After more than a year of turmoil, business leaders enjoyed a moment of relief in the form of a surprisingly prosperous 2021. It seemed that maybe the worst was behind us, at least with regard to the economic ripple effects of the pandemic. But nearly halfway through 2022, the rose-colored glasses are off.
We aren’t here to talk about the myriad macro and micro factors that are aligning to threaten a potential economic pullback in the coming year. Those headwinds are upon us, and so too is mounting pressure for CMOs to keep their brands relevant during such uncertainty. That means marketing teams need to be laser focused on capturing the customer and employee experiences in ways that leverage emotions to help drive lead generation directly to the pipeline.
So, what can business leaders expect from the next six months? In short, uncertainty. A difficult economic landscape has never historically been a boon for business, but if there is anything to be learned from the past couple years, it’s that we can’t predict exactly what’s coming. What marketers can do is prepare for a few likely scenarios to ensure we stay agile in driving valuable and quality awareness to that delivers outcomes.
Those headwinds are upon us, and so too is mounting pressure for CMO’s to keep their brands relevant during such uncertainty.
It may come as a relief that now is not the time to complicate your efforts. Keep things simple and straightforward with a few necessary approaches.
Your brand’s strategic story is a critical tool in solidifying who you are, what you stand for and how you’re different in the eyes of your audiences. It’s also a constant work in progress. Even as you analyze the marketplace and current competition to determine how you’ll stand out, you also need to be looking ahead.
Recently, our team has been working on a series that focuses on strategic storytelling. No matter what challenge you’re looking to address, auditing and assessing your position is a critical first step. The data you will uncover can lead to potential pivots, investments or adjustments to your messaging.
We always advise brands to not only evaluate the current competitor set but also the upstream competition, which in turn may help determine future direction. Instead of leaving it to chance, or at least instead of leaving it until the last minute, start planning now for how you’ll differentiate in six, twelve, eighteen months’ time as your brand continues to evolve, change and grow. What new audiences will you try to reach? What milestones are ahead and how may that impact your position? What will your ESG and DEI stories evolve to be? How will you attract new and different talent to support growth? The upstream market can help answer these questions to better define and fuel content, messaging and positioning.
There’s no more reliable way to lose your audience than to give them things they don’t want or need. In an oversaturated content landscape, and particularly amid new economic pressures, marketers need to understand their audiences better — what are they thinking about, worried about, excited about — so they’re providing the content people are looking for and not overwhelming them with extraneous resources.
That analysis and insights process should go hand in hand with the revisiting the UX journey to better understand what is stable and what is changing. Has the decision-making process slowed? Are sales cycles taking longer? Has the rush to buy cooled a bit? And on top of those answers, how can marketers work with sales to overcome these new challenges?
These questions also factor into the customer experience — how are marketers showing the value of the brand and what it means for customers, especially during uncertain times amid inconsistent markets.
At the end of the day, look at the tone of your communication. Are you providing more value, efficient solutions or seeing exceptional customer and employee experience in the current market? If yes, those key messages should make their way into your narrative. Don’t assume that the messaging that supported your brand for the last twelve months is still relevant today. Buyers are anxious and will be asking for more value than ever before — brands must shift to show that value or else risk the dreaded retention issues.
Lead generation has always been a challenge and it’s not getting easier. As marketers prepare to cast a wider net to establish brand awareness to support outbound sales and drive more inbound leads, they still need to be aware of their ideal customer profiles (ICP). Teams will need to double down on top-of-funnel content to drive qualified brands and titles to the most valued asset they own — their website — through their earned, owned, paid and social channels. But the journey doesn’t end there.
Buyers are anxious and will be asking for more value than ever before — brands must shift to show that value or else risk the dreaded retention issues.
Once the ICP is in the funnel, the user experience, relevant content and demand generation programs need to be in place to continue guiding them. Patience is key here, as is agility and willingness to adapt as the situation changes. Marketers need to give their teams the time and resources to create a content experience that will ultimately convert.
Since concepts are not always the most useful tool for planning, focus on practical activities — share voice of the customer through case studies, releases and social engagement, and show demand gen efforts with webinars, user groups, newsletters and executive thought leadership.
In a sense, this approach unites the tactics already discussed above. Your employees have leverage and should be a part of telling your brand story, meeting content needs and supporting employer branding efforts to attract new talent.
The proverbial holy grail for any marketing team is taking that employee story and uniting it with the customer one. That starts with finding the emotional connection between these two groups, whether that’s through shared values, similar excitements or comparable experiences. How do these two stories fuel one another and, more specifically, how do you activate the connection so that CMOs can continue to prioritize it both for and with content, demand gen and PR?
Times have changed and tactics along with them. Marketing through content, storytelling and execution is a new priority. Boards and executive leadership understand the value of brand visibility during periods of turbulence like the one we now find ourselves facing. As reputation becomes even more critical, now is not the time to panic and retreat. Instead, bet on strategy. Use your data, customer journeys, employee experience and other brand attributes to show your unique value, remain visible and ensure that you are poised to seize growth opportunities across your industry. Ultimately, this strategy will lead to revenue in the form of retention and organic growth, or to new revenue streams through focused discipline.
Preparing for uncertainty is difficult. The fewer things that are left to chance and to last minute execution, the better off marketing teams will be. Stay tuned next month for our useful collection of resources to help guide marketers through the turbulence of uncertain times.