The dire effects that Coronavirus is likely to have on the business world in general and the marketing industry in particular, have been widely trailed. But is there any hope amidst the gloom?
Some industries are certainly making hay while the sun shines right now: online grocery stores, take away restaurants, entertainment streaming services and toilet roll manufacturers have all seen an uptick in performance. Not to mention Amazon, who are reportedly making $10,000 a second whilst the global crisis drags on.
But what does the future hold for B2B content and inbound marketers? As marketing functions are furloughed and budgets are abruptly cut, is it time to hibernate - or invest and innovate?
It’s not all bad news
There’s plenty of insight and opinion online to support marketing decision-making right now. Some commentators think Covid-19 presents an unprecedented opportunity to take stock and strategise beyond the here and now.
And the likes of Mark Ritson are making the powerful case for keeping ad spending intact and maintaining visibility throughout the crisis and its aftermath to reap the long term benefits. This, of course, assumes you won't go bust in the process.
Insight from HubSpot
HubSpot, meanwhile, are using their access to macro-data to issue monthly reports on the real world impact of the virus on inbound traffic and emerging customer interaction trends. They’ve concluded that in March whilst sales were down customer interaction on inbound marketers websites had actually increased:
“Customers are initiating more interactions with businesses today than they were a year ago, and doing more research online.”
Which is an interesting observation.
All to play for in the attention economy
Because, if there’s one thing that we all have in abundance right now it’s attention - and that after all, is the currency of an inbound marketing strategy.
Furloughed and prevented from leaving the house, there’s only so many box sets we can consume and Zoom parties we can host. In the current circumstances, people have more attention to give and more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Enter Joe Wicks and a host of others.
But aren’t humans fundamentally restless and inquisitive? Isn’t that why furloughed employees are reportedly topping up on training and industry knowledge even while they’re not in work. Maybe that's unsurprising, as we’re all naturally focused on what will come next for us. Whether we’re working from home or are on hiatus, we still want and need to think about our professional lives.
Customers, potential customers and prospects are still out there
Your customers, potential customers and prospects, are all still out there, and they are likely still considering their next steps and the problems they need to solve for now and in the future. This includes the products and services they’ll need and the partners they may want to work with to deliver them.
And for those who remain in work there are very real problems that they may need help with right now and probably fewer internal resources to rely on. Your advice, your insight and your support still matter, and remain a commodity to be exchanged in the digital marketplace.
As HubSpot point out this is a moment to focus on 'education, not promotion'. And perhaps, if you pitch your approach right, this is the moment you could win customers for life, as you market your expertise as an expert and partner, rather than simply a vendor of services.
It's still noisy
But while our audiences might be literally captive in their houses (with only the internet for escape) that still makes a lot of noise to compete with.
But those brands who have adopted a media publishing strategy are better placed than most to lever their content successfully and keep the audiences they have carved out for themselves coming back for more. These flexible and agile content producers have been well placed to respond to the changing business needs of recent times.
Steelcase: office furniture suppliers have become experts in the 'world of work'
Think about Steelcase, the world's largest supplier of office furniture, who in recent years have pivoted to become experts and researchers in the 'world of work' not just the 'workplace'. They are producing reams of fascinating content about distance working, remote collaboration and worker wellbeing that is keeping their brand relevant for existing and future customers alike.
They will be well placed to continue talking and selling to their customers when the current crisis has played out and the 'future of the office' is defined.
6 B2B marketing lessons the Coronavirus has taught us
So, here are some more marketing lessons we’re taking away from the current crisis that B2B content creators might want to consider:
1. Be creative with what you have
In many ways this has become a time of extraordinary creative improvisation in the marketing world.
In the live arts sector, for example, faced with a complete shutdown of almost all their revenue streams, the response has been to create more and innovate with format. A particular challenge when their business revolves around large scale, live creative collaboration. Their current strategy is intended to keep brands top of mind and reach new and unexpected audiences searching for new distractions.
Take, for example, the orchestra of the English National Opera ‘working from home’, performing socially isolated duets on social media:
Not to mention the UGC campaign of the Getty Museum driving content to surprise, entertain and delight while their doors are shut.
We challenge you to recreate a work of art with objects (and people) in your home.— Getty (@GettyMuseum) March 25, 2020
🥇 Choose your favorite artwork
🥈 Find three things lying around your house⠀
🥉 Recreate the artwork with those items
And share with us. pic.twitter.com/9BNq35HY2V
Then there’s the National Theatre free streaming their highly prized back catalogue which includes the original, money-spinning stage version of ‘Fleabag’. These brands are entertaining the nation for free, levering existing assets, while igniting interest in their brand and lining up audiences for the future.
Of course, not everyone has such impactful content to share, we are not all Bafta award winning artists - but that’s not really the point. This is about reimagining, regenerating and repurposing creative output in meaningful ways in unchartered times.
2. Be dynamic and agile
There’s something in this improvisational spirit that brands of all kinds (including B2B) are having to embrace. Live events are rapidly becoming webinars and Zoom conferences, animations are being commissioned instead of films, podcasts are being lined up and recorded to leaven the mix of what’s being produced. And that’s more important than ever right now.
The extemporary nature of all this is currently part of the charm, the authentic energy of the agile organisation with something to share and the inspiration to share it, responding quickly and dynamically to changing circumstances.
Those brands who are media publishers, who have been (and are continuing to) generate eclectic, interesting, powerful content are still going to be a valuable resource for their customers. They are going to remain a destination even as Covid-19 decimates audiences and traffic elsewhere.
3. If you have time on your hands. Take advantage of it.
This also could be a great opportunity to spend time repurposing and replenishing content stocks.
In the last few weeks, a prospect of a client I write for downloaded one of the relatively lengthy, detailed (and fascinating, I might add) technical ebooks that I'd written. They then emailed to point out an inconsistency in a single passage buried deep inside its 20 plus pages. Now, I’m not saying they have too much time on their hands, but I am saying your content might be enjoying more scrutiny right now than ever before. And that suggests an opportunity.
Now might be a good time to consider restocking your ‘evergreen’ content - writing that ebook you’ve been meaning to get round to, that piece of cornerstone content that a newly attentive audience might, right now, have the time and energy to consume.
4. Don’t be crass and don’t get carried away
There are some caveats, though. Mark Ritson has weighed in with some characteristically trenchant views of what we should and shouldn’t be doing:
“The first lesson of the coronavirus crisis that now engulfs us is to shut the fuck up and let the experts guide us.”
Being a marketer does not make you an epidemiologist, so stick to what you know. At the same time, this is no time to retreat into mawkish and platitudinous postings about being ‘in this together’ and 'feeling others pain'. Surely, that should be taken as read? And, anyway, we can all tell the difference between authentic and manufactured sentiment.
5. Be helpful and stay relevant
At Equinet, many of the sectors we deal with have seen a genuine surge in traffic because they have something essential to say right now. But there’s still a need for variety in tone and format in how they’re saying that. And this is where the media publishing brands have the real edge. They are used to writing and publishing in a range of ways to meet different audience needs at different times. They also know that variety is key to retaining engagement. These include a mixture of bite-sized content, video, podcasts, journalistic deep dives, opinion led, as well as lighter hearted pieces.
6. Dig deeper, tell better stories
Having said that, we may all have unique and specific experiences that we can share that are pertinent to these times.
And as many entrepreneurial brands are repurposing at least some of their product offerings to respond to the crisis, there are positive and fascinating stories to be told.
Think about craft beer maker Brewdog who have switched production lines to produce sanitiser products. That’s genuinely something to talk about which is topical and says something profound about a brand’s capabilities and values.
Let's do more than keep the lights on
If you’re thinking like a media publisher, connecting with present and future customers with a range of relevant content and analysis should be in your DNA. Responding in a dynamic but eclectic way to your customers topical concerns is important; while creating and curating an array of content in highly consumable formats should remain a priority.
When it comes to communicating with our customers in this time of crisis and upheaval, there’s much more we can and should be doing than just keeping the lights on.