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Better B2B Marketing 08 – How to Use Marketing Effectively During the COVID-19 Crisis
The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy and a long way from any conclusion. The subsequent lockdown has had an unprecedented impact on almost every business.
As our team work from home to support our clients, we’ve frequently discussed (by video call) the best ways to advise our clients and use marketing to create a brighter horizon.
As the news turns to relaxing lockdown measures, we look at how marketing can be used to keep businesses above water and begin the fight back…
The impact on B2B
Many of the headlines have focused on predominantly business-to-consumer (B2C) sectors, such as hotels, restaurants, airlines and retailers. However, the impacts of the lockdown on business-to-business (B2B) companies – in sectors like business services, engineering, technology and logistics – have often been just as profound.
It appears most B2B organisation currently fall into three groups.
The first saw an almost immediate cessation of business once restrictions hit.
The second and perhaps largest group, have seen a slow but steady decay in business as the lockdown has progressed.
The final and most fortunate group have actually seen an upturn in demand, such as those in essential goods supply chains.
Which you fall into will impact the market strategy you choose for your recovery.
Maintain a presence
Statistics show that companies which maintain their profile during a crisis or downturn recover quicker than those who cease marketing.
Marketing is largely about momentum. It takes time to become a recognisable and trusted name in your market place. However, you can quickly slip from mind once other issues take your customers’ attention.
If you’ve seen an overnight decimation of your business; no one will ever blame you for ceasing your marketing. It simply may not be that important.
However – if you’re able to – regular blogs, social media updates, emailing your customers and sending out press releases can all be low cost ways to remain on your customers radar.
It’s an emotional time, so try not to be too negative (or positive) with your messages. Keep the tone compassionate and informative. Though you may be desperate for new business, overtly salesy messages can appear ‘tone deaf’ to others’ concerns.
Stick to the plan
It’s a highly emotional time. Many of us remain in shock. For some, business has dried up and survival hangs in the balance.
The first temptation is to start looking at any and all ways you can create revenue.
It’s good to think outside the box and be prepared to diversify your business. However, attempting to appeal to ‘everyone’ is rarely effective, particularly if you dilute your focus and marketing.
With competition high and demand low, entering a new market segment or launching a new product or service may more difficult than usual.
Take a pragmatic look at what you do best and who your typical customers actually are. Focus your efforts and marketing on your true niche. It’s likely to be your quickest route to success now and as the economy heals.
Marketing to stand still
One lessons we can learn from B2C is that marketing can sometimes be about maintaining the status quo. Many large consumer brands spend eye watering amounts on marketing just to maintain the market share they have.
Quite rightly, this is less comfortable territory for those of us in B2B.
There are still some B2B segments for which marketing itself remains fairly unfamiliar. Though they may unknowingly rely on marketing such as networking, trade shows and customer relationship management, actively promoting what they do may be alien.
Entering a recession, many sectors will experience higher competition amidst falling demand. If resource permit, investment in marketing may be needed to simply maintain the level of customer you need until economic signs improve,
Build momentum for the fight back
The good news is that, as detailed earlier, those businesses which maintain marketing through a crisis or downturn statistically recover quicker.
Whilst ‘burst’ marketing (short lived campaigns) can work for products in times of high demand (think ice creams in summer), ‘drip’ marketing is much more effective for B2B.
The coronavirus crisis impacted in a matter of days. Though the overall recovery will take longer, some sectors could recover just as quick.
It’s very hard to build marketing momentum once markets have already picked up. Your canny competitors may have stolen the march.
Marketing now could help you be the first customers choose as conditions recover.
Which marketing is best?
Assuming you have some revenue or capital to invest in marketing, next you have to consider where best to invest your precious resources.
There is no ‘right’ answer as every business, market, segment and niche are different.
Here’s a quick overview of the main marketing channels and our experience of them at this extraordinary time:
Direct Marketing (email and mail)
Going direct to your ideal customers remains a strong tactic. Whilst direct mail marketing has limited effectiveness until staff return to their offices, we’ve found the open rates of B2B email campaigns have remained good and even risen.
Keep in touch with your clients and prospects with an email update about how you’re operating and meeting current challenges. Ensure you empathise with the fight against the virus.
Websites & SEO
More than ever, your website is your shop window.
With travel restrictions and new ways of working here to stay, it’s more likely than ever to be your customers first port of call. Make sure it’s up to date, represents your strengths and shows you’re open for business.
Beginning Search Engine Optimisation now may not help in the short term but it is going to be more vital than ever that your website appears organically in search results in the months ahead.
PPC (Paid Search & Google Ads)
Understandably, many B2B businesses paused their spending on Google Ads when the lockdown hit.
However, search engines will be the first place most businesses (working from home or their offices) look as they research the product and services they need to return to business.
The reality is that this unprecedented interruption to business-as-usual may sever some relationships and encourage businesses to source new suppliers. This could be turned into an opportunity.
Brochures, Presentations & Marketing Materials
If you have the time and capacity, now may also be an opportunity to review and improve your physical marketing materials, like brochures and presentations.
Just like your website, once business returns in earnest, you will want to project the very best messages about your products and services.
With trade events postponed, and face-to-face meetings off the agenda, physical (or digital) brochures and presentations may be even more effective at putting what you do in front of potential clients.
Social media use has increased exponentially during the crisis. It remains a strong way to keep in the minds of your customers.
However, many of the normal challenges remain. Consumer-focused platforms like Facebook remain difficult for B2B businesses to use effectively and, though more suitable for businesses, Twitter relies on highly frequent posting.
LinkedIn remains the primary platform for B2B. However, ensure your posts reflect the tone of the moment. It’s good for updating your followers, sharing successes and commenting on developments. However, overtly salesy messages should be limited, especially if they run counter to your customers’ current concerns.
Many publications and website are currently scrambling for content to publish, especially those in specific industrial sectors.
It’s a great time to show your business’s mettle with a press release on how you’re rising to current challenges or supporting others. Again, particularly if asked to comment by the publications, try to talk about the constructive and positive measures you’re taking.
It’s hard to offer advice when everyone is dealing with such unique situations and emotions.
Many businesses are simply doing their best to deal with immediate pressures like lost business, cash flow problems, anxious employees and an uncertain future.
For many businesses – but not all – using and preparing marketing now will be a vital ingredient in their recovery. The key is to be pragmatic, stick to a plan and put your business in the very best position for when demand begins to rise.
If you need support – even just as a sounding board or for some free advice – please get in touch: https://fullmixmarketing.co.uk