After a full year of pandemic-driven changes, my team is drawing on COVID-19 lessons to refine our marketing strategy for the year to come. These lessons fall into four categories:
- Optimizing relationships with customers as their needs continue to evolve
- Continually fine-tuning our digital outreach in support of great relationships
- Finding new, better ways to create and market content for strong customer relationships and effective digital communications
- Fortifying our agile operations model so we can continue to adapt as needed
Customer view: listen attentively, know your sweet spot
If your experience has been anything like mine, you may have wondered why, after many months to adjust to COVID-19, call centers of large corporations are still subjecting customers to unusually long wait times, or why business listings in Google didn’t accurately reflect their operational status (especially since there are clear guidelines on how to manage such information). Of course, some of that was unavoidable in the early days of the pandemic, but not all of it.
In March 2020, we soon recognized that customers’ reliance on us to keep their demand gen campaigns flowing meant there was no room for excuses when it came to delivering on the pillars of our business: lead quality, data integrity, and responsiveness to customers. As they experienced major business disruptions, we showed customers they should count on us to continue to deliver without interruption. Our success at doing so amid a once-in-a-century global pandemic only strengthened our resolve to meet this standard going forward.
A couple of specific examples of how COVID-19 is informing our customer engagements in 2021:
- Increased Energy in Social Media – We have always devoted considerable resources to monitoring social media activity for customer feedback and any forward-looking signals. Now, we’re investing more in that effort than ever before to understand the current state and, hopefully, where things are headed. It’s a simple concept, but social is an incredibly valuable tool – among many we use – for listening to customers.
- Honing Our Buyer Base – The pandemic has helped create a clear profile of customers that are the best fit for our business based on our services and areas of expertise. Since we can’t handle all the demand that is coming our way, we need to be highly selective about the customers we work with: those seeking quality, highly targeted leads, and enriched customer data on a consistent, repeatable basis. For customers, sticking close to our core means they will receive our best service ever in 2021.
Digital outreach: engage on customers’ terms with the right message
Digital communications – video calls, email, nurtures, social outreach – remains the primary option for engaging customers. Things have changed so drastically that Forrester Research has estimated 80% or more of the sales cycle for B2B companies will take place in a digital or remote setting going forward.
This digital shift gives customers more flexibility to manage their schedules and the flow of information from potential partners and suppliers. As pandemic restrictions ease and opportunities for face-to-face engagement return, those of us in marketing and sales could do one of two things:
- Resist their preference to maintain contact via digital channels
- Embrace this new order and find the best ways to continue serving them – on their terms.
We’ll focus on the latter.
A couple of points for 2021 specific to email communication, which is our primary marketing channel:
- Specificity – Customers and prospects have been bombarded with communications from B2B and B2C companies. This necessitates that we are more vigilant than ever before – and that’s saying something – in applying our database contact frequency rules. It means being extra judicious in our use of targeting criteria to ensure recipients are only getting emails they need to get and that we maintain our lead-quality standards. We’ll continue to use our own data as well as industry data to optimize sending days and times for opens, clicks, and overall engagement.
- Sensitivity – If there’s a campaign such as nurture scheduled over weeks or months, the pandemic demonstrated the importance of reviewing content to ensure it doesn’t touch on sensitive topics or can’t be interpreted in unintended ways. We all need to be able to delay broadcasts a day or two to scrutinize content or to discard communications that just don’t hit the right tone on a given day. Plans can’t be so rigid that there’s no opportunity to adapt.
Content: find ways to stand out amid intense competition
After a year with little to no relief from their computer screens, your customers and prospects have likely consumed more content than ever before. Our challenge as marketers is to deliver memorable, useful material that stands out. That’s no small task, but I’m giving my team a few points of advice:
- It’s more important than ever to track our metrics to ensure we know what content resonates and what doesn’t today. Use testing – email split tests, A/B tests on landing pages – to optimize our content mix and presentation.
- Based on the data, be hyper-attuned to formats and content types that appeal most. Video comes immediately to mind as winning content. Blogs work well and so does longer-form content that is broken into digestible chunks for ease of consumption.
- While content is still the foundation of B2B content marketing, we need to maintain a laser focus on quality. Post-pandemic, that means we should refresh problem-solving content to address the current issues that customers and prospects are facing: stressed-out workforces, work-from-home challenges, and more. There is room for evergreen content, of course, but it must have maximum relevance today.
- Use content to put the best possible face on our brand. Content can educate, inform, and hopefully even entertain customers, without aggressively pushing a brand message.
It’s better to be agile than to have the perfect plan
There is one theme that runs through all the ideas cited above: the need to be willing and ready to adapt – or possibly blow up – our plans if business conditions dictate. Agility was always a beneficial, nice-to-have marketing trait. One of the lessons from COVID-19 is that agile marketing is now necessary for survival.
Marketing or campaign plans that extend months or quarters into the future should be subject to a high degree of scrutiny to ensure they won’t become moot if factors arise that are outside of our control.
From customer outreach to digital engagement to content development, we were fortunate to be agile enough to thrive in 2020. This year, if what’s good for the customer requires us to turn on a dime, we’re ready to do just that.
Let us know what you think:
- What lessons did your team learn marketing during the pandemic?
- How has COVID-19 changed how you do business?
- Do your customers have different expectations post-pandemic?