It’s no secret that marketing budgets are taking a hit from the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s a challenge we’re all trying to solve.
There are two aspects to this crisis that make it so difficult for marketers to navigate through. First, is the uncertainty. We don’t know when this will end, so how can we map out our year and make good decisions? For example, we’re hoping there will be conferences taking place this fall, but we don’t know that for sure.
Second, is the fact that this pandemic is so unprecedented. There’s no blueprint for this. There’s no case study about someone who went through this same problem and how they solved it.
So what do you do? And how do you make the most of what’s left of your marketing budget?
“Control the controllable,” says Karin Aviles, Head of Demand Generation and Field Marketing at Centrica Business Solutions. “If we focus on the things that we can control, it will make this crisis much more bearable.”
Karin is a seasoned marketer who leads a team that plans to attend 15-to-20 conferences and events each year, and this year is no different. The coronavirus certainly changed those plans. Now, she’s focusing on digital avenues for lead gen, keeping messaging at top of mind, and holding out enough budget for conferences that were rescheduled for later in the year.
“I can’t control how long this virus is going to go on for or if I’ll face budget cuts,” Karin said. “So what can I control? I can keep my team motivated and engaged by staying connected with them. I can control how responsive we are to Sales’ requests. I can control how I’m marketing on digital channels.”
How COVID-19 Impacts Your Marketing Budget and Goals
The fallout from the coronavirus is multifaceted. The first challenge is that all events are rescheduled for later this year if not canceled. Many marketers have already put money towards shipping, promotion, and deposits for these events, which they might not get back.
This means marketers who planned to attend conferences this spring and summer won’t get leads from these events until later this year if at all. So as marketers, you still need to find leads to hit your goals and fill your pipeline before conferences start up again.
Your higher-ups may have frozen or cut your budget, and now you need to find leads in different ways with less resources at your disposal. Your target audience may be dealing with this too. This means that they might not be interested in buying from you anytime soon.
The coronavirus pandemic forces marketers to make big adjustments on the fly. You have to quickly make changes.
Regulations From COVID-19 Will Impact Your Sales and Marketing Efforts
New regulations are forming on a near-daily basis and may have a direct impact to both your sales and marketing efforts. For example, the State of New York passed a law as part of its declared state of emergency that prohibits unsolicited telemarketing sales calls. What this means is, if a lead in New York hasn’t requested that you reach out to them via phone, but you do so anyway, then you’re out of compliance.
“That's a scary thing,” Karin said. “Marketers have to partner very closely with their regulatory team members to understand these changes. It could have real ramifications for your company if you go against any of these new regulations.”
To be mindful of this, Centrica is not reaching out to any new contacts in New York that have not filled out a form requesting a call, or emailed the company requesting a call. If there is no prior customer relationship, the company will wait until after the state of emergency has lifted.
So, What Can Marketers Do?
Marketers need to continue to go after leads despite these challenges. You might have less of a budget to work with, have had setbacks due to event cancelations, and there may be fewer people willing to invest in what you offer because of budget freezes. Regardless, you still need to spread your message appropriately. Even organizations that can’t buy from you tomorrow may be willing to after this pandemic is over.
But how do you fill your pipeline with a limited marketing budget?
“It’s all about digital right now,” Karin said. “It’s about as much free stuff as you can do. In B2B, I’ve worked with such small budgets in the past, you can do so much for free. You really can.”
Lean Into Your Content Strategy
Whether it’s leaning more into your content strategy, social media strategy, or virtual events, you still have a lot of options. Centrica is shifting its strategy away from events and more towards both social media and webinars. Typically it would host about two webinars per quarter, but now it’s ramping up its efforts with three webinars this month alone.
Many workers are working from home right now, so there are more people online than ever before. But this might not mean it’ll be easier for you to find registrants. With every organization dealing with the same challenges as you, there will be more webinars out there to compete with, so you need to find a way to stand out.
“It’s about offering something of value to the customer,” Karin said. “If they feel like you have such a good take on something that it’s going to help them in this crisis, they’re going to go to your webinar over someone else’s.”
Leverage Your Employee Advocacy Program With Social Media
Centrica is also utilizing social media by leaning harder on its employee advocacy program. The company is training and refreshing employees, especially salespeople, to get more involved. About 45% of people are on social media more often than before this pandemic.
“It’s a huge opportunity to capitalize on an employee advocacy program,” Karin said. “But you can’t be tone-deaf. What are the messages that you’re putting out there? Marketers need to be mindful of how their brand will come across to consumers during the crisis.”
Adjust Your Brand Messaging
Your brand messaging during a crisis needs to be empathetic and respectful. This is not a time to be going all out with a full-on sales pitch.
You have a couple of different options for messaging. For one, you always want to add value. Let customers know you’re there for them, and you appreciate them.
For example, The Raw Squeeze, a juice bar in New Jersey, cannot have customers dine in due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it can do takeout orders. After customers buy from the store, they receive a coupon for $2 off their next order with a note thanking them for supporting the juice bar during this crisis.
Source: The Raw Squeeze
This lets customers know they are appreciated, and it makes them feel as if they’re donating to a good cause. Showing your customers they are valued makes them more likely to come back again. It builds brand loyalty, trust, and a customer-vendor relationship.
Promote Your Brand Goodwill and Positive Energy
Another option you have for brand messaging is positive energy. Now is a great time for some feel-good stories. Highlight positive things your brand, employees, and customers are doing to help others out during this crisis.
Here’s an example of a social media post from Centrica Business Solutions where it highlighted an employee who volunteered to deliver groceries for people during the COVID-19 crisis. Again, this is not any kind of sales pitch. Highlighting this employee makes him feel appreciated, while people externally really like this kind of feel-good story.
While navigating through the pandemic, remember to focus on what you can control. You can’t predict how long this will last, but you can control your messaging and your digital marketing initiatives. Your marketing budget may have taken a hit, but you can still get through this. Everyone is going through the same tough time, so it’s important to communicate with others, including those outsides of your organization and industry. We can all learn from each other to find strategies that could work for us.