Questions to help steer your marketing through coronavirus

When will all this end? When can we get back to business? How is this going to affect us in the long run?

The coronavirus outbreak has thrown up many questions we just can’t answer. But there are some questions you can address in relation to your marketing strategy to prepare your business for whatever lies in store.

While many would agree that now is not the time to make radical changes to your overall marketing strategy, it is a time to reflect on it or start putting down the foundations for one, post-coronavirus.

The following process is one I use to support my clients and is centred around an investigative approach to marketing.

It consists of six core questions to help you whether you’re reviewing your existing strategy, starting a strategy from scratch, or navigating the challenge of marketing through coronavirus.

What do we know? (Situation analysis)

As the saying goes, you cannot control what happens in the world; you can only control your reaction. That reaction is much easier to manage when you look at what you know.

Now is a great time to do a stocktake of what you know about your marketing environment and your activity to date. There are many tools and models you can use to help build a comprehensive picture, but one of the easiest is a SWOT (see format below); an analysis of your current strengths and weaknesses (i.e. what you can control), and the opportunities and threats that coronavirus presents (the things you cannot control).

Matrix showing Strengths and Weaknesses at the top, Opportunities and threats at the bottom

This should include a review of your customer data, your marketing activity, your team, your competitors and those offering ‘substitute’ services, as well as any external events and factors that could influence you – for example, further changes to IR35 legislation.

By seeing it in black and white, it’s easier to identify how you can use your strengths to respond to some of the opportunities  (for example, take your successful events online) and combat the threats (for example, focus on your niche to negate your competitor’s price-focused response).

In addition, you might realise you’re not capturing enough information about your marketing environment or activity. In this case, you can use any downtime to look at how you might strengthen your data capture process.

In the face of uncertainty, clarifying what you do and don’t know can give you back a sense of control.

Why are we doing this? (Objectives)

You most likely have a vision or overarching reason for being that drives your business, but have you defined and quantified your objectives?

Knowing exactly what you need to turn over by when, is a vital step to understanding how many customers you need and how much you need to make from each of them. Without this, any informed decisions around marketing strategies, tactics or budgets are impossible.

In ‘This is Marketing’, Seth Godin recommends focusing on the ‘minimum viable audience’, that is the smallest market you need to sustain your business. This focus will ensure your brand, service and success improves in the long-run.

Who are we? Who can we help? (Strategy)

Many businesses are facing an identity crisis at the moment. Those who pride themselves on proximity and interaction now find themselves exploring ways of delivering remotely in socially distanced ways.

If you’ve not looked in any detail at your brand positioning relative to your competitors before, now is a good time to do it. As well as being focused on providing a solution, a good brand positioning statement should be unique, relevant, credible and, more so than ever, sustainable – a premise that you can maintain in the event of the unexpected.

The following template might be a useful way to get you thinking about whether yours fits the bill.

A template of a brand positioning statement

Customer personas are a great way to bring different segments of your target audience to life and focus in on your ideal customers that you’d like to make up your minimum viable audience.

A customer persona summarises the geographic, demographic, psychographic and behavioural details of your ideal customers, and there are a number of data sources and remote qualitative feedback tools you can use to build them. While many characteristics won’t have changed as a result of coronavirus, others will have. For example, the places customers frequent is going to be largely irrelevant right now, but where they get their information is not – in fact, they may be using those sources more than ever. Their needs, motivations and pain points may have changed too; whereas previously, they might have sought out networking events, now they may only have capacity to do video calls.

Being mindful of these subtle but important shifts will enable you to adapt the tactics you use to reach them now. But contrary to all the coronavirus hyperbole, or what Mark Ritson calls ‘false pneuma’, people don’t change easily; necessity may have made Zoom-lovers out of us all recently, but people may well revert to their old preferences in the long-run.

How can we reach them? (Strategy)

After addressing the questions of what you know, why you’re marketing, who you are and who you can help, you’re in a much stronger position to answer questions about your short-term marketing strategy.

While for many the strategy will be to focus on marketing specific services to existing customers, others might find now is a perfect opportunity to launch a new service or penetrate a new market. As an example, Twinkl must have acquired more parent customers than they could have imagined over the last few weeks with their home-learning resources.

Ansoff’s generic growth matrix can be a useful way to brainstorm your strategic options.

Ansoff matrix showing different marketing strategies

There’s a lot of talk right now about the ethics of marketing during a pandemic, but so long as what you’re doing is authentic, sensitively targeted and helps people fulfil a genuine need, you shouldn’t be overly concerned. Read more about authentic marketing.

Where can we reach them? (Tactics)

Once you’ve decided on whether to continue or tweak your interim strategy, you can feel more confident choosing the marketing tactics to continue using or introduce to reach your customers.

Up until now, you’ll probably have been using a range of ‘push’ tactics, those focused on ‘selling’ your services to people who may need them, and ‘pull’ tactics, those focused on encouraging demand from people who do need them.

Push tactics include advertising, direct mail and PPC. Pull tactics include, word of mouth and testimonials. If you want to avoid the controversial question of ethics, the latter tactics are probably the safest right now.

The ‘7 P formula’ is a good way to work out what needs to be done to implement any new tactical activities:

  1. Product: Do you need to add additional features/ content?
  2. Price: Do you need to amend or discount your prices?
  3. Promotion: Should you be doing more to engage on social media?
  4. Place: Do you need an online consultation room or shop?
  5. Processes: Do you need to set up some new software?
  6. People: Do you need to get some IT support?
  7. Physical evidence: Do you need to request some more customer reviews?

When do we need to do it? (Action plan)

Once you have a marketing plan in place, you need to put a timeframe around it. Product reviews and new processes will need to be established before you start promoting. Perhaps your SLA needs updating or you need to conduct some training on video meetings. It’s important to be realistic about the resources that are available.

Likewise, some tactics will be more relevant at different stages of the customer journey. For example, if you’re focusing your efforts on loyal customers, nurturing relationships by providing regular e-updates will be more important than increasing awareness of your services among prospective customers.

An implementation calendar can break activities down into weekly or monthly actions to help you manage your marketing productively, particularly if your team is working remotely. Of course, defining which metrics to monitor is a vital part of ensuring the success of your marketing. Following the step by step process outlined above should make this task much less daunting.

 

Perhaps the biggest question you want to address is whether you should be investing in strategic marketing at all? My answer to this would be an unequivocal yes; now is not a time to cut marketing budgets. It takes around six months to a year to see significant results from marketing, so you should be maintaining your investment as much as possible – if not increasing it, to help you prepare for the anticipated post-coronavirus recession.

If you’d like help reviewing your marketing strategy or would like to use this time to start developing one, please get in touch. 

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