Now that we’re at the “end of the beginning” of the COVID-19 crisis, and there’s talk of slowly bringing the economy back to life, it’s time to focus on two things: Reset and Recovery. Based on our experience and the research we’ve done, it’s clear that the decisions we make as marketers in the next few months could well determine how quickly we bounce back over the next two, three, or even five years — and potentially set ourselves up for even greater success.

A Reset for 2020

By now, nearly everyone’s 2020 plan has been tossed out the window. Whatever revenue or lead generation goals you set in January are probably irrelevant and unreachable today. It’s time for new “realistic but aggressive” goals for the rest of the year — more focused establishing and nurturing relationships so that your brand is top of mind when the recovery comes. 

Unless you’re in categories like remote employee work solutions, telehealth, or essential services, you’ve probably been putting off many decisions. That doesn’t mean that prospects aren’t continuing to be influenced by great content, storytelling, and valuable research. 

Psychologically, people under stress are more open to behavioral change, which can open their minds to new ways of thinking and solving problems. So here are the things we’re advising our clients to reset for 2020:

1. Focus where your brand can deliver value now. Be clear on your relevance and solve problems even if they’re not COVID-19 related.

2. Tighten up the weaker areas of your program. Most business problems become even more urgent at a time when revenues and budgets are tight. Weaknesses must be addressed with a sense of urgency because the margin of error just went away.

3. Be deliberate in your communications. Stay visible and top of mind with customers and prospects, but be deliberate in how and what you choose to say. Communications can make you appear strong and stable, but they can also make you look out of touch. Now is not the time to go silent or give up on the relationships you’ve worked so hard to establish, so double down on your communications – in a thoughtful way.

4. Make sure your digital engagement is exceptional. Selling has moved to digital engagement, so your content, customer experience, and ability to engage via online channels needs to be a huge priority. Major decisions are currently being made online — and may remain that way for the foreseeable future.  

5. Do good. Everyone is stressed. If you can find an authentic way to give back to your community, do so. If you believe that companies have a responsibility to give back, now’s the time to get busy. The good news – it benefits your brand as well.

Set Your Company Up for Recovery in 2021

Fortunately, B2B marketing hasn’t been as drastically impacted as consumer marketing. An April 2020 survey by McKinsey saw that while smaller B2B decision-makers are decreasing spending in the short term, 50% of larger B2B businesses are planning to maintain or increase spending. As smaller brands pull back, they forfeit the awareness and relevance they worked hard to build, which will ultimately work against them as they try to recover.  

Studies conducted as far back as the great depression, and as recently as the 2008 financial crisis, prove that those who maintain their spending during a downturn recover much faster than those who pulled back. This is very important to consider before sacrificing your 2020 program. 

In addition, because media costs have decreased, you can buy more awareness at a lower price. Of course, investing in your program goes well beyond media — public relations, content strategy, email, and digital marketing are all cost-effective ways to engage, nurture, and educate as part of your customer journey strategy.

A McGraw-Hill study from 1985 looked at how the recession in 1981 and 1982 impacted 600 business-to-business companies.

The McGraw-Hill study demonstrated that marketing and advertising during a recession could lead to relatively long-term growth. Source: Tellis study.*

“All firms increased sales for up to six years following the first year of the recession,” wrote the Tellises. “However, firms that did not cut their advertising over both years of the recession had sales that grew to almost 340 percent by year six. In comparison, firms that cut advertising in either one or both years had much more modest increases in sales that grew to a little over 200 percent by year six. These results provide strong evidence that not cutting advertising during a recession helps to keep sales growth at a high level.”

With this in mind, here’s how we’re advising our clients to position themselves for a strong recovery:

1. If at all possible, maintain your spending. Clearly it pays off in the long run. For 2020, focus on metrics like engagement and awareness instead of qualified leads until both budgets and optimism return.

2. Shift money from events and face-to-face sales into digital marketing and virtual sales. Make sure your public relations, content strategy, and email and digital marketing are all world-class. These low-cost/high impact tactics should be the foundation of your marketing to attract the attention of B2B decision-makers who are researching solutions online.

3. Take a fresh look at your category and determine how you want to position yourself. Your competitors have probably shifted their strategy during COVID-19. Many companies will cut prices and introduce more flexible terms with customers. Make sure you’re well informed about what your competition is doing and reposition if needed.

4. Measure everything. If you’re not measuring the uplift on every part of your marketing program, now’s the time to get religious in this area — especially since you’re likely to be asked to account for every tactic and dollar invested. Traditional measures like MQLs and SQLs (where prospects have real BANT) may not be as relevant today as engagement (time on site, type of content viewed), or social media clicks and followers — which all speak to increasing brand awareness and preference. These are valuable metrics as they indicate how prospects are moving from an early stage of the sales funnel like awareness into a later stage like active evaluation. 

5. Reuse and repurpose. Your content strategy should include earned (public relations), owned (website, collateral), shared (social media), and paid (media, search) channels. To maximize your impact, be sure to think through how you can reuse and repurpose great content (case studies, thought leadership, how-tos) across all channels.

Time for a Reset and Recovery Audit?

We’ve developed a timely Reset and Recovery Audit for our clients and prospects. Working quickly, we examine your current challenges and opportunities — taking an independent look at every part of your marketing program (tactics, customer experience, content strategy, competitive environment) and help you reset and get into position for a more rapid recovery. You can learn more about it here.

Let’s hope the recovery part is faster than we think. In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, we need to be “prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”