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B2B Marketing During an Economic Downturn
When the market turns south, and "decline" is a word on your accountant’s lips, what marketing actions do you take? Belt-tightening may be necessary in some aspects of your business, but marketing shouldn't be one of them. Here’s three important tips to optimize your marketing efforts when money is no longer cheap.
ONE: Don't slash entirely. Prioritize and optimize.
Anyone who's been in business for a few decades will tell you that markets are cyclical. Everything bounces back. After a boom comes a dip. Therefore, when downturns appear on the horizon, it's time to get strategic. Planning for long-term growth is where you should be burning your calories. So, when it comes to marketing, what exactly do you prioritize when you’re trying to do more with less?
Prioritize ROI with high-value customers
It shouldn't be difficult to narrow your focus to two key customer segments: the customers you want most, and the customers who do the most for your business. Shift spending to addressing their needs specifically. This may not mean reducing your overall marketing budget, but simply transferring funds to these key customer types (assuming your segmentation is clean).
Regarding messaging, consider the fact that they are probably thinking about the same types of reductions you are. They want more for their money, just like you in challenging times. How do you promote your products or services to these high-value customers in ways that highlight a return on their investment?
Evaluate your existing marketing channels.
Now think about your very best customer interactions. How do they transpire? Are they through social marketing? Are they through cold calls? Are they through segmented emails? Is it through search engine optimization?
Seek to replicate and enlarge the most successful — and most personal — touch points. Working closely with your high-performing sales leadership is important here.
TWO: Make your campaigns more outcomes-based.
When times are flush, we tend to be somewhat indiscriminate with our channels and our data. In other words, we tend to feel more comfortable trying things based on whim and intuition. During a downturn, it's time to narrow the focus. What data are you and your third-party partners using to inform the decisions behind your spend? What measures will indicate the success of that spend?
Evaluate your marketing “tags” across media.
It’s time to look at everything with a narrower view on definitions: your segments, the triggers that funnel customers into those segments, what defines an engagement, a conversion, a lead, a prospect, etc. These marketing 101 best practices can help you trim a lot of waste from your budget. You may even find a few dollars.
Prioritize results, not reach.
We all know that so-called vanity metrics (think “likes” and “follows”) don't grow your business or create change. Instead, can you identify the metrics that actually correlate to positive change in your business? These are the metrics you want to prioritize within your organization, and with your third-party partners. If you're in a position to incentivize or compensate as a result of outcomes, all the better.
For example, let’s say you only have 150 active customers out of 20,000 followers. Unless those 150 customers are providing more income than you can handle, the 20K number isn’t very meaningful. However, if you determine that shares of your content marketing articles correlate to new customers and increased sales, the question becomes how can you incentivize your existing customers or prospects to share more? What does this tell you about the topics your content addresses, or the channels you are using?
THREE: Markets recover.
As mentioned at the start of this article, markets swing like pendulums. There will be a recovery. Your job as a marketing leader includes being prepared to act as soon as signs indicate the recovery is underway.
Define recovery with your partners.
Agree with your teams which key metrics will indicate recovery triggered activities, and commit to operationalize them when they happen. Obviously, this will take group planning and is specific to your industry and business. If you’re transparently aligned, you can even design, stage, and automate these activities as part of your outcomes-based planning.
IN CONCLUSION: You always have actions you can take.
Markets swing and change. Your customers’ lives change, and so do your competitors. Marketing is never “set it and forget it.” So when economic news is tough and your customers are looking for ways to trim and be more efficient, your marketing task is to meet them where they are, not by taking a hatchet to your marketing efforts, but by doubling down on what’s working. Prove to your best customers that you’re listening to them. Set sharper goals based upon your most actionable measures. Before you know it, you’ll be weathering the economic winds with more gusto than your competitors.
About the Author: Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to healthcare and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.