We’re now months into the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, the initial uncertainty of March and April has evolved into an uneasy new normal.
Businesses that rushed to evolve in the initial weeks of this pandemic have now had a few months to reflect and to evolve their strategies. So what have we learned?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, WebMechanix has hosted a series of weekly virtual round table discussions with over 40 Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) representing a variety of industries, including a mix of clients and non-clients. After many weeks of knowledge sharing, a few key trends have emerged.
Information is King
Just as the attending CMOs are craving the opportunity to share ideas with each other given our collective uncertainty, their customers and prospects are digesting more information than ever.
One of the attending CMOs, representing a marketing and data SaaS provider, found that more people want to know what’s happening with company policies and are looking to stay on top of the latest news, mainly due to the continued uncertainty around COVID-19. This company’s informational webinar series has received 800 to 900 attendees per session, significantly higher than before the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, CMOs found that generic messages about “being with you during COVID-19” don’t resonate well with audiences. However, more personal messages that consider their customers’ and prospects’ actual pain points (e.g., business interruptions, the move to virtual, and the need for agility) could still cut through the noise in the inbox.
A Strong Foundation Is More Critical Than Ever
Organizations that have switched their focus to marketing fundamentals are seeing clear benefits. Having high SEO authority can lift a company’s new content in search results, especially since more people are online than ever before. Marketing teams with the skills, commitment, and agility to implement and learn from new strategies have capitalized on the opportunities available in this online marketplace.
One IT services CMO saw their web traffic double since the pandemic due to increased demand for remote services. Much of that traffic came from their already strong organic search presence—they wouldn’t have been able to take that market share without that leg up on their competitors. As a result, they increased their number of locations supported from 2,000 to 70,000.
That same company also indicated that many of its opportunities in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic came from existing customers. Having strong customer relationships built on trust allowed this company to be the partner of choice when the pandemic hit.
Many of our CMOs found that one of the easiest pivots to make was to identify ways in which they could help their current customers with new problems that arose in the last six months—problems like how to handle virtual staffing or virtual learning, how to shift their clients’ marketing activities, how to manage increased cybersecurity threats, and so on.
Agility Is Highly Valued
Most of the CMOs we spoke to significantly changed certain aspects of their marketing mix, messaging strategy, or even their product offering as a result of COVID. The ability to nimbly shift strategies and remain relevant to customers and prospects will continue to serve companies well into the future.
Most of our CMOs reported a significant shift in their marketing spend away from events, direct mail, or other “offline” advertising to more digital channels. The companies that were able to recognize the opportunity and make the shift began to see returns by April and May 2020, while their less agile competitors are still struggling to establish a presence in digital channels.
In yet another lesson on agility, a number of CMOs reported shorter sales cycles, especially early on in the pandemic. Their products and services were in high demand, and they needed their sales teams to be able to handle significantly increased volume and compressed sales cycles.
Keep Your Brand in Front Of Prospects
Analyses of the aftermaths of prior recessions have consistently shown that brands that continue to invest in marketing and growth while considering the realities of the market tend to outperform those who react defensively to poor market conditions.
For most of the CMOs in our sessions, that meant moving further up the funnel to keep their products top of mind, even at a time when conversions may be declining.
One Enterprise software CMO indicated that their biggest opportunity is to nurture pent-up demand in the hopes of closing deals once business returns to normal. Others indicated that promoting free trials made sense, as many of their prospects might have more time to dig in and consume the product now than they would have prior to the pandemic.
Ad costs are declining across many verticals and channels, so it’s more cost effective to engage your audience and test new ideas now than it was before.
The one common thread among our CMO attendees has been change—none of their businesses are the same now as they were a year ago. And most of them will never be the same again, regardless of when the threat of COVID-19 dissipates.
As with prior recessions and crises, the key elements that separate the companies that thrive from those that fail are planning and forethought. As one of our CMOs said, “Who is planning your marketing strategy? Is it your CMO? Is it your CEO? Or is it COVID? If it’s COVID, you’re in trouble.”
Our recommendation is to have a plan, make sure that your financials support it, and work on the fundamentals to position your business for the long run.