Covid-19 Pandemic: How to adapt your marketing strategy during the Coronavirus crisis
“The coronavirus is not only a health crisis of immense proportion—it’s also an imminent restructuring of the global economic order.”– Mckinsey
It’s early April 2020, and we’re in the middle of the global Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic.
Here in the UK, we’re entering our third week of ‘lockdown’, and within the past fortnight we have seen monumental changes to our lives and the economy. It’s impacting businesses of all sizes, particularly those in leisure, tourism, retail and hospitality; who have been forced to close to ensure the safety of all.
Yet amidst all of the negativity in the media, we’re seeing some truly positive stories of communities coming closer together, and businesses that are diversifying; switching their business models, to ensure that not only do they continue to stay afloat, but that they give back to help society and those in need.
There are just some examples:
- In the food and drink industry, independent craft beer brand BrewDog is now making hand sanitizer, and food wholesalers are now selling direct to consumers
- In the fashion industry, clothing brands such as Zara are using their facilities, equipment and materials to make medical protective face masks for the health care sector
- In the manufacturing sector, due to the NHS facing severe shortages of life saving medical equipment – from ventilators to PPE – manufacturing firms, including big names such as Dyson and Rolls Royce – are joining forces to make these products available quickly, and at great scale
Considering wholesale food suppliers, I’ve been really impressed by their agility. Normally, wholesalers supply the hospitality industry in bulk, and don’t sell direct to individual consumers. However, due to the sudden and large scale collapse of the hospitality sector in the UK (and other countries), wholesalers have had to think fast and adapt to their change in circumstances.
Companies like Bidfood, Deli Fresh and Cottage Foods are now selling direct to consumers to enable their own companies to survive with immediate cash injections, and also supply much-needed food and consumables to the people – who are struggling to access food due to shortages at the supermarkets and/or ill health/isolation.
Within days we have seen these companies set up online webshops, thanks to the likes of Shopify (as one example); enabling them to quickly serve a new customer base and deliver goods direct to consumers’ homes or via a ‘click-and-collect’ service.
All of this got me thinking:
For B2B organisations, how can they quickly adapt to this new normal – keeping staff and customers happy, whilst also maintaining business stability?
There is no shortage of advice when it comes to developing and executing a marketing strategy; there are countless resources on and offline on the subject. However, it should come as no surprise, that there are far less resources on the topic of “how to adapt your marketing strategy while dealing with a global virus pandemic”!
In Strategic Planning, there is a common theme that runs through most textbooks, and from experience: Strategy can never be set in stone, as external circumstances are ever changing, and the impact of PESTEL factors – that’s Political, Economical, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal – are totally outside of your organisation’s control.
This means that if these factors change, your strategy must adapt too. Take no action, and your business is likely to suffer.
Sometimes this change is a subtle tweak; but today’s crisis may call for a bigger change to your marketing plans both short and long term. Furthermore, analysts forecast that the global spread of this pandemic will have after-effects for many years to come.
How to adapt your marketing strategy in times of crisis
The Coronavirus pandemic is impacting customer behaviour and supply chains the world over, so within this unique set of circumstances that we find ourselves in, we need to plan our marketing moves wisely to reduce risk and take advantage of new opportunities which may be presented. It’s therefore crucial that marketers pay attention to how this situation is changing their market, and adapt their marketing accordingly, rather than wait and hope that nothing needs to be done.
So how can you adapt your marketing strategy and tactics in this unnerving time?
“Marketers will have to get creative to find opportunities to deliver personal experiences to clients and customers from a distance” – eMarketer
Leverage analytics to better understand your customers
Leverage your analytics to understand and meet their needs and enable you to make quick, yet informed, decisions.What’s the data telling you? Are you receiving more/less/different types of enquiries? Look at the data on purchasing trends, enquiries, website traffic and channel effectiveness.
Use this time as an opportunity to speak with customers – and not bombard them with emails. Don’t damage your brand by communicating more than you normally do over email, and with less relevance, during this crisis. People are overwhelmed and the last thing they want and need is more promotional clutter in their inboxes.
Connect with them on a more personal level and ask how are they adapting to the current situation? How has it affected their business and plans for the next 6-12 months and beyond? Ultimately, is there anything you can do to support them?
Reallocate your marketing spend
The focus word here is ‘Reallocate’, not ‘Reduce’! In times of uncertainty, many B2B companies cut marketing budgets without considering the consequences of doing so. Instead of reducing spend, redirect it to activities that will be more effective.
You may be tempted to run short-term sales promotions, lead gen and ad campaigns, but this is not the right approach. You don’t want to create a big increase in demand and then not be able to satisfy that demand – this will be damaging for your brand.
Instead, put a pause on product/promotional campaigns and reallocate your spend towards brand building activities, such as PPC that focuses on branded terms, positive PR stories about your company’s activities in the community, with staff and customers. This keeps your brand top of mind during a period of time where sales and enquiries may be slower.
This takes us to the next point:
Focus on building and maintaining brand credibility with your online content
Online content consumption is likely to rise significantly, so now is a great time to produce thoughtful, informative and helpful content from your business brand that truly focuses on helping your customers and prospects.
For example, repurpose your FAQs into a series of informative blogs, or create a free eBook/whitepaper from presentation content, that genuinely answers questions to common customer problems. Centre your messaging around helping your customers and prospects – not overly promotional. Be transparent in your communications – especially if there is likely to be a product or service shortage/downtime. Reassurance is key.
Leverage Account Based Marketing
Marketing and Sales teams need to work together to place more emphasis on account-based marketing strategies, to tailor content campaigns to smaller sets of target accounts. This will enable you to make better use of your marketing budgets with a more targeted approach.
Take your tradeshows online
In B2B, exhibitions and tradeshows are still a widely used marketing channel for networking and lead generation, in addition to launching new products. But with all mass gatherings cancelled, what else can you do?
That £100k you were going to spend on the ‘biggest trade show of the year’ could be redirected towards online activity instead:
- Commit to a series of Webinars
- Develop more content – this can include hiring freelance copywriters to support your in-house (but now remote) marketing team to deliver on a suite of new content for your website and blog
- Get that new product launched using an online/virtual exhibition – using a combination of tools such as video, virtual tours, webinars, content, PR and paid ads (V-ex.com is a virtual exhibition platform that is worth checking out)
Ditch the spreadsheets and invest in CRM
Many traditional B2B organisations employ sales teams who conduct in-person customer visits. Whilst this face-to-face contact is often more beneficial for developing relationships, negotiating and closing deals – it can be done virtually – but you’ll need the right technology to support your team.
It may seem like a given, but many sales teams are lacking the basics in terms of intuitive CRM software and technology that enables them to be smarter with their customer and prospect conversations. This is why it’s crucial to equip your sales team with a good CRM and automation technology to enable them to engage effectively with customers and prospects. Your remote sales toolkit should include:
- A good sales and marketing CRM and workflow automation system like Hubspot
- Teleconferencing tools such as Zoom, Google hangouts or Skype
- Project management tools such as Teamwork, Slack or Trello
- Online chat/bots – such as Drift, or Hubspot (see point 7 below)
Take the conversation online
As above, if your business usually relies on more face-to-face contact between your sales team and customers/prospects, make it easier for a sale to be made and reduce the potential of losing business by enabling customers to buy your product/service online. If this isn’t possible – for example, if you’re a producer of large machinery – make it easier for customers to chat with sales by investing in conversational marketing tools such as an online chat function to engage quickly and directly with visitors to your website. Help prospects obtain pricing information quicker by introducing an online quote calculator, and other types of online forms to enable quick data capture for you and an easy online user experience for your prospective customer.
Despite all of the effort that goes into setting out your marketing strategy and developing a well crafted plan – external factors will always have an impact on your business. And whilst strategic marketers will always assess their external environment during the planning process, I would surmise that pretty much no-one could predict how a global virus pandemic would affect their business!
There is a clear need for B2B organisations to switch up their marketing strategies in order to adapt and evolve to this new environment. Marketers will be faced with increasing pressure and ever more scrutiny than usual, in the weeks and months to come; some will face budgetary cuts and many will be under pressure to deliver results even faster than before. Hopefully some of these ideas will help you to adapt your marketing activity without detriment to your marketing’s efficacy and results.
Drop a comment below with any ideas or tips you have for adapting your marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic 👇🏽
Useful Resources and References:
- Covid-19 Action Plan- McKinsey.com: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/coronavirus-leading-through-the-crisis