If you haven’t updated your marketing strategy since the COVID-19 induced shutdown began back in March, your time is running out.

Unfortunately, that’s what is happening for many businesses. For most companies, marketing is one of the first expenditures to go when cash is a concern. Many companies, small and large, turned off or dramatically trimmed back whatever marketing they had in March.

It makes sense. Marketing, especially advertising, is something we can turn off quickly to preserve cash and keep our people employed. I have nothing against that and believe that for many, it was the right call to make.

Unless you were selling remote IT, at-home workouts, PPE, or groceries, you probably didn’t stand to gain much in the short run by advertising and selling to new customers. Spending money advertising to drive sales in March, April, and even May would likely have resulted in a lot of lost cash.

However, we are now six months into this economic crisis, and if your marketing strategy is the same as it was in April or even the same as it was in January, you are likely losing a lot of money. There is still more than enough uncertainty to go around, but we have a significant role to play in providing clarity as we all work together to move forward as business leaders and marketers.

I’ve been consulting with businesses throughout the pandemic and helping them as they work to understand what they need to be doing with their marketing strategy to get their sales firing on all cylinders.

There have been three major themes that have come up repeatedly. You can use these three principles to create a marketing strategy that provides a clear path forward for you and your customers rather than just adding to the noise.

Recognize that everyone is uncertain

Right as the shutdown started, just about everyone went into fight, flight, or freeze mode, as they tried to protect themselves, their businesses, and their employees. This drove their focus inward and away from their customers. 

We can get by doing this for a short time, but at some point (preferably sooner than later), we have to look past our own issues and step up to help our customers with their problems because our company’s life doesn’t come from inside of the company. It comes from creating value for our customers. 

We have to look past our own issues and step up to help our customers with their problems because our company's life doesn't come from inside of the company. It comes from creating value for our customers. Click To Tweet

And right now, your customers are experiencing just as much uncertainty as you. When we recognize this, it opens up a whole world of opportunity to add value for our customers. While you may not be able to or even want to monetize that value, it will pay dividends in the long run. By establishing or cementing your position as a leader in your market.

When we recognize that our customers are also wrestling with uncertainty, it helps us focus our strategy on relieving that pressure. The first step I saw businesses (especially solo-practitioners or small companies) take was to ask, “How can I help?” 

Here are a few ways you can help your customers cope with or even overcome uncertainty:

  • Give away advice
  • Take a share of the risk
  • Extend payment plans
  • Offer smaller packages to start
  • Strengthen guarantees
  • Go virtual to limit physical concerns
  • Create urgency (where appropriate)

Focus on dialog

Too often we think of marketing as one-way communication. To an extent, we can get away with this in normal times. But with everything still changing, we can’t assume that we are saying the right thing the right way or that we have an accurate picture of our customer’s current situation.

The fix for this is to focus both your marketing and your sales strategies on dialog. You need their feedback. You need to know what they are currently experiencing so that you can assess what they need and how you can help.

  • Get on the phone, on video, or even on social media with your customers and listen. Listen to the problems they are having and listen for the emotions they are experiencing.
  • Treat them like humans. Treat your customers with more dignity and respect than ever, especially if they are struggling. It’s not uncommon for uncertainty and fear to bring out the worst in us. This is an opportunity for you to bring out the best in your customers. Hear them out and help them even when it’s difficult.
  • Take more time than you usually would. This is so hard to do when you are scrambling to keep things moving. However, you have to set some of your own urgency aside and slow down to get the rich insights that only come when we take our time.
  • Ask questions and keep asking them so you can stay in tune with changes in the market. Things are still changing rapidly. You need an active and intentional process for staying in touch with your market. Ask how your customers are doing and what challenges they are experiencing, and continue doing that over time.
  • Let their language drive your strategy. All of this is good to do, but what makes it so beneficial for you is that it helps you understand what to offer, how to describe it, and what obstacles you need to help them overcome before they purchase.
  • Create and frequently use short feedback loops. A key to both your marketing and overall strategy is to innovate. You need to get scrappy and start exploring new ideas. Don’t develop these ideas in a vacuum. Get those ideas out into the market, into the real world, as soon as possible. Lean on existing relationships with great customers and ask them to give you feedback on the solutions you’re developing. Don’t wait until the idea is fully baked, either. There is an appropriate strategy for you to get feedback at each stage of development.

Own your market

I’m going to keep banging this drum until the pandemic is well behind us. You have to own your market. Don’t pivot into other markets. Don’t sit back and watch someone else own your existing market. Now is the time to go on the offensive and push to go further into your existing market. 

Business strategies are all over the map right now, and many businesses are doing it wrong. (Check out the each of the business strategies I am recommending in this series.

That means there is a great opportunity here for you. While your competition is out chasing money in new markets that have nothing to do with your core market, you can double down and focus on your influence and position within your market.

This is playing the long-game. It isn’t easy to do because it requires diligence. It often looks much easier to make next month’s number if we pivot and do something different. What happens, however, is that we spend all our energy chasing our tail and end up with zero momentum. If you can resist the urge and stay the course, you have an opportunity to build up a tremendous amount of momentum in your existing market now and enjoy the fruit of your hard work for years to come.

Ways to own your market:

  • Define what market you will be in when the pandemic ends and go all-in on that market resisting the urge to dabble in others.
  • Focus innovation and ideation on solving new (or more pronounced) problems of your current customers.
  • Be a leader to your market rather than a market leader.
  • Paint a clear picture of the future for your customers.
  • Share your expertise for free.
  • Offer your existing organizational strengths where your customers are weak.
  • Show your customers how you can help instead of asking, “How can we help?”

A final word

These are not easy times for many. Even if your business is doing well your customers may be experiencing substantial hardship. 2020 isn’t going the way any of us expected. And we don’t know how the future will unfold. But that is neither a reason to be silent nor grounds to add to the mindless noise. Instead, we need to recognize that uncertainty is affecting all of us, and setting our own concerns and insecurities aside, we need to get out in front of and alongside our customers and help them find their way forward. The businesses that do this will one day in the not-so-distant future look back and find themselves miles ahead of their competitors and firmly established on the path to greater success. 

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