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Ian Lowe Posted by Ian Lowe April 30, 2020

How can digital marketers pivot to the “next normal” during Covid-19?

Digital transformation was the phrase on everyone’s lips not so long ago, as marketers and operations teams embraced what technology had to offer. At this particular moment, business continuity is the focus of business leaders, as Covid-19 wreaks unprecedented disruption on companies and markets worldwide.

How can digital marketers play a part in helping the enterprise in its efforts to adapt to these challenges and overcome them? We explored that in our recent webinar, “Marketing for the Next Normal: The Ongoing Business Pivot,” where I was joined by two industry stalwarts: Scott Anderson, Chief Marketing Officer for Intermedia, a leading cloud communications company, and Scott Vaughan, CGO at Integrate, the enterprise demand cloud software and solutions provider.

This webinar kicked off the first in a series where leaders share their insights about the challenges ahead, and what enterprises can do to adapt and survive. Both Scotts joined me from a safe social distance, of course, as we drilled down into this timely subject. We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Here are 12 standout takeaways:

  1. How to quickly set up remote work environments
  2. Be prepared for customers switching from office-centric solutions to remote and mobile offerings
  3. How to quickly transform marketing messaging and materials
  4. Make sure you have the “operational rigor” to weather the impacts of a crisis
  5. How to map when you’re not sure if you’re going to be operating in the face of a disruption that could last six weeks or 12-months
  6. Be authentic and do the right thing
  7. Do scenario planning and future planning
  8. Go beyond budget and resources to stay ahead of changes
  9. Strike the right tone: Communicate that the company is here to help, but not in an opportunistic way
  10. Commit to improved customer experiences and use today as an opportunity to develop long-term customer loyalty
  11. How to be fiscally prudent and still make the big bets
  12. When to play a short game versus the long game

Read on to get the details.

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From left: Scott Anderson, Chief Marketing Officer at Intermedia; Ian Lowe, VP Marketing at Crownpeak; and Scott Vaughan, CGO at Integrate.

How to handle the need to make changes, quickly
“Changes hit fast – really fast,” Scott Anderson said. With offices in California and Washington, Intermedia had to quickly obey both states’ stay-at-home orders. Executives had huddled nightly the week previously to discuss contingencies, but the suddenness of the switchover to remote work still was like they’d turned “on a dime.”

Intermedia’s first challenge was to figure out how to quickly set up remote work environments. The second challenge was to manage the fact their customers were abruptly switching from office-centric solutions to the company’s remote and mobile offerings. That meant Scott Anderson’s team had to quickly transform their marketing messaging and materials, but they were able to “hit the ground running” and pull long hours to put those in place.

For Integrate, the initial challenge was different. Over half of their employees were already remote, and collaboration tools like Zoom were already knit into the work culture. Scott Vaughn said that operational excellence had been an OPR goal of the company this year, so their January prioritization planning paid off unexpectedly as the company found it had the “operational rigor” it needed to weather the impacts of the outbreak.

One headache for Integrate is the same plaguing other companies: What now? “How do you map,” Scott Vaughn asked, when you’re not sure if you’re going to be operating in the face of a disruption that could last six weeks or twelve months? “That becomes the next question for us all.”

How to balance marketing with authenticity and sensitivity

Marketers need to make sure they’re not appearing to be profiting from a period that’s one of the most fraught and tragic in modern history. Integrate held a series of multidisciplinary “pivot brainstorms” that included customers and then shared and re-shared the outputs to arrive at approaches and messaging based on people’s real experiences during this time. “Everything we learned from our customers, we are pulling into our own organization at the same time,” Scott Vaughn said. “The spirit of community and ‘we’re all in this together’ really played out and it allowed us to be a bit more authentic.”

In a marketing automation environment, one lesson that came through was the need to check every single element, from headline to image choices to body copy, to make sure it struck the right tone. “We don't need a ‘we-care’ general corporate message,” he added. “Our inboxes are full of those.” That means communicating the fact that the company is here to help, “not in an opportunistic way,” but in a tangible way showing it’s invested in doing the right thing.

For Scott Anderson’s team at Intermedia, “do the right thing” was also a key tenet. “We’re in a position to help people,” he said, “so we have to understand what they need.” That involved understanding how people’s work lives were upended by the pandemic. Their needs, especially for the SMBs who make up a huge share of their customer base, had changed almost instantly.

For him, the question was, “What do they need today? How can we make it super easy?” Marketing metrics and other considerations needed to go “out the window” in order to take a higher road defined by “human” acts like offering their AnyMeeting® video conferencing and webinar service for free to all users, even non-customers, for the rest of 2020. It’s important to “have a conscience inside your organization,” Scott Anderson says, in order to deliver actual value to customers at a time when they truly need it, and stand apart from the “ambulance chasers,” as he puts it, who are simply taking advantage of a crisis by simply wrapping old offers in a Covid-19 wrapper.

The pandemic has been a “test of culture” for Integrate, Scott Vaughn said, and they’re going to “double down” on helping their customer and partner ecosystem.

What advice would you give to digital marketing teams about managing budgets over the next 3-6 months?

Scott Anderson said there are always ups and downs, and Covid-19 will certainly impact the marketplace. Scenario planning is a must in any market, but there will always be surprises; Intermedia has seen outstanding demand for products needed for remote collaboration, for instance.

It’s a moment of “infinite flexibility,” as he explained, in budget allocations. Business and public sector customers have suddenly shifted to Intermedia’s web-based call center platform because on-premise phone systems can’t handle the sudden flood of calls. “I’m looking at where my audience is right now in this new environment that’s full of surprises,” he said, so marketers need to be able to shift budget and resources to stay on top of that. The flexibility extends to staffers, too; event marketing teams need to be able to embrace new tasks until it’s safe to re-open the conference circuit, for instance.

“This is the time to really do scenario planning and future mapping, Scott Vaughn added. That goes beyond budget; it’s about new conversion methods, new audience analysis. “Segmentation will become everything,” he said. Marketers “tout personalization,” but the strength of their profiling and analytics are going to be acid-tested by the situation at hand.

From a planning, budgeting, resource, and technology standpoint, agility and speed-to-market are now more valuable than ever. At Crownpeak, we’ve seen an up to a 9x increase in the number of daily edits our customers are making to their sites and digital assets as they strive to respond to this rapidly changing environment.

There will be winners and losers out of this; what can we do to help the winners but also soften the pain for others during the interim?

Scott Vaughn pointed out how market leaders who got to that level by doing scenario planning and all other things mentioned above. Taking those steps means any marketer will “come out stronger on the other side.” That includes committing to improved customer experiences and meeting their needs with relevant solutions. Flex pricing, for example, can help customers “get through these interesting times.”

“You still have to be fiscally prudent,” he went on, and “you still have to make the big bets.” That only comes from understanding your market, customers, partners, and channels, and when to play a short game versus the long game.

One long-game strategy? Scott Anderson said marketers now have an opportunity to develop long-term customer loyalty by staying close to their needs. “I’ve seen some incredible innovations,” he said. Small businesses are being forced to experiment and re-invent themselves by delivering their products and services in fresh ways.

Up and down the scale, marketers of all kinds are now being forced to act differently and learn new behaviors. The outgrowth of this may be a business landscape that’s permanently changed, so what should marketers focus on right now, in his opinion? The fundamentals: “Knowing your customers, delivering value, and doing the right thing.”

To check out the webinar in its entirety, watch it here.

Look for an announcement on our next “Marketing for the Next Normal” webinar soon.