COVID Communications: 5 Best Practices B2B Marketers Can Take to Turn “Now What?” Into What Now

Written by
Kevin Perez

5 Best Practices B2B Marketers can take to stay connected and keep their communications and marketing programs moving during the COVID pandemic.

We are weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic and we are all sheltering-in-place, practicing social distancing and working from home. We have asked ourselves (probably on numerous occasions) “Now what?” We also watch and are awed by the thousands of heroes in health care, the first responders and ordinary Americans performing extraordinary and selfless acts.

Those of us in B2B marketers are also working to find new ways to ensure business continuity, maintain brand visibility and equity, and keep the funnel open. Here are 5 actions that can help you turn “now what?” into what now.

Click on the thumbnail below to open my short video.

Good afternoon, everybody. Brian Regan with Actual Agency coming to you today from the home office.

It’s Friday, April 3rd. We’re three weeks in now on what is almost universally a shelter-in-place, work-from-home, social distancing protocols we’re all undertaking. And we’re also watching, observing and just admiring and being truly inspired by the remarkable work that our healthcare workers and first responders are undertaking in literally every state. It’s truly amazing. I’m not going to obviously talk about the healthcare implications of what we’re living through today.

I’m going to talk about the business implications particularly for those of us in B2B marketing. And at this point, I’m sure three weeks in, almost all of us if not every single one of us has asked ourselves, our colleagues, our peers now what? Now what do we do as B2B marketers? What I’d like to outline are five actions that you can do to turn “now what” into “what now”. These are five steps that we think are steps that amidst the turbulence, the uncertainty, the challenges are steps that can keep you moving forward, that can keep you as a B2B marketer working to ensure brand continuity, to ensure continued engagement with customers and with prospects and despite what we are living through, the business of business has to continue. It’s got to course through the veins of our country even as we confront this pandemic because we will get to the end and we will all be stronger as a result.

So, five actions and I’m going to take you through those. The first is all about content and it’s really focused on how you should be revving up your content engine. Content is the opportunity now to continue getting your point of view, your narrative, your story out there. And just looking at content marketing for second, Jay Acunzo who some of you may know is a great content marketing strategist talks about content marketing as “solving the same customer problems as your product but through media that you create and distribute.”

Some of you may also know Seth Godin, very creative, very talented marketer himself. He takes it even more succinct, “Content marketing is the only marketing that’s left.” And there’s nothing truer today than that and I say that as a PR professional looking at the earned media landscape. Journalists are very focused on the immediacy of what’s unfolding around COVID-19. So, that’s a challenge. How do we turn that into an opportunity? We look at how can we improve, enhance and grow our content marketing.

So, first and foremost, don’t stop communicating.

You cannot stop communicating. It’s just a matter of the tone and tenor and topics that you choose to talk about. So, how do you begin? Keeping your editorial calendar fluid and nimble. Changes are happening every day. That means you’ve got to be responsive to what it is you’re going to say. And so, it’s important to keep that editorial calendar fluid and nimble. You have to develop new topics. What worked three-and-a-half weeks ago is likely not going to work today. It’s got to be attuned to and sensitive to the ripples and courses of communication dialogue that are out there particularly as it relates to the business that you are in. Exploring new topics. B2B marketers tend to be relatively conservative but now’s an opportunity to expand the platforms that you’re using. And finally, educate about the topic. Just because people might not be buying in your particular industry doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be educated or even entertained by your brand and I don’t mean that facetiously or flippantly. What I mean is we are all stuck at home working from home now. So, we all, despite what we probably admit, have more time where we’re consuming information and news and other things across the web particular to our industries. And if we’re in B2B marketing, we’re looking at what our competitors are saying and how they’re responding. We’re looking at what kinds of content are they putting out. So, this is an opportunity for us to educate prospects and customers and even entertain because we’re not here to sell today but we are here to ensure that our brand is still visible as we emerge from this down the road.

Second, focus on personalization.

So, personalization and targeting is really using the tools that are available, the digital tools and technologies that are available today to really identify who it is that you need to target from a prospect perspective and how to personalize that message. Interestingly enough, 42% of B2B marketers don’t think they’re really proficient enough at personalizing and targeting their message. Here’s an important thing to look at relative to this. Today, we’re living in a world where more than half of B2B decision makers are Gen X. They are from the Gen X demographic. And so, they’ve grown up being entertained and buying from and engaging with consumer brands who are terrific like Netflix, like Amazon, at creating personalized experiences, at understanding the empathy and psychographics of the individuals that they’re servicing and communicating with. They really get to know the selection triggers. That’s what these decision makers are looking for more and more in their B2B experience. Today, three weeks in, looking at an uncertain future, there’s even more intense pressure on these decision makers, many of whom are still needing to find new partners, find new vendors depending upon the business they’re in. But every decision they’re making counts more than it ever did and there’s no margin for error in this world today.

Third, pay attention to your website.

What do I mean by that? We’re not traveling. We’re not going to trade shows. We’re not at events. We are not out at experiential environments where we are face to face, where we are creating brand experiences outside of our own four walls. That means the focal point of who we are, the destination to which we want to bring people to keep them informed about our brand is the website. Here’s another interesting statistic, 69% of B2B marketers don’t believe their website reflects and evokes who they truly are. This is a great opportunity. Budgets are going to be tight but this is a great opportunity to look at now, now that we’re not out in the market, now that we’re not out at events. How do we make the website really, really work for us? Couple of things to think about: differentiation, are we really differentiating ourselves from our competitors in language that resonates with folks out there? Thought leadership, I talked about we’re not selling now but we should be providing a perspective, a point of view about what’s happening across our industry that elevates how we are perceived in the marketplace. Business development, we may not be selling today but we need to be ensuring that as we move through this, as we overcome the troubling obstacles that we’re confronting, that we’re always thinking about developing the new lead and that gets us to lead generation. The website needs to be focused on the opportunity to bring visitors in through the content we create and move them into more of a marketing qualified lead status. And finally, think about the website always as an opportunity for broadcasting who you are as a brand, the ethos of who you are for talent acquisition. It should be your mirror and a pane of glass into who you are as a brand.

Fourth, act short but plan long.

And first and foremost, we all know that budgets are going to be challenged. They’re going to be questioned and they’re going to be cut. That’s not a reason to retrench. It’s a reason to rethink. This is not a time to retreat. It’s a time to rethink and we can rethink how we are using the dollars we still have going back to what kind of content are we putting out there. Are we targeting and personalizing what we’re saying and are we bringing people back to our corporate environment and creating an experience that is going to be meaningful? Second part of this is what I call part two and that is think about what’s the part two of your story right now because the story we’re telling right now is probably one where we’re challenged and where we’re challenged across the full spectrum of the business were in. But we want to be thinking about and communicating around part two of our narrative. Where are we going to be when we emerge from this? Because we want to anticipate what those prospects and customers are going to want to engage with more and more. And finally, we should not step away from continuing to build our brand. How are we continuing to reinforce brand equity and how are we continuing to ensure that our brand is out in front of folks? And that goes back to the things that we’ve been talking about.

And finally, number five, thought leadership not thought followership.

In moments of great crisis, leaders emerge because they think beyond the immediate short-term crisis and they think about where can we provide a point of view, where can we provide insight around what is happening around the crisis as it is unfolding to which people around us, our external stakeholders, our internal, our employees look to seek that insight and perspective to help guide them in the decisions they’re making. What that requires from us as PR professionals, as marketers is to compel our leaders within our organizations to think beyond the immediate challenges, to think about the value of thought leadership going back to continuing to build brand, going back to putting content out into the marketplace that doesn’t just sell product but speaks to the perspective we have, speaks to the attributes of who we are as a brand and the insights that we have to put into the marketplace that again distinguish who we are as a thought leader, not a thought follower.

I want to leave you just with one thought about thought leadership and I’m going to take you back to the days before 9/11 when the financial services industry printed checks in massive volumes and those checks would be loaded onto cargo planes every night and flown around the country. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the government grounded the entire commercial aviation industry, it posed an enormous challenge to the financial services industry. How do we keep the flow of transactions going? Great leaders, great technologists and folks who really saw how to move beyond the challenge came up with Check 21. It was the digitized ACH methodology that we now use where everything is digitized. So, great thought leadership coming out of great crisis. So, just to conclude, five things that help us move from “what now” to “now what”: first, rev up the content engine; second, focus on personalization; third, pay more attention to your website; four, act short but plan long and five, finally, thought leadership not thought followership. I want to thank you for spending a few minutes with me today.

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