The new normal. We’ve all heard about it, talked about it or used it as the opening line of a marketing blog. Most of us say it inside our heads with capital letters: The New Normal. When I first considered that idea, I anticipated that we’d eventually arrive at some destination where, while things might look different, at least we’d all be operating in the same marketing universe together.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case … and that might be a very good thing for marketers and marketing in general. As we consider how to interact with our customers and prospects about big issues like Black Lives Matter, the coronavirus pandemic and the potentially bleak economic outlook we’re facing, it’s clear that now more than ever it’s critical to be authentic to your brand and voice. This means there aren’t any stock answers. We’re all being forced to really think about what marketing means for our own organizations.
And marketers have been thinking and making necessary adjustments. In the “adapt or perish” vein, 44% of CMOs have cut events from their marketing lineup this year, according to a recent Gartner survey. They’re bullish about their budgets next year—78% expect their budgets to grow— and anticipate an even stronger focus on digital opportunities: 78% expect their social marketing budget to grow, 71% expect an increase in budget for mobile, 71% for websites, 69% for SEO, 65% for partner and affiliate marketing, 64% for paid search and 63% for email marketing.
At Scribewise, we’re lucky to work with a lot of smart clients who are in the trenches figuring out these big marketing issues. We asked them what the new normal means for them and how they’re moving forward. While you may not be able to port over their advice to your own strategies as a whole (again, be authentic!), what they said is hopeful, inspiring and chock full of lessons you can apply laterally.
Start by Asking the Most Important Question
Ellen Hosafros has a storied career across journalism and brand marketing, and now leads corporate communications for Corporate Synergies, a national insurance and employee benefits brokerage.
In that-makes-perfect-sense news, she told us that what we’re feeling about the new normal tracks with what she’s seeing and the environment that both she and Corporate Synergies’ clients are operating in.
“Adapting marketing outreach to this fluid national healthcare crisis is critical. Our teams have reimagined nearly every prospect and client touchpoint with the question, ‘Does the status quo still work?’ Invariably the answer is no, and so we adjust. The same is true of public relations efforts. What worked like gangbusters in 2019 is antiquated and archaic today.”
If the status quo is particularly dangerous nowadays, sticking with the old ways of doing things may not simply result in neutral or lackluster results; it could harm your brand. Case in point: Those one-time “cute” cultural nods Trader Joe’s gave to its international food choices aren’t so cute anymore. Time to update the status quo, Joe.
And you, too, should take a look at your own status quo. We prepared a helpful deck on navigating the pandemic; check out slide 5 of Business, Interrupted for the key questions you should be asking. You can even consider this an agenda for the rigorous discussion your marketing team should be having on the path forward.
But Don’t Throw It All Away
A good brand should weather the storm, even big ones like we’re experiencing now. While the status quo around how you go-to-market and talk about your brand should be questioned, the core of who you are and what you stand for should be more stable.
That’s exactly how marketing is shaping up for Amy Bielecki, the director of marketing at NEST, a company that provides the technology and operational know-how for the integrated facilities management industry.
“Customer service and culture has always been a big part of not just our marketing efforts, but our entire organization. So while things have certainly changed for everyone, having empathy with our clients and prospects towards the situation they’re in has not. We have altered the timing of our campaigns and communications so that we are not derailing their focus, but remind them that we are a partner and can help during these turbulent times.”
When you’ve carved out a strong brand promise, like NEST’s dedication to customer service and empathy, it provides a clear path forward. How you say it now may need to be nuanced, but the crux of what you say won’t change.
Sometimes Growth Requires You to Be Bold
The good news: We ran an unscientific (that’s not the good news) poll on LinkedIn and found that a whopping 55% of marketers who answered said their marketing programs are moving full steam ahead. When your strategy is solid, sometimes it just takes a few guts to stick with it.
Heidi White is the CMO of Navigate, a management consultancy focused on the true drivers of change and innovation—the way people work together. Heidi earned her chops in leadership positions at brands including Fox Rothschild, Unilever and JP Morgan, so she knows a thing or two about being gutsy and what makes companies grow.
“We’re still investing in establishing our brand and in meeting client needs, because we know both of those efforts will generate growth. If anything, the pandemic reaffirmed the value of key projects planned for 2020: comprehensive rebranding, including a new website, and ginning up our content marketing engine. We haven’t pulled back one iota on that work; in fact, we’ve doubled down.”
If you’re confident that your strategy has passed the status-quo gut check, there’s no need to throw it all out. Growth won’t happen if you do nothing, and doing your best to meet client needs will never be a bad thing.
Like a 90s sitcom character trying to get an oversized couch up a flight of stairs, now is the time to pivot strategically. No one is traveling, most people are stressed by the unknown and some of us haven’t seen our co-workers and clients in real-life for months.
“This is a business heavily driven by executive relationships. The way we present ourselves, in-person and online, has always mattered. Now that we can’t present ourselves in person, the way we do so digitally is especially important,” offered White.
Navigate has been doing some really smart thinking about exactly what this looks like, and their new eBook on The Science and Art of Productive Virtual Sessions provides great tips on ramping up that next Zoom or Teams meeting.
Bielecki is exploring new ground too:
“We have certainly restructured plans a bit and are looking for new ways to reach clients and prospects virtually. Trade show booths and dinner expenses turned into virtual cooking classes and wine tastings with a sommelier in Napa!”
(Editor’s note: sign me up for the cooking class!)
Take a Deep Breath and Embrace Change
It’s easy to get bogged down in the doom and gloom of what’s going on in the wider world, both as a marketer and a human being. Hosafros leaves us with some advice that can help mitigate some of those feelings:
“Although the national conversation is all pandemic, all the time, there will be a point when this too shall pass. When that happens we will pivot again. Therefore, change is the status quo and flexibility in marketing and business strategies is the new normal.”
And perhaps that’s the key to the whole thing. Staying flexible and embracing change—now and going forward. It’s obviously not an easy task but we’re all in this together, even if the new normal looks a little bit different for each of us. Let us know if we can help you figure out how to tell your story a little better.