The pandemic has forced B2B marketers everywhere to rethink their marketing strategies and editorial plans. This post describes four ways we’ve helped clients navigate through the crisis and position their organizations for the recovery.
Every day feels like a month; last month feels like another lifetime.
I imagine for so many people on the front lines of this pandemic — healthcare workers, grocery store workers, folks on the manufacturing lines for essential goods — this statement feels all too real. But, it’s also real for every B2B marketer operating behind the scenes to help their organizations achieve things they’ve never done before. The pandemic has forced a pivot, unlike anything I’ve seen in my 20 years in marketing.
For some, the pivot has been a complete reinvention of the business. Companies pivoting from brewing beer to making hand sanitizer. From building cars to making plastic screens. From designing hospitals to standing up “MASH” units.
For many of our clients, it’s been a need to re-think their marketing strategies on a dime and rapidly accelerate their thought leadership development processes. They had to find ways to bring well-researched, perspective-laden content to market faster than they ever have before.
For me, it started on March 12. That was the day I started calling clients to help them proactively adjust their thought leadership and marketing plans. At the time, I had no idea how acute or deep this crisis was going to cut through our economy. I just knew that firms couldn’t afford to be “tone deaf.” They couldn’t afford to say nothing. Nor, was it wise to grab their bull horns and start proclaiming their remote working capabilities. I knew they needed to be out in front with a clear message on how they could help their clients during the crisis and into the recovery.
Many readers of this blog have been taking advantage of the free webinar series we’ve been running covering a range of topics from How to Adjust Your Thought Leadership Agenda, to How to Pivot your Marketing Strategy, and How to Develop the Thought Leadership Your Clients Need Now. What most readers probably don’t know is that much of the thinking in these webinars is deriving directly from our client work over the last month.
While every client is different, in hindsight I realize there have been 4 ways we’ve helped clients navigate their journey through the crisis and to begin positioning their firms for the recovery:
- Thought Leadership Strategy — Prioritize big client problems with near-term solutions.
- Content Development — Bring original primary research to market quickly.
- Website Publishing — Stand up Covid-19 resource pages.
- Lead Generation — Leverage paid LinkedIn campaigns to connect with potential clients.
In the remainder of this post I’ll share some of what we’ve learned and provide a few examples:
#1 – THOUGHT LEADERSHIP STRATEGY: Prioritize Big Client Problems with Near-Term Solutions
I’d be lying if I said this was how I approached our first client calls. I knew some of our clients were going to face revenue disruption. And, I knew some of their editorial plans were going to get tossed out the window. But, I didn’t really have a framework for how to think about it. We just started by asking a handful of questions:
- What are your clients’ most pressing problems right now?
- How can you help them solve them?
- Can you do that remotely?
- Do you have proof you’ve done it before? Or, at least that it can be done?
Fortunately, halfway through this process my good friend, Bob Buday, showed up with some structure to help guide our thinking. He asked me to co-author an article coined The Thought Leadership Clients Need Now. Emerging from that article, was a tool he has named The Crisis Focus Framework, which became the model I’ve been using to guide our client discussions. Here’s an example:
We’ve used this framework to help firms like TBM Consulting plan and publish a series of helpful articles for their clients such as this one on implementing digital management systems.
#2 – CONTENT DEVELOPMENT: Bring Original Primary Research to Market Quickly
If this pandemic has accelerated one change to thought leadership marketing it’s been the pressure it’s placed on speeding up the content development process. The relevancy of research data used to be measured in weeks or months; now it’s being measured in hours.
The need to get thought leadership into the market quickly is paramount for many reasons. Clients literally need the data and the thinking that accompanies it to navigate their daily decisions. And, often, the broader market needs the information to gain an understanding of what’s happening in the economy.
We helped the National Center for the Middle Market rapidly publish new insight on the impact of Covid-19 on the U.S. middle market. Pulling from research collected between 3/23 – 3/25 and made available on 3/27, we worked with the Center to develop the key insights, visualize the data, develop both web and downloadable content, and get it published by 4/3 for a media release. A process we normally would’ve done in 3-4 weeks we compressed to less than 5 days.
Here’s how it published:
#3 – WEBSITE PUBLISHING: Stand-Up Covid-19 Resource Pages
As the pandemic started to unfold, it became abundantly clear that this was not going to be a “business as usual” event. In a webinar on 3/13, the forecasting experts at ITR Economics envisioned this as a “V-shaped” event. Just 10 days later, 7 states had shelter-in-home orders and had shut down whole portions of the “nonessential” economy forcing some of the best economists we know to re-cast most of their 2020 forecasts.
For the B2B marketer, responding to this moment with a few useful articles appeared to be an underwhelming strategy. By late March we started working with clients to help them stand-up Covid-19 resource pages combining useful, relevant past thought leadership content with new assets that were in development. We helped firms like Mazzetti and the National Center for the Middle Market get these up and running as quickly as possible. Here’s an example:
#4 – LEAD GENERATION: Leverage Paid LinkedIn Campaigns
With Covid-19 consuming practically all of the media attention, some of the marketing tactics that have become central to clients’ thought leadership activation strategies suddenly became less successful than they had been. Traffic to science- and health-related websites is way up — this chart from Alexa showing the rise in traffic to CDC.gov pretty much says it all:
As you might expect, we’ve noticed that both website traffic and search traffic is down on a number of commercial sites even if they have high quality thought leadership to help clients manage through the crisis. For instance, we noticed our own site lost about 5% of traffic in March relative to February.
The obvious assumption is that client’s energies are directed elsewhere — helping children with school work, preparing more meals, caring for loved ones. And, of course, their web attention and search behavior are directed elsewhere as well — learning about the virus, researching its health effects, and its economic impact on their communities.
Ultimately, inbound marketing strategies and other organic means of connecting with clients aren’t working as well as they were 30 or 60 days ago. To stem the tide and generate quality leads into the marketing funnel, we’ve worked with a number of clients to stand-up paid social campaigns. Specifically, we’ve been investing resources into LinkedIn to connect clients’ thought leadership with executives who can really value from their insight. Now, it can be expensive (we’ve seen the cost per lead on LinkedIn range from $50 – $250). So, you have to be sure that you have very clear targeting on who you’re trying to reach and valuable thought leadership content that addresses a big problem that you can help clients solve quickly to justify the expense. Read this post for more on LinkedIn Advertising.
One of the first things I ever published to this site was a webinar on the Future of B2B Marketing in late 2012. In that webinar, I described some of the lasting effects of the 2007-2009 Great Recession — a big one being the rising importance of web search in client decision-making. At the time I argued, I believe correctly so, that the recession didn’t make search “a thing”; it just accelerated a trend that was already in play.
It remains to be seen how much of what we’re seeing now will represent some kind of “new normal” as we come out of this pandemic and grind our way through recovery. The one thing we do know is that trends that were already in play (the need for thought leadership to generate leads faster and for marketers to get content to market quicker) will likely to have been accelerated. And, trends that appear to represent new behavior (buying hoards of toilet paper? cutting our own hair?) will likely self-correct in time.