I write this in a time of crises. The coronavirus is causing havoc globally on an unseen scale. My own consulting business, Firejuice, is losing clients and maybe your business is, too? Clearly, if ever there was a time to fight for survival, it is now.
It is no secret that when it comes to survival, marketing is the first thing that gets chopped, and I won't tell you it's wrong. In times like this, you should indeed cut everything non-essential, starting with marketing. But there are two parts to marketing, and I suggest you only cut one down to zero. Marketing is about sales and also branding. It is the short and the long term effects of successfully investing in marketing. Short-term, it should help your business secure more leads that deliver more sales; long-term it should help raise brand awareness and loyalty.
We spend too little time looking at our businesses from the outside in. My suggestion is that you cut all marketing activity aimed at generating sales down to zero, but keep investing in brand building activities. Conducting sales promotions in a time of crises not only seems tone-deaf, but risks wasting money as almost no-one is in a mood to buy. Remember, everyone is holding back on spending money, not just you. But brand-building is an activity with long-lasting benefits and often neglected in times of aggressive sales focus.
But how do you invest in brand-building during a crisis?
Firstly, laying the foundations for a strong brand can be expensive, and I won't suggest you do this during tough times. Graphic design, website development, and producing company stationery and signage, i.e. to brand a business - is a significant investment.
But you can spend time on your brand. You can post something relevant to social media that shows your business is helping where it can. That's brand building. You can also show your staff that you trust them to work from home, or for those that can't, give them everything they need to be safe on the job - this also builds the brand.
Ultimately, the most valuable investment in your company brand could be to use quiet periods to carefully read through all marketing materials, digital and on-paper, and make sure it correctly represents your business. We spend too little time looking at our companies from the outside in. This is what you should not stop doing in times of crises, and in fact, ramp up.
It is very likely that, for the first time in a long time, your internal marketer has time on their hands. They should use this productively to do that other side of marketing focused on scrutinising and improving the brand.
Most small- to medium-sized companies obsess over sales focused communications and neglect brand management.
So, let me re-phrase: all businesses must always do marketing. Like they must always do bookkeeping, stock control, performance management and quality control. Marketing is not optional - you must do it. You can't switch it on or off, because it is the part of how your business addresses the market needs - i.e. marketing. This must always happen, and you can never stop being concerned about it. Marketing, alas, is much more than advertising, and this is where brand management comes in.
Most small to medium-sized companies obsess of sales-focused communications and neglect brand management. It is during times of crises where this becomes most evident - small businesses that want to cancel all marketing shows their poor understanding of the full scope of what marketing actually is. You can stop marketing communications aimed at feeding your sales pipeline for periods, sure, but you should never stop being concerned with what the competition is doing and what your customer needs and how your brand presents itself within this mix.
Such an outside-in approach is the essence of strategic marketing. Use times of turmoil, or downturn, to challenge your understanding of what marketing means for your business. Never stop building the brand - it is ultimately the only real asset your company has, namely: what customers think of it.
Author: Bernard Jansen