All the economic crises of the past teach that the companies that are prepared to respond to the post-crisis situation, are the ones that not only prosper but surpass their competition. In a world dominated by disruption, right marketing could be an antidote. CMO’s have a huge responsibility. At the time of crisis, they are responsible for an organization’s most valuable asset – its BRAND. So, CMOs have to play a crucial role in the brand’s fate.
The external world (read customers) is not aware of what your company’s HR, Finance, or product team is doing to respond to this time of difficulty, but they’re surely aware of the measures the marketing department is taking. After all, they’re in the spotlight. Every move, every response, every measure is reflected in the campaigns and messages sent across. They are the ones setting the tone for how a customer would perceive their brands. This makes the CMO’s sole custodian of the brand’s image at this point in time.
You can’t sit back and wait for problems to prop up before you decide what steps to take. So here are a few guiding points that would help you navigate your action plans:
1. Listen to your customers intently, but don’t stop the conversations
We’ve all been flooded with ‘Here’s what we are doing for COVID’ messages. But the challenge lies in sending out relevant (what they want to hear) communication. Your customers need should be the front and center of all your decisions. And this is more valuable than ever. It can make or mar a brand’s destiny in the post-COVID market.
With the ever-growing fear and apprehensions, customers are getting more and more inclined to local businesses. At this time, if a brand knows and understands their concerns and needs, it has power. It’s important to know what customers feel and do, and why. It is critical to maintain deep connections with the customers and communicate with them empathetically.
So, invest in active customer listening. To get a better handle on what your customer needs, let your teams monitor all customer care emails, phone calls, and service chats for changes in concerns or sentiment. Analyze social media customer discussions about health concerns or information needs relevant to your brand. Collaborate with your sales and account management teams to gather what they hear from customers in the front line. And align all your action steps with the insights you gain. Marketing is only as good as the data available. So gather as much of it as you can to make every conversation and effort most relevant to your customer.
2. Plan for all possible scenarios
Planning. Planning. Planning and some more Planning for the present, the future all the ‘What If’ situations.
Well, it’s easier said than done considering the COVID-19 situation keeps changing on a daily basis. In such a swiftly changing time, taking the right actions, and ﬁnding the right message is indeed challenging. Agreed, that the coronavirus pandemic situation is way more difﬁcult than any other crisis in recent history. But that is what makes it more important to plan all the more elaborately.
There’s no time to wait and observe. You can’t possibly postpone planning because there’s a lack of clarity on what comes next. CMOs must deﬁne best, worst and moderate scenarios that could play out during & after the crisis based on the information and experience available. All probable scenarios must be evaluated from the perspective of the business, customers and critical stakeholders. And you need to visit and re-visit all these situations as and when required to keep up with the changing marketing conditions.
Teams and departments need to sit together and discuss detailed action plans about how to approach the possible scenarios and evaluate the impact each scenario could have. Here’s an example. For travelling brands, another lockdown could mean the worst-case scenarios. So they need to have a plan on what steps could be taken to maintain customer connections in case this situation arises. A moderate scenario would be limited relaxation of lockdown restrictions and the approach taken to deal with it would be quite different than the best scenario when all the travel restrictions are completely lifted.
Such detailed planning can help you be prompt with your responses to changing conditions and equip you with a road map to follow as the fog begins to clear.
3. Focus more on content
Now, more than ever, content is king. We are aware that things are not business-as-usual. Brands realize that now is not the time to bombard customers with a barrage of hard selling. You can’t hop right into how great your product is. But brands still need content and resources to keep the leads and customers engaged, and the conversations going. It’s not the time to stop talking to your customers, but it’s definitely time to change what you are saying and pivot content strategies in a way that directly addresses your customers’ concerns.
It is during a crisis that the decision-makers want directional help and guidance. Delivering world-class compelling content at a scale higher than before can be beneﬁcial in many ways. Your sales teams can leverage the content to drive interactions. Current content could help you build relationships with those who can develop into future customers. The brand image can boost its thought leadership position in the market. And customer connections can be maintained in a meaningful manner. Encourage your team to produce more and varied content, and keep refreshing the existing content as well. This could be the right time to experiment with content formats. Apart from informational business-oriented content, you could provide light-hearted, uplifting, or informative content to people looking for support. However, remember that, as always, the ‘why’ is important. For an uncertain amount of time, real events will not happen on the same scale as before. But that doesn’t imply that your customers need to be bombarded with virtual events and webinars. Or for that matter, large volumes of content. You don’t want to end up adding noise to the situation.
Relevant, timely, and correct dosage of content can do wonders in tough times.
4. Help departments in crafting their messaging
What you communicate internally (to your employees) and externally to your customers), needs to be clear and honest. It’s important to be transparent and be always stick to and be true to your brand values no matter what the situation. Through constant syncing with your internal functions, ensure that you set realistic expectations about service levels, product launch dates, product availability, changes in the billing & payment policy, and so on. Create proactive messages for the client-facing teams, to be distributed via different channels that answer common questions. Also, draft scripts to help customer service teams to handle sensitive one-on-one interactions.
It’s not the biggest or strongest that will survive but those that adapt fastest to the crisis at hand. The economy is down. Chances are that you might not be able to convert every lead to a client, but with the right communication, you can expect to be on top of your customer’s mind in the future. It’s time to Act Now and Plan for the Future.