When we first entered lockdown, many businesses were unsure of what to do with their content. Many packed their campaigns in, pulling the plug on months of work. Others tried to reposition them, taking into account the situation and what it meant for their prospects and customers.
Over the last five months, businesses have grappled with what it means to market during a pandemic, frequently questioning the “value” and “relevance” of what they are producing and sharing (as all good content creators should).
And what we’ve discovered is this: businesses are much more aware of the simple fact that it’s not about them. It’s about how they can help solve problems for their prospects and customers.
Now that may sound harsh, but it is nonetheless true. People want solutions to their problems, and they want those solutions presented and delivered in a way that’s easy for them to understand.
What is it you are trying to say?
The right message will define a business – and for those that have continued to market themselves, blithely assuming that nothing has changed, a very rude awakening awaits.
Forward-thinking PR directors and content teams are much more cautious, not out of fear of failure but out of necessity and the desire to deliver exactly what their audience wants. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a step in the right direction.
But whilst caution implies a calm, judicious mind, if you stand still for too long you’ll be left behind.
This brings me to the point of this blog – the five key dilemmas for PR directors and content teams right now as a result of COVID-19 and how they can best move forward.
When can you market again?
As a PR or content director, you are acutely aware of how the world around you influences your communications.
And right now, for businesses around the world, the main question isn’t “when can we start marketing and selling as normal?” but rather “how do we ensure that we market and sell correctly in this new world?”
Unfortunately, no one knows just how long the recession will last or what the lasting impact will be. It’s likely that many businesses will put their spending on hold, while those that have the flexibility to spend will be much more cautious.
Subsequently, as businesses emerge from lockdown with tighter budgets and increased scrutiny on spending, how you market your products and services (at least for the immediate future) needs to change.
But if your marketing and sales process focuses on explicitly selling rather than delivering value (where you provide high-quality information and support to potential prospects to nurture them to a point of purchase), then your marketing was never really “okay”, and as we exit lockdown, no one will want to engage with you.
The reality is that people don’t want to be sold to and that’s more true now than ever before as confidence is at a low and wallets are tight. In the B2C space, this kind of approach works because there are fewer decision-makers and problems are more clearly defined. In B2B, however, there are several variables in the purchase process.
As a result, the most effective way to start “marketing” again is to focus on identifying and solving problems for your potential prospects and customers. This has always been the way forward and if you follow this approach, then it’s OK for you to market and sell.
But if you are exiting this pandemic unsure of how to reboot your marketing and sales processes, think of the end-user – your prospect – and the issues/problems that they need to solve right now. Right now doesn’t mean what your personas are struggling with generally, it means given the current circumstances (i.e. remote working, social distancing and limited budgets) what can you do for them to make their lives easier?
For example, if you provide financial automation software – perhaps you could organise a webinar on financial strategies for businesses that want to save money during lockdown. Just a thought.
Once you know what you need to do, focus on creating high-quality content to address the concerns you have identified, and start having conversations with your prospects and customers, where possible, that provide lasting value. Over time, confidence in the market will return, and people will once again be in a position to buy. It is at this point – if you have nurtured your leads properly – that they remember you and turn to your business for help.
What kind of content should you be creating?
With many working remotely for the foreseeable future, now is the time to be creating content that’s much more accessible and easy to consume during the day.
Over the last few months, we have seen businesses giving away valuable content for free – webinars and guides, for example – but we haven’t seen much “professional” video content. When we talk about professional video content, we mean studio-based interviews, discussions, talking heads and so on.
As for why there’s little professional video, it’s because everyone is working from home and doesn’t have access to the equipment to create it. However, we would encourage you not to worry about the quality and instead focus on the value of the content you are producing.
If what you have to say provides value – be it in enabling potential prospects and customers to solve problems or educating them on something relevant to their interests – do it.
You’ll never have this much time to focus on new activities or campaigns again, especially as markets and businesses recover. Think about what kind of video content you can easily produce right now and just go for it. Maybe you could do a weekly content round-up for your audience, looking at the key business issues right now and solutions available to solve them. Just an example.
The most important thing to bear in mind is the value and purpose of the video content (and other content) that you create. If worried, ask yourself the following questions:
Will it help my audience?
Is it valuable?
Are we giving it away for free?
Does it acknowledge the situation but not profit from it?
If you can answer yes to the above, go ahead! As we exit lockdown, businesses will look to hit the ground running as quickly as possible. If your content can assist them in that process, they’ll love you for it.
Should you be jumping on paid advertising right now?
But that’s not all; businesses are also cutting paid advertising to save money during what is a difficult and financially challenging time.
However, as we exit lockdown and attempt to return to normal, people will inevitably – over time – start buying again. So right now (if you have the budget) is a good time to invest a little in paid advertising in key target areas to raise awareness of your business and get into a position to start selling again when the time comes.
Of course, you have to bear in mind that how you advertise your products and services will need to change. Business challenges remain, but COVID-19 has changed how we deal with them. How do your products and services address these issues? What should you be saying to your potential prospects and customers about what you do and how you can help? Once you know how to articulate your message, you can then refine your keyword targeting strategy to make the most of your paid advertisements, ensuring the right people find your content every time.
Do you have a plan for future crises?
For PR directors around the world, COVID-19 has been a learning experience – it’s been a test of their ability to create and deliver flexible campaigns and respond quickly to market needs.
The fact is that we have seen a lot of businesses cancel their content marketing campaigns and promotional activity as a result of COVID-19, but we have also seen a lot of them adjust. We have seen PR directors take current campaigns and tailor them for the current situation, focusing headlines that get them in publications and in the news. They’re not taking advantage of what’s going on but delivering content that helps people navigate the storm we find ourselves in.
Of course, we acknowledge that in our industry revamping campaigns is difficult (unless you work for a massive brand and have dedicated resources) – which is why we have seen so many businesses just stop their activities.
However, our advice would be to focus on building out 3-6 month strategies so that you always have some degree of flexibility. This length of time allows your campaigns to breathe and enables you to respond to changes quickly.
Having experienced and emerged from lockdown, you should now be in a better position to plan and react accordingly should a second outbreak occur.
Are you digitally mature?
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, digital maturity is about an organisation’s ability to take advantage of technological developments that change how the market functions. It’s about using the right technology and knowing why it’s vital.
Why is this important? Well, it’s important because COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses of many businesses – those using old software, manual processes and disconnected technologies – as we have started to embrace remote working.
For example, a lot of businesses have struggled to operate “as normal” over the last six months because specific departments cannot work remotely. We have seen it with accounts payable functions where invoices and purchase orders are handled manually, and with event managers who are accustomed to hosting conferences and meetings offline. We have also seen it in businesses where no automation is in place to handle day-to-day tasks.
As a result, many businesses have digitalised critical business functions, taking them online to not only improve service delivery but also offer more resilience. These businesses are now using automation or moving services/functions to the Cloud to continue operating.
But there’s also another purpose here – as the world continues to evolve and become more digital, it’s highly likely that remote working will become the norm. It’s easy, more affordable, flexible and enjoyable for everyone involved.
So, what does this mean for you? It means that (if you haven’t already) you need to rethink how you operate so that your employees are empowered and have the option to work remotely, as well as how you meet the needs of your prospects and customers. The reality is that you must give your employees a choice.
Focus on value and the rest will follow
Your focus now should be on providing value to all of your prospects and customers. The more you are able to help them, the more they’ll be able to help you – whether that’s through repeat business, referrals or advocacy in a time when people find it hard to trust!
If you’re looking for help in that process, from refining your messaging and creating valuable content, to building a paid advertising campaign and reaching the right audiences, we’d love to have a chat with you.