How marketers can prepare for economic uncertainty during the Coronavirus

When times are tough, marketing is one of the first departments under threat. Kavita Singh shares how to demonstrate tangible value in an organisation under pressure. 

With the news cycle dominated by Coronavirus, it’s easy to get post-apocalyptic in your thinking. As the impact of Coronavirus remains unclear, senior marketers will think back to the financial crisis over a decade ago, which had lasting impacts on their business and its function. 

A focus on the bottom line, a leaner business model, and the possibility of short-term budgets puts a lot of pressure on marketing to deliver ROI. So how can it show its value to the organisation and avoid the cut?

1. Support the industry as well as your customers 

In times of financial hardship, businesses may slash budgets from ‘non-essential’ resources. During the last economic downturn, companies prioritised lead generation above raising brand awareness, and some marketing efforts were sidelined in favour of functions that could prove their direct link to ROI.

The best thing marketers can do right now is to switch tactics and channels, taking a focus on public relations (PR) and in particular, corporate social responsibility (CSR). Many businesses are using this time as an opportunity to grow brand awareness and demonstrate what they are doing to help the local or global community. That doesn’t just mean supporting our customers though these tricky times, but perhaps our own industry players too. 

Virtual marketing agency Pimento polled its network of 5,500 media professionals to understand how the industry is adapting, as well as its fears. While most are readjusting  to remote working , they are fearful of the unknown. 

Stephen Knight, Pimento’s founder and CEO said: “As with any personal or professional community, there is a lot we can do together if we share and respond as one. The sector needs to support itself at a time where advertising spend is – understandably – being cut and our own clients are suffering. As teams switch their focus to PR, more direct comms, webinars, marketing automation and a strong push on social media will  maintain that place at the table.”

2. Focus on how you can support sales

While PR and CSR are crucial right now, of course we all need to take a direct approach in protecting revenue wherever that is possible. Your sales teams will be under unprecedented challenges, both from a lack of client meetings and a lockdown on spending. Find out how you can best support them. That will mean listening to their challenges, determining opportunities and working creatively to make the most of them. Making marketing an integral part of your sales team is imperative. Wherever you add demonstrable value to them, you add value to the business. 

Sam Tidswell-Norrish, international CMO at commercial data & analytics firm, Dun & Bradstreet: “We all know that marketing budgets are often the first to be reviewed when times get tough, but conversely this could be a situation where marketing professionals can step up, demonstrate creativity and play a key role in helping their organisation weather the storm. 

In these unique circumstances when sales teams are unable to get out to meet clients face-to-face, digital marketing could be a key tool in the arsenal. Yes, events are off the cards for a while, but we have other ways to connect with clients and prospects. Webinars, emails, website content and digital advertising will be a critical way to communicate to audiences who are working remotely – perhaps for an indefinite amount of time. Marketing has always been an unrecognised form of business development, but now more than ever it can  bring momentum to businesses as they look to survive the impending downturn.”

3. Don’t fiddle the numbers 

Disraeli’s infamous quote: “Lies, damn lies and statistics” reminds us that numbers can be used to tell a variety of different stories. It’s important that you tell the truth, no matter how ugly. 

Performance is likely to drop, don’t try to soften the blow with more positive numbers, focus on your ability to articulate why, to identify what’s changed and improve on it. This is all a learning experience for your marketing team. No one knows what will come of the future, but it’s important to work together to see how you can ride out the pitfalls and roadblocks ahead. 

Taking control of data is an important step for marketers to feel empowered in times of crisis, and improve their ability to predict what may happen next.

4. Take control of change

Don’t allow change to control your business efforts This can either be a time of ineffective uncertainty, or a time during which you empower your team to think creatively and adapt. We can all play a part in developing ideas for new products and processes. Those who encourage these discussions are likely to come out the other side with improvements and innovations they’d never before imagined. 

Much of this is down to mindset. While your teams’ productivity and morale may be taking a hit at the moment - perhaps even your own - it’s crucial to cut this down early. Spend time thinking about how you can foster a positive, adaptive and innovative mindset in your team.

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