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Marketing for growth in a pandemic

10 ways to keep your competitive edge

Startups have officially plunged into uncharted territory. While some have experience tackling downturns, no startup marketer has ever navigated a global pandemic. There is no playbook, but as we enter the eighth week of shelter in place and social distancing, it is clear now that the old rules no longer apply. Right now we’re all developing new ones as we go. From a marketing perspective, here’s what we’re seeing work as we help our portfolio companies weather the storm.

1. Show your sensitive side

This pandemic is all-consuming. It’s all that people are thinking about as they search for new ways to work and live. For marketers, messaging is everything. Right now, every message and touch point throughout the customer experience, from your website to your sales and customer care lines must express empathy and relevance. To keep your value propositions relevant, especially given the perpetually shifting news cycle, it is important to huddle with your team every day (or at a minimum 2x week) to discuss trending news, evolving competitive differentiators, opportunities to address community needs, and reflections on how your product or service can mesh with users’ new work routines. It’s often said that marketers don’t sell products; we sell experiences. That’s never been more true than now. 

2. Get your home(page) in order

92% of B2B purchases begin with an online search. In most cases, this means that your website defines your customers’ first impression. It is more important than ever to ensure that your website is up to date to reflect your customers’ new needs, specifically:

  • Establish credibility quickly. If you have relevant experience handling the challenges your customers are facing now, articulate that experience prominently on your homepage. If you have trusted customers who will support you in those claims, work with them to quickly develop a new case study.
  • People want answers fast. Update your FAQ, highlight major updates (such as service interruptions) on your homepage, or add pop-up windows answering key pieces of information.
  • Be easy to reach. People’s patience is short. Make your contact information easily accessible. If customer service queues are long, look into chat-bot services to help you scale by handling less complicated queries. Consider creating a separate customer service-oriented Twitter handle or email alias to address crisis-related issues or concerns. 

3.  Optimize for low-cost engagement

Certain marketing channels cost a lot but deliver incredible returns. You may be asked to scale back spend, even on channels that deliver top-line growth. In this environment, digital ad spending is decreasing significantly. This is especially true where sales cycles are long, so the expenditures today may not pay off for months to come. In these cases, companies should optimize for low-cost customer engagement. Social media is an excellent medium to leverage for timely one-to-many communications. Be consistent with postings, steer clear of content that is too promotional and make sure you send the message that you are here to help your customers. Email campaigns are still very relevant and a great medium for reaching your audience 1x1. Every email should be personal and include valuable information that only you can provide.

4. Over-communicate, but not annoyingly so

No one needs to hear from every company with whom we’ve ever transacted. If a customer hasn’t conducted business with you in a while, save their inbox. 

However, the opposite is true with current customers, prospects, partners and vendors. Given the constant state of flux in the world right now, the only certainty is change. It’s important to check-in frequently, not only on status but, much more importantly, for people’s health and well-being. If you need to keep your community updated on service or safety, offer an opt-in or sign up for a newsletter format.

5. Be a partner, not a fighter

Even in the best of times, marketers and CFOs face a natural tension, as one group seeks to spend (in order to maximize revenue), and the other seeks to cut (in order to maximize profit). This pandemic is massively exacerbating that delicate relationship as marketers see the plans that took them months to develop slashed within hours. Rather than fighting the cuts, partner with the cost cutters. We’re all in this together. Explain which programs are most likely to move the needle for your business, which would take the longest to restart and which can be reimagined in a scaled back way to achieve half the results at a quarter of the costs. 

6. Cozy up to sales

It is always a best practice to be in lock-step with your sales team, but now more than ever, they’re your best resource for understanding your customers’ evolving needs. Hone in on changes to the volume of leads by lead source, and use this information to continually tighten your messages and optimize your channels. It’s not a good time to experiment on new marketing channels. For now, double down on what is working, and drop the rest. 

7. Rally behind your customers 

Customer Success should already be a foundational part of your Go-To-Market strategy from a very early stage, but right now, it should be on overdrive. Your current customers are king; they already believe in your offering enough to have purchased your product or service offering, and finding ways to retain them is a lot more capital efficient than replacing them, so keep them happy. Use this as an opportunity to get more deeply involved in helping them solve their evolving pain points. Make sure you understand how their company, team, and their personal lives have been impacted and do whatever you can to help. Remember their success is your success. 

8. Don’t make assumptions about virtual events 

Event strategy has become one of the most discussed topics among marketers across industries. Without the possibility of hosting anything through the end of the year (and perhaps even into 2021), many teams are feeling disoriented. The best course of action to get your team feeling confident and back on track is to re-establish your goals and determine if you can still achieve them through virtual events. Be flexible as some goals will need to change, and remember that not all events translate well into a virtual format.  Virtual events should feel extremely relevant and carefully considered from the attendee’s perspective. Consider adjusting program length and how you can incorporate attendee collaboration and networking to make it engaging. Breakout rooms enable attendees to interact with others based on unified topics and areas of interest in an informal environment. While we’ll continue to develop more best practices for virtual events over the next several months, remember to create intimacy and find ways to help everyone avoid virtual event burnout while keeping your goals in mind

9. Leverage your lead

While most companies are struggling at least somewhat during this pandemic, certain industries, such as collaboration and productivity software, are experiencing a boom. If your company is in a high-growth field: 

  • Understand the spike in demand and determine if any new use cases are developing. You might be able to help sales target a whole new demographic of prospects. 
  • Stay close to customer support, and immediately address any implementation or service interruptions. Be honest, and communicate realistic timelines for addressing issues. Where appropriate, offer concessions to compensate customers for headaches from painful delivery or service delays, shortages, or other errors. 
  • Maximize your ad spend, noting that bid prices are down. However, keep an eye on your return on ad spend (ROAS), and keep adjusting accordingly.
  • Revise and optimize your SEO based on your new target messaging. Make sure it stays relevant to your customers’ evolving use cases.

    10. Less is more

    We encourage all companies to find ways they are able to support their teams, customers, and communities that have been impacted by the pandemic. It is the right thing to do, and it is also great for company culture and employee engagement. But what it’s not great for,  external bragging rights. We are in a state of high-sensitivity and as a brand it must be genuine and authentic. While it is ok to share how you are helping, just keep in mind that in these circumstances less is always more.

    It’s often said that some of the greatest companies emerge from downturns. Those are the companies that move swiftly and with conviction to meet the rapidly changing needs of their customers. While product and engineering teams get most of the credit for break-throughs developed during those times, marketers have our own ingenuity to express. This is our moment; I’m confident we can meet it.

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