Andrew Rogerson, co-founder of Grist, argues that it has never been more important to get closer to clients.
Blighted by financial collapse during Barack Obama’s first election campaign, former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel noted that a crisis provides “an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before”.
Now that we have entered a huge period of uncertainty following the Coronavirus (Covid-19), it’s time to evoke that sentiment again. Clearly, we are entering another recession. How deep is a matter of debate.
But uncertainty requires a response. Uncertainty requires action. The alternative is inertia, procrastination and stagnation.
Reducing marketing spend is a false economy
It is tempting – seemingly sensible – in times of trouble to sit it out on the sidelines and reduce, or even freeze, marketing budgets. In reality, it’s a false economy.
A study by market research firm Kantar Millward Brown into the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath shows that those companies with a strong brand fared far better than those who had neglected their brand. Analysis of the S&P 500 showed this to be unequivocally so. “Conversely,” the 2011 report noted, “brands that were already weak going into the recession tended to suffer disproportionately.”
A Harvard Business Review piece entitled How to market in a downturn made a similar point. Its authors wrote that “failing to support brands or examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardise performance over the long term”.
The piece went on: “Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.”
We now have an obvious opportunity to reshape our marketing mix. Physical events, a staple of many B2B firms, are simply not happening over the next six months. Maybe a lot longer. We can now reallocate that budget and invest in genuinely trying to help our clients.
Time to show you care
As it is with recession, so it is with the implications of Covid-19. And as it is with marketing, so it is with B2B thought leadership. Now is the time to show your clients that you care. Moreover, now is the time to demonstrate your utility – to answer their questions, to address their fears where possible and provide sensible mitigation where necessary.
Irrespective of what happens to the world economy over the next few months, your clients have problems that need resolving whether it’s about business interruption, insurance, regulation or employment etc. In short, now is the time to provide guidance, a consistent message and calm authority. That, after all, is what good thought leadership is all about.
Thought leadership involves listening to your clients. Never before has the need to survey and interview your clients been more acute. Clients are desperate to find out what their peers are doing: how they are reinventing their marketing and services, how they are managing their teams remotely and how they are mitigating the effects of this terrible virus.
Several clients have asked me whether senior executives have the appetite to complete surveys given the current climate. Granted we are in uncharted territory, but at the moment clients are taking part – if the questions are relevant and if they feel that the answers will help them cope in this terrible time. Snap surveys (quick surveys to gather immediate responses to client concerns) are particularly appropriate right now.
Action based on data
There has been another huge affirmation during this crisis, and that is around the power of data. The governments that looked hard at the tough stances of China and South Korea have implemented strategies based on data and insight, rather than social freedoms and economic desire, no matter how well intentioned.
If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that we should avoid assumptions. No one has all of the answers right now, but your clients have genuine problems and you can only find out how they are responding by listening and responding. As best practice starts to evolve, you can also be there to articulate it and spread the good news. This takes time and investment. But it’s worth it because the alternative is irrelevance. Or, worse, invisibility.
Covid-19 is ghastly. We’ve not lost loved ones at Grist but we feel the world’s pain. But it provides an opportunity to get closer to your clients. It is an opportunity to refocus efforts, throw out some of the old marketing methods that you probably knew weren’t working, and genuinely help existing and potential clients. It’s an opportunity to produce thought leadership quicker and better than ever before. Do this and you (and your clients) will reap the rewards. Do nothing? We’ve seen where that has gone.