4 common COVID business scenarios and how to manage them to prepare for recovery

Ledger Bennett Insights, Marketing Strategy, Measurable Results, Revenue

You may have already seen the client all hands our media and strategy team ran on the subject of ‘Maintaining Revenue Performance with Reduced Media Budgets’ We previously wrote a summary blog on the back of this, providing a media performance snapshot and some high level advice based on media data we’ve gathered on activities and actions to consider when preparing for the second half of 2020.

We’re now going to look at the latter half of this client all hands, which separated businesses into four groups based on how they’ve been affected since the onset of the pandemic. Using data gathered from Ledger Bennett clients, we’ve developed a strategy for each business group based on their current challenges, highlighting how they’ll successfully emerge from the pandemic over the next half of 2020.

As a starting point though, we’ll answer two very common questions we’re getting from clients at the moment.

Faced with marketing budget cuts, what should you do?

It’s different for every client and every vertical, but as a starting point, if you’re in a position where you can demonstrate positive return on spend that will help you protect the budget in the first place. However if that’s not the case, be mindful that we’re in a market where in most cases there’s a significant change in purchase intent. There’s little point in spending the limited budget you have on driving demo requests for example.

What’s working well now is a pivot change in content marketing. Appetite for industry analysis and future thinking predictions is down. People are looking for practical guidance on what to do in the next couple of weeks or quarters to solve immediate problems. If your spend is cut and you’re operating in an industry that’s been badly affected, the best thing you can do is repurpose old content that worked well but reposition it for the current climate.

Be authentic, communicate regularly with your current client base and provide help and guidance on the things they’re struggling with now. This will position your brand strongly in prospect’s minds, meaning when their buying power is reintroduced, you’ll be in a better position to become the provider of choice.

Is there going to be a ‘new normal’?

The answer to this question is dependent on two key things.

1. What you do now
2. The vertical you operate in

To point one, a lot of businesses have withdrawn activity completely, whether by choice or circumstance. The thing to bear in mind is that when things begin to pick up again, you’re going to be faced with a challenging re-entry process. By stopping activity altogether you’re sacrificing a lot of your learning from historic data and engagement. Staying active in the market if possible will be a better strategy and prepare you for whatever the ‘new normal’ might look like.

From what we’ve seen in the market, the pandemic has been a wake up call for a lot of brands who didn’t have revenue tracking set up pre COVID. This lack of data on revenue sources makes a business less agile, less able to quickly withdraw spend from activity that drove less revenue, and instead re-invest spend in those areas that drove high levels of revenue. Looking ahead, this should be priority investment to protect businesses from similar events in the future. So in our opinion revenue tracking technology should be a priority investment for most businesses.

A ‘new normal’ will be different for every business depending on the specific circumstances it finds itself in. It would be sensible to predict that no matter how your business has been affected by COVID-19, we’re all facing a new normal of some kind and there have been some significant learnings from this period.

This brings us back to the four scenarios we’ve mapped out for businesses affected by COVID-19 and the diverse strategies required for each.

The graph below illustrates the four business scenarios we’ll be discussing.

Business at a Standstill

Situation: Business is unable to trade, there’s an immediate pause on spend to keep business afloat, buyers aren’t active and job security is an issue. This is commonly affecting travel and leisure industries, real estate and recruitment.

Top line advice: focus on positioning your brand as a helpful resource and watch the market closely to be able to re-enter quickly and take market share as things recover.

Focus areas:

  • Customer retention – keep your customers informed in how you’re handling COVID-19. Give your customers extra value/ offers. Build trust and loyalty in a time of need. Reduce friction and improve the product experience.
  • Content marketing – create sensitive, educational and value driven content to leads that might be researching. It’s not about product information. Tweak this around practical guidance and advice rather than longer term visionary thinking. We’ve seen a lot of people utilise their staff downtime. An example might be having a meeting with your sales team to identify the biggest pain points and FAQs, creating short quick posts that answer a question.
  • Relevant web content – build conversion focused, keyword optimised landing pages for when you relaunch paid activity. Improved relevancy will help fight competitive auction costs when you have no historical learning. Spend time improving your website, on-page, off-page and technical.
  • Nurturing pipeline beyond email – extended sales cycle, lower lead scoring barriers. Keep leads warm for when buying starts up. Educational content streams, personalised case studies, chat playbooks and personalised sales outreach.

Traditional Sales

Situation: Sales have plummeted but targets haven’t. These are typically organisations that have field sales and channel partners targeting mid-market to enterprise with a more consultative selling approach. Typically they still have the same problems that need solving, but they’re not in a position to purchase.

Top line advice: Focus should be on audience building and nurturing. Provide resources, guidance and education to help them through the current period.

  • Switch to core activity – only top tier revenue campaigns stay live, brand, ABM and remarketing. Scale back non-brand search, switch from prospecting to ABM & pipeline acceleration.
  • Refresh ABM list -based on verticals that are less affected and focus time on those where they’re in a growth phase. Focus industries that are going to be hit the least, or are due to thrive.
  • Nurturing pipeline with more than email – extended sales cycle, lower lead scoring barriers. Keep leads warm for when buying starts up, educational content streams, personalised case studies and personalised sales outreach.
  • Non contact selling – more experimentation in innovative digital experiences. With reductions to in-person meetings and travel, shifting to digital technologies to replicate a face to face experience is key for a positive rebound.

Digital Business

Situation: Sales have slowed and cycles are getting longer. Usually businesses who already have an online product or largely digital sales process but have seen sales soften. Typically affecting digital services/SAAS, logistics and pharma.

Top line advice:
Stay active in the market, grow audience lists and lead volume and adjust focus on existing pipeline, accelerating value and adding value to engaged prospects.

  • Focus on high ROAS campaigns – maintain investment in high performing direct activity, like search. Balance investment scale back with no loss to lead volume (market CPA reduction results in no decrease in leads)
  • Grow audience – double down on new thought leadership content. Capture net new audiences for cheaper, then nurture them when they’re ready to buy.
  • Nurturing pipeline with more than email – extended sales cycle, lower lead scoring barriers. Keep leads warm for when buying starts up, educational content streams, personalised case studies and personalised sales outreach.
  • Amplify existing assets – use paid and organic social where possible and amplify what you’ve currently got. Bring those back to market, shape and amend them to help buyers during this period of research. Don’t write off old content, reuse and reshape.

Built for Online Business

Situation: Accelerated growth, thriving in this climate. High demand and fast sales. Typically Fin-Tech, Security Services and technology such as takeaway ordering automation.

Top line advice: Rapidly increase media spend for a higher volume of leads (especially because ROI is higher at the moment due to lower overall investment in advertising) and consider sales productivity and process improvement.

  • Connect buyers with sales faster – appointment scheduling in chat and email. Review lead scoring and lower entry barrier. Develop high intent nurtures for priority prospects.
  • Acquisition growth – maximise non-brand keyword universe, competitor campaigns and test broadly targeted strategies. Scale video. Launch case study focused remarketing to build proof and urgency.
  • Shift your messaging – recognise your value and put your audience first. Short burst message testing that reflects changing climate.
  • High velocity experimentation – Hypothesise. Experiment. Grow. Testing when conversion volume is up brings statistical significance quicker. Answer those burning questions in a low risk environment.

In Conclusion

Put the groundwork in now to give your business the best chance of success in the second half of 2020.

Think about:

  • What are the activities you could implement over the next couple of weeks or months that set a great foundation for when budgets are released?
  • Focus on operation items that help you optimize performance and scale efficiently.
  • Lead management to improve conversion.
  • Review how data is captured, and how platforms work together.
  • While volume is low it’s a great time to refine how sales management, sales process and lead flow are handled.
  • Retain pipeline engagement. You want to avoid leads coming across a competitor they feel took better care of them during the crisis. Building equity in your engaged audiences is key.

Finally, for many verticals going back to ‘normal’ may take some time. Run a planning exercise to estimate how many leads and SQLs you might need, BUT, check back on average deal size pre COVID-19 and don’t hold yourself to the same standard, this may take some time to find equilibrium.

Some businesses will stay current, some won’t. Data and the agility to act on that data will be critical. You need to be updating and addressing things at least bi-weekly because there’s so much change. Identify opportunities to innovate, even if that’s as basic as revising the content and messaging you’re producing and begin to prepare for recovery.