that you can strategically develop and deploy content that reaches your audience in a meaningful way.

  • Set up content campaigns

Although we may be lacking clarity around the structure of the next few weeks, now is a great time to gear up for any longer-term content campaigns you plan on rolling out later this year. With a better understanding of your audience and their current needs, you can strategize a content campaign that speaks to their pain points and connects with them across multiple touch points. From initial research to content creation and execution, this Twelve-Week Content Plan Template acts as an interactive checklist that will help you stay on top of all the tasks your content marketing campaign requires so that your team is organized and on schedule.

Demand Generation and Web

Where to focus now:

  • Turn off irrelevant activities

Be sensitive to the current situation your audience is in and turn off any outbound activities that may seem irrelevant, frivolous or even obnoxious in the current context. Review any ads or email nurtures currently running and evaluate if they are providing value to the people receiving them. Customers are likely being overloaded with emails during this time, so unless your campaign addresses their pain points in a thoughtful way, consider hitting pause.

  • Carefully consider email

With so many people moving to online collaboration tools, we’re seeing email engagements, like opens and click-throughs, remain steady. However, people are more overwhelmed than ever by corporate emails, so we suggest caution with volume and messaging. Be selective in your email sends, and focus on providing value and solutions instead of leaning opportunistic or promotional. Emotions are high and the latter can burn bridges, more so than build them. A well-crafted, well-timed, helpful email will stand out from the noise.

  • Redirect budgets to paid media

Across dozens of websites, we’re seeing an average dip of around 33% in organic search traffic for B2B businesses. Similarly, mobile search has also decreased given the increase of individuals working from home desktops.

With both mobile and organic search traffic down, consider shifting your unused budget line items, like for events and conferences, into paid advertising channels where audiences are congregating online.

Make sure to pause campaigns targeting the industries most consumed by the crisis, like healthcare, restaurants and retailers. For the ads you’ll continue to run to the appropriate audiences, check on the messaging and tone to ensure it’s still relevant for the current climate.

  • Focus on active prospects

For the industries and messages that are appropriate to target, consider pushing campaigns to your middle-of-the-funnel prospects. Individuals who are already warm to your brand and offerings are more likely to have conversations around the ways you can support them in these times. Our How to Increase B2B Leads by 70% in 90 Days white paper provides practical tips and advice for implementing digital tactics for short-term interest generating conversations.

  • Create Online Events and Content

Organic search and buyer intent may be down, but you can still show up for your audience in helpful ways. Because of the nature of a work from home audience, webinar engagement has increased as people are looking for ways to continue learning and remain connected online. To navigate this shift, consider building programs that add value to newly developed pain points and allow you to communicate with your audience through webinars or other online events.

For example, Korn Ferry has worked quickly to produce a seven-part series of webinars on “Leading Through and Beyond COVID-19”. This content is relevant, helpful, timely and available to the masses, which is the recipe for success in the current situation.

How to plan ahead:

  • Optimize your website

Now is a great time to ensure your website is fully optimized to act as a resource for any prospects who are searching for solutions. This blog post highlights five website best practices – from optimizing for search to designing for conversion and more – that you can follow to make sure you’re maximizing the value of your website and keeping your goals on track.

Though search volume is currently down approximately 33% across the board, once the market adjusts, high search rankings will continue to be crucial for brand visibility. High search rankings are achieved by producing valuable content on your website. To ensure your website is optimized for success once the market returns, take some time to assess your site’s strengths and weaknesses with regards to SEO, traffic performance and conversion rate optimization. Are site load times fast across devices when internet connections are slow? Is the site taking advantage of structured data? Asking yourself high-level questions like these can help you guarantee that your business is showing up in the right places and providing value to your audience.

Public Relations

Where to focus now:

  • Be smart about thought leadership positions

There’s a lot happening in the media right now, and reporters are busier and more sensitive than ever to tone-deaf or irrelevant pitches. Only speak to current events if you have the authority and credibility to do so, and only if you can add real value to the conversation. If you’re reaching out to reporters about other areas of expertise, remember to be empathetic, authentic and helpful above all. Check in on how your reporter contacts are doing, and ask if they’re open to different ideas before trying to push anything their way.

  • Reassess company news announcements

Reassess your corporate news and consider the timing and cadence. There’s no reason for your newsroom to go dark, but pick and choose your places carefully. Should you combine multiple partnerships into one announcement? Does it make sense to soft launch your new research now, holding a full launch until the news cycle has shifted?

Evaluate each news item with scrutiny. Ask yourself: Does this add value to my target audience(s), especially now? Savvy PR pros will realize this is precisely how we should always be operating, but the bar is higher in this new reality.

How to plan ahead:

  • Conduct a competitive analysis

Now is a great opportunity to evaluate where you stand in comparison with your competitors. Conduct a comprehensive coverage audit from the past six months for yourself and 2–3 of your core competitors. The audit should focus on key observations and insights: What messaging themes are your competitors focused on? Do you observe any white space you can go capture long-term? Are there any ideas you can borrow for your own use? Doing this prep work now will ensure you’re prepared for opportunities when they arise down the road.

  • Build speaking and awards calendars

While in-person events are on hold, future speaking opportunities can be a great way to ensure you’ll have a steady stream of brand awareness and credibility in the future. Use this time to reevaluate or build a speaking calendar for Q4 and into 2021. Do some additional research to find other opportunities you may have missed the first time around. Or, better yet, use any downtime to get a headstart on your next submission. Another area to take a similar approach is with industry awards.

 

As fellow marketers going through this with you, we hope you find this advice helpful as we all work to adapt our programs and messaging. Although we may feel separated right now, it’s more important than ever to lean on your resources and come together as a team to adapt to the current state of your industry.

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.