When The Course Is Uncharted: Business & Marketing Strategies For Uncertain Times

Business Marketing
When The Course Is Uncharted: Business & Marketing Strategies For Uncertain Times

This is written to the business owner, the C-Suite, and marketing professionals that are struggling to keep their businesses in front of prospects and clients while navigating the unknown of what is happening in our world. They’re being bombarded with continually changing information from our government, our employees, our clients, and even our families. We are trying to lead in uncertain times. 

Marilyn Hewson, Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin, said, “In times of uncertainty, employees crave clarity. As a leader, you won’t always have all of the answers – no one expects you to – so you must be open to listening and learning from others. Once you understand a particular challenge and outline the options, you have to be confident in making bold and optimistic decisions.” 

First, let me say that I’m not a legal, financial, or business expert, and this advice is not about your financial plans, your legal plans, or business plans. I am, however, a marketing expert that wants to provide you with some guidance through these unique times in our businesses. Think of me as a guide to help you rethink your marketing and positioning for adapting to the unprecedented times we’re currently living in and for those times that will surely come again.  

My SoapBox

So let me take a few moments to jump on my soapbox. I’m sure we’ve all received the volumes of emails, articles, and outright solicitations from marketers and salespeople over the past few weeks who are behaving opportunistically or being insensitive to what’s happening in the world. It’s as if they are utterly oblivious to what’s happening outside of their home isolation. 

It’s during times like these that we are reminded of our humanity, our need to slow down, our need for empathy, and our need for human connection and relationships.

Instead of being sold to, our most basic desire right now is to understand others and be understood –to be relatable.

So marketers and salespeople everywhere, please understand the negative message you are sending and PIVOT.

Short and Long Term Marketing Strategies

It has been fascinating to watch how brands respond to coronavirus in marketing. For example, McDonald’s and Audi altered their logos, supporting social distancing. 

So the question that stands before us is this, “how do we market today where there is social distancing and prepare for the near future when there is no social distancing?” What type of marketing and business strategies do we execute today, and in the near future that will keep our sales pipeline going and not dry up?

I’m going to examine a few short-term strategies that you can begin implementing right now, and then I’ll look at a few long-term strategies you can begin to think about and implement over the coming weeks that will have long-term implications.

Short-Term Strategies

Short-term strategies are those tactics once deployed can have immediate impacts. They can be accomplished with minimal effort and produce near-instantaneous results. 

Mine Your Old Gold

We all have relationships, and now is the time to send out that email, pick up that phone, or text a friend. Mining your old gold is simply reaching out and connecting one-on-one. Now is not the time to reach out with a sales pitch. For example, go through your CRM, your inbox, or your LinkedIn and identify ten people each that you haven’t spoken with in 4+ months, and contact them. The message doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as:


Hi Kathy,

Wow! The world sure has changed since the last time we {insert your last engagement here i.e., grabbed lunch, chatted, emailed}. I wanted to see how you and your family are holding up at home? 

Best,

Brandon


You will be surprised how far this sentiment will go. I don’t have any data to support this, but I’m seeing more people willing to take 10-15 minutes to engage. Just remember to remain genuine and to care about the people you’re contacting. It may not turn into a business deal, but you are showing your relationships they matter to you. When the opportunity and timing are right, they will think of you first!

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising or Google Ads or Bing Ads is another way to stay out there when people are searching for your services/products. While the demand may not be huge right now for most businesses, it is a good way to stay present and top of mind.

If you don’t know already, Google and Bing (and others) charge by click, meaning, you are not paying for people to just see your ads in their search engines, but, rather, you only pay when people click on your ad and go to your website which could turn into a potential customer. 

By paying for only the clicks versus the impressions you receive, you can save money and only pay for those times people are interested in your products.

The Good Will Of Giving Away Your Expertise

You have the expertise, now is the time to give it away. This doesn’t mean you have to give away your IP, but you can send a quick email or have a brief phone call, blog, or create whitepaper to give away some part of your expertise. Empowering people with knowledge is a great way to build loyalty, trust, and establish yourself as an expert. 

An example of how we are sharing our expertise is by working with some of our clients to teach them the best way to optimize their own websites for greater speed so Google will rank them better in search results. For some clients they only want to learn a few tricks that will help, while others are wanting to go deeper and learn the technical in’s and out’s. 

Some other ways you can give away your expertise:

  • Weekly emails to your customers giving them valuable information that they could put into immediate practice. 
  • Write LinkedIn and Medium.com articles to share your expertise with a much broader audience than your own website’s reach.
  • Do 1-on-1 video webinars with your clients, roll up your sleeves, and work on projects together teaching them how to take on certain tasks that they are capable of doing themselves.
  • Launch a webinar series sharing your expertise.

Some may be concerned that by giving away our expertise you will lose a customer. Possibly, but I doubt it. My experience in doing this for our company and watching our clients do it over the years has repeatedly resulted in fostering trust and loyalty with clients and prospects, which, in many cases, resulted in those same clients and prospects coming back for more strategic engagements. 

Long-Term Strategies

Long-term strategies are a combination of tactics that once deployed may take many months before you see the return. These strategies are often more involved and can take some effort to keep them going.

Thought Leadership

Similar to “giving it away” in the short term strategies, being a true thought leader takes time and diligence. You can either blow smoke or be the real deal. Doing it right takes work but the payoff can be massive. 

I hate to break this to you, but simply putting “Thought Leadership” on your website with a bunch of articles doesn’t make you a true thought leader. Those articles, however, can be an outpouring of your insights and perspectives.

Being a true expert means you have learned, read, researched, put in practice, and learned some more. Then you can begin using this expertise for writing, speaking, producing podcasts and videos, and being interviewed on your unique perspective and ideas on the topic you specialize in.

Here are six steps to becoming a thought leader in your space:

  1. Be passionate and love your expert topic.
    You have to love your topic. You think about it at odd times, you read what others say, and you practice and experiment with it to find the right solution. But even then, you challenge that solution to find a better one.
  2. Create content that is your voice, both authentic and genuine.
    Your audience can spot disingenuousness a mile away. People want the real you. You’ll know your writing is your voice when people can almost hear you speaking right off the page.
  3. Don’t self promote.
    Using your voice doesn’t mean you spend your time promoting yourself or your business. Use this time to educate your audience, giving away the knowledge that you have so passionately learned. Focus instead on bringing value to your audience.
  4. Be consistent.
    Write, write, write. Not every article is going to resonate with everyone and not everyone will be a fan but you have to continue writing routinely (preferably every week).
  5. Experiment with different mediums.
    Don’t just stop with writing for your website, post your articles in LinkedIn and Medium (and other social platforms), lead discussions on Quora.com and Reddit.com, take every opportunity to speak at chambers, business functions, and roundtables, start a podcast, identify peers in your industry and start a monthly dialog. These are just a few ways to stay out there connected with your audience.
  6. Get help from your team.
    It’s a lot of work to become a thought leader and it’s difficult to bear the burden of all of this alone. You’ll need a team to help you edit your content, design your imagery, push your content to different mediums and audiences, and to keep encouraging you.

Pivot Your Services

When I started my career nearly 20 years ago, my job was to help traditional businesses pivot to this new fangled thing called the “Internet.” Today we are at an interesting crossroads where most industries are trying to pivot quickly to deliver their services online. Case in point schools, churches, and professional trade and networking groups are pivoting to figure out how to connect with their students and constituents online – even healthcare is pivoting both essential and non-essential doctor visits to telehealth.

I’ve worked with a number of businesses in the past two weeks that are trying to pivot their services to go digital. I believe we are going to see a new range of services popping up that will take advantage of social distancing and online services to deliver their services in a more effective manner and others that will permanently adapt as a result of what the COVID-19 experience has forced them to consider in regard to how they deliver services. 

If you look at your business, what could you do with Zoom or other services to deliver your services online temporarily or permanently?

Uncertain Times vs. Stable Times

While we are definitely living in uncertain times and navigating uncharted territories, the strategies listed here worked last year, today, and they will work next year. These strategies are effective in times of recession, they are effective when you lose that mega-client, they are effective when your key employee leaves, and they work in good times when you feel like your business is on top of the world. 

Regardless of your business and marketing strategy, and regardless of your situation, remember you are marketing to humans. We want to be treated with respect. We respond positively to being treated fairly and with dignity.

When The Course Is Uncharted: Business & Marketing Strategies For Uncertain Times
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