During challenging times organizations look for ways to manage costs and it is more often that not that marketing gets the snip. One of the reasons for this, as well explained in the Harvard Business Review: Don’t Cut Your Marketing Budget in a Recession, is simply because it is an easier cut to make, say, compared to payroll. This is despite data demonstrating that organizations which retained or in fact increased their marketing during crises recovered faster and came out of it stronger.
The Covid-19 pandemic is however somewhat far from over as we all wait for an approved vaccine and its distribution across the globe. This means that recovery will take some time. As marketers, we cannot sit and wait for magic to happen, whenever. We have to plan for recovery and adapt to the changing dynamics of the world order. Some fundamental areas to cover while planning for recovery are as follows:
Understand and segment consumer behaviour
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen change in consumer behaviour necessitated by the changing circumstances of people’s lives. These include working from home, cooking vs eating out, being more conscious about health and hygiene and relying more on online services to avoid needing to visit places in person.
Whilst data has been collected on these consumer behaviours, it is not certainly clear which of the new habits consumers will retain post-pandemic. Nonetheless, many of these new habits are shaping people’s values in ways that will stay. For example, people using the digital space more critically to make choices about purchases and being more concerned about their personal health and well-being.
With that in mind, marketers cannot plan for things getting back to normal but rather have to define that next normal by collecting new data on the behaviours of their consumers and understanding how to segment them for the product/service offered. By extension, this feeds into how to best meet the needs of the next-normal consumer (a term coined by McKinsey). Using the industry I work in, education, as an example, Finch Solutions posted a forecast of a drop from 12.14% 2020 pre-Covid to 9.75% Covid revision in YoY spending. This then gives insight into the kind of decisions we would need to make on marketing for recovery.
In other industries, such as retail, companies have cushioned themselves through strategic partnerships as a way of meeting the needs of the next-consumer. In the Kenyan market, this has been witnessed in successful examples such as Tuskys partnering with Sendy, Carrefour partnering with Jumia and Naivas partnering with Glovo (refer to Nendo report: IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CONSUMERS & CORPORATES IN KENYA).
Consider accumulated delayed demand
Your marketing strategy should consider scenarios of demand. At what points during the year is your product ideally required. Do you foresee a sudden spike in demand or a steady spread out increase in demand? What about your product needs to be adapted to meet the needs of the next normal at that starting point of demand?
In planning these scenarios, look at the long-term to understand the best projected pattern of recovery with realistic assumptions and targets. Consider that during the recovery period there may be dips and rises before stability is achieved. You will be working with a new set of data that will need time to demonstrate a more reliable pattern.
In the meantime, the recovery plan should highlight generating and tracking healthy leads, even if the conversion may come in the longer term.
Update your website
Your website is the heart of your digital presence and should either be updated or adapted for several crucial reasons:
It should reflect the information required by your consumers for the new and next normal. Unlike pre-pandemic times where we leaned more on helping consumers identify a problem or need they have, consumers are now more aware of their problems or needs and are actively searching for solutions vs landing on one by chance.
Improving on the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of your website should be a priority so as to ensure your website does not get lost in the increased online traffic due to the pandemic. SEO is not just about the quantity of traffic but the quality as well. If your website has a positive ranking in search engines, it is more likely to come up as a result during a web search related to your industry/product. Technical hitches, such as pages that take too long to load on your site, drop your website’s ranking.
Your online services should enable the consumer to transact and communicate with you more directly and efficiently. This includes features such as a live chat. Data has shown that one of the shifting consumer behaviours is taking time to compare brands with about 50-70% of once loyal consumers now trying new brands. If your website does not make the cut, the consumer is on to the next one.
On a high note, consumers are more ready to share their data to access information they consider useful compared to pre-pandemic times. Your website should contain that information and the opportunity for people to share their information e.g contact details or an answer to a survey question.
Boost brand leadership through PR activities
The pandemic has led to an increased need for information. Consumers have to make their choices more carefully. Given the challenging economic times, consumers are more particular about value for money. Thought leadership and useful articles are a good way to keep your consumers informed, and that is something they will appreciate of you as a brand - that you care enough to keep them informed.
Your marketing strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not retain a strong human aspect. Your brand should nurture meaningful connections as well as opportunities to connect. Keep interacting with your audiences and let them know that you want to understand them and their needs better so that you may serve them better - when they are ready to make a start - if not now.
Data has also shown that retaining and increasing your SOV (Share of Voice) during recession was a great contributor to both recovery and long-term growth.
As much as data says organizations that continue to market recover faster, this is only if well strategized. Splashing marketing spend at such times without data, thought and process may result in the false conclusion that marketing is not an effective recovery tool with the contrary being true. Added to that, it is understandable that adversely affected industries may simply not at all have the budget to market. This then calls for creative ways of staying in touch with your consumers without centering the activities around spend. Thought leadership could be one of those ways.