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How To 'Recession Proof' Your Digital Marketing

You probably don't need any reminding that the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world is having serious consequences on all our lives.

From the tragic human toll (in terms of sickness and death) through to the disruption of lockdowns, closure of public spaces etc, normal life feels as if it is going to be “on hold” for quite some time.

It is also clear that there will be significant economic fallout from this crisis, due to the unique nature of a combination demand AND supply shock. Doing business under Level 4 lockdown is not easy (and even Level 3 is not much easier).

Economies worldwide are bracing for recession (perhaps even depression, if some of the more dire predictions are to believed).

However, business has to try and continue as normally as possible - despite all the change and upheaval.

What else can we do, other than help each other and try to keep the wheels turning?

Some industries have of course been far more affected than others.

Many businesses are still able to trade, albeit in a very different environment. For example, most of the B2B businesses I work with are able to continue plying their trade, but the play book has changed drastically almost overnight!

In this article I outline some thoughts and strategies on how your business can “recession-proof” (as best as possible) its digital marketing.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I can’t see what the future holds. However, there is no doubt that businesses will need to continue marketing and trading to the best of their abilities.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Free Digital Marketing Assessment

Before we start, I’d also like to extend the offer of a free 'digital marketing assessment' (via Skype/Zoom of course!) for any business that wants personalised advice on how to continue marketing in the current climate.

We can take the time to go through your current activity and identify areas of potential cost saving and performance improvement.

Just email me on info@samfrost.co.nz to sort out a time. This is open to business owners from any country or locale (not just New Zealand).

Now, let's get stuck in to how you can look to "recession proof" (as much as is possible) your digital marketing activity.

Don't Quit Marketing Altogether

The first recommendation I have is that your business needs to continue marketing.

Depending on the reality on the ground, your financial position, cashflow etc the manner in which you do marketing might change (and the amount of marketing you are able to do might also have to change) - but you should continue to promote and market to the best of your abilities.

This is especially so if your business is in any industry that isn’t totally locked down/shut down, and even more so now that Level 3 is looming.

Maintaining pace on marketing during a recessionary period is important for a few key reasons:

  1. Marketing can help to slow (or even stem) the decline in business activity. If you shut off the marketing tap as things are slowing down in general, then you effectively “double down” but in the wrong direction. Not only is the size of your market going to shrink, but your share of it will shrink even faster if you stop all activity. You may be able to get by for some time on existing brand equity, but for many businesses this will not be enough! By continuing with marketing and promoting your business you may be able to slow (and possibly even reverse) this trend.
  2. Your competitors are likely pulling back on their marketing, and continuing to promote your business at this time may give you an opportunity to leapfrog them. Imagine you are running a race, and you are a few positions back behind the race leaders. If they start to slow but you maintain your pace, you gain on them and can potentially overtake them without any additional effort. You are gaining relative to them, much as now may be an opportunity for your business to gain relative to the competition. Of course if you are able to scale up your activity, then you can catch up and overtake even faster. 
  3. You can help prepare your business for a faster recovery on the other side. At some stage this crisis will pass and life will go back to normal - you want your business to be positioned to spring back as quickly and as comprehensively as possible. Maintaining some degree of momentum is critical for being able to bounce back as effectively as possible. Think about a driver looking to do a race start - he/she will build up the revs of the engine, even while the brakes are on. This means that when the light goes green you don't need to wait for the engine to "catch up". Instead, you can launch your way down the track like this guy:

Digital Is Now The Biggest Game In Town

Another reason why you need to continue doing digital marketing is that digital is the biggest game in town for many businesses at the moment.

With more people on lockdowns or having to work from home, the role that your digital presence plays is more critical than ever.

If prospective customers can’t find you online, they may not have any other chance to find you at all.

But what if all of your inquiry generally comes from trade shows and expos, and those are now closed?

Can you still sell if your traveling sales reps cannot go and visit clients at their places of work?

Google is still open. Facebook and other social media networks are still available. People are going to be spending more time online than perhaps ever before in the coming weeks and months.

It is more important than ever that your business has a comprehensive, effective digital presence.

You need to make it easy for prospective customers to find you online when they search for the problems you solve and the questions you answer.

Now is the time to ensure your business has an easy-to-use, informative website that articulates your value (see my comments below on this) and makes clear the next steps to engage.

Also consider doubling down on efforts on social media if you are active on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn as well.

Make It Easier For Customers To Buy Online

In an online era, and where social distancing is the new normal, you need to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy online with minimal human contact.

This is one area where I find B2B businesses tend to struggle the most.

It’s not uncommon to have a website that acts as a digital catalogue, where visitors can browse the product range and submit a shopping cart that is basically a quote request (so that you can call up and arrange the finer details of the sale).

However, in the current climate it is worth considering whether or not your business would be able to do ‘pure’ eCommerce for some products.

Is there any scope to allow people to order directly online, paying via credit card or bank transfer?

Maybe this wouldn’t work for all of your product range (especially products that require customisation etc) but if you do have some higher volume items - especially ones that don’t require much pre-selling with a sales rep or customer support rep - then look at the possibility of pure eCommerce.

Shopify are currently offering 90 day free trials in light of the Covid-19 crisis. You could be up and running very quickly with your own limited capacity online store, with all the tricky bits like secure payment collection managed for you.

If you'd rather support a local (NZ) business, then I also suggest taking a look at Website World who are offering a 30 day free trial, and have some of the best customer support I've come across.

At the very least, ensure you have a modern, attractive, mobile-responsive website that is also secure (if your current website is not mobile responsive or does not have site security enabled, then you need to fix this ASAP - there is no good reason not to have either of these in 2020).

If you run a hospitality venture (e.g. cafe or restaurant) then you might want to look at one of a number of third party platforms that make it easy to load in your menu and take orders online. You could quite possibly use Shopify to power your online menu and ordering system, or look at third party options.

I will give a plug here to Click To Order, which is a new entrant to the market. Click To Order allows you to list your menu items and prices, and then customers can order online for delivery or contactless pick up. They have a free setup offer at the moment, and do not charge any commission or surcharges (when the free offer expires you just play flat, transparent pricing for service starting at $68 per month).

Basically, whatever sort of business you run, now is the time to have your web presence up to scratch!

Demonstrating Your Value Is More Important Than Ever

In the absence of value, prospective customers question the price.

Now - more than ever - articulating your value is so important as customers will be more price sensitive than they have been in the past.

With consumers and other businesses looking to cut expenses and preserve cash, you cannot afford to neglect the “value proposition” component of your marketing.

To communicate just how critical this is, I’ve stolen some words from Damien Rossi of Found MPR, who is one of the best operators I know in the “value space” - especially for B2B businesses (go follow him on LinkedIn here)

Postpone, trade-down, or just buy less.

 

What's actually going on is that, in these uncertain times, customers are reassessing what they value and reacting accordingly. As the context changes, our perception of value changes. A quick scan of any supermarket shelf makes it clear just how real this basic human response is.

 

What were recently 'must have' product features or a sound investment may now be seen as something we can 'put on hold'.

 

Now, more than ever, firms need to know how their customers define value so they can respond appropriately with the right proposition.

 

Damien Rossi - Found MPR

That last line is critical. You must understand what value means to your customer, so you can deliver the right offer with the right message.

If you’re stuck on how to articulate value, then I strongly recommend talking to Damien (he’s Australian based but works with clients in New Zealand as well).

Whatever you do, you cannot skip over the importance of understanding and articulating your value!

In your marketing messaging (e.g. digital ads, social media posts etc) make sure that you communicate that value and also focus on demonstrating the benefits of your offer, rather than just features.

Here's a short video on why focusing on benefits is so important:

Cut Marketing Cost Strategically To Focus On What Works Best

With a strong digital presence in place, and a sound understanding of your value in the marketplace, it is time to look at how you might be able to strategically cut digital marketing costs.

This is not about burning all marketing activity to the ground.

As we established earlier, that is going to cause more harm than good.

What you are attempting to do here is identify areas of your digital marketing where you can make simple, sensible tweaks and adjustments.

The cash you free up at this point can then be used in other areas of the business as required, or be redirected back into the aspects of marketing that are working most effectively for your business.

I have written and "vlogged" a lot on this topic recently, and will link to some of my resources I recommend you check out, instead of reinventing the wheel here.

For starters, check out my guide to seven ways to reduce your digital marketing and advertising spend without killing performance. I look at opportunities like optimising your paid digital ad spend, changing to less expensive or free software alternatives for email marketing etc, and getting better performance insights through conversion tracking.

Next, take a look at this video that showcases three ways to save money on Google Ads and get better performance:

And here's a short video on how you can bring in more traffic, leads and sales at low or no cost:

Now is the time to make sure you are doing all you can do with "free" (in terms of money, not time input) digital marketing.

Review what you are doing with:

  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Email marketing 
  • Utilisation of third party platforms (e.g. Reddit or Quora) 
To drive traffic, leads and sales. The right time to start is now.

Also look for sensible opportunities for cost savings by reviewing the tools your business uses for marketing.

For example, if you'd like to cut your marketing software costs, then give these 10 free tools a try. You may well find that you don't need to pay for premium options:

Do "Compounding" Content Marketing

At this juncture I want to draw specific attention to the importance of "compounding" through content marketing.

There is an urban legend that Albert Einstein once said the following:

Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it. He doesn't, pays it.

Apparently, there is no evidence of Einstein ever having actually said this.

However, his supposed comment about the power of compounding interest is insightful.

We all probably know what a compound interest graph looks like (perhaps not quite the case in today's markets, but you catch my drift)

Compound interest is ultimately all about having an "army of dollars" that go to work for you without you having to do additional work, and which stack their benefits on top of each other over time.

Compound marketing through content creation is a similar concept.

It is all about having an "army of content" that goes to work for you each day, matching your business with real people who are searching for solutions to the pain you solve.

No matter what industry or market you're in, your prospective customers will have problems that need solving and questions that need answering.

The way to start here is to list out all of those problems and questions, and then get to work on creating content (think blog posts, videos, podcasts etc) that answer those questions and solve those problems.

Distribute that content on multiple channels and formats (e.g. take a blog post, turn it into a video, upload that to YouTube etc) and rinse and repeat this process.

What you'll find is that over time you start building an audience of targeted, motivated people who are viewing your content because you solve the problems they have - and then you can sell to them.

Don't believe me? Here is an example of traffic growth on a site of mine that does nothing but answer questions and solve problems. Not a single cent has been spent on paid advertising, and despite the occasional up and down there is a "compounding effect" at play here, as the content that has been created in the past continues to deliver value and attract more views, leads and sales:

For another example, let's look at YouTube.

Now I don't claim to be a particularly successful YouTuber, but I do get inquiries and sales through my channel (you can watch and subscribe here).

I find a topic that answers a question or solves a problem, and then create a video about that.

Over time, there is a "compounding effect" from my continual creation of new video content, as both my older videos and new videos are viewed:

To reiterate, I'm not claiming I am the world's most successful YouTuber. I'm yet to "go viral" on YouTube (and probably never will due to the nature of my videos and the audience I'm trying to reach - I have no interest in producing marketing clickbait!)

However, it's a great feeling to know that in the last 28 days I had over 800 views and 30 hours of watch time (that is real people watching my advice and consuming my "value messaging") for zero cost beyond my time to create the content.

What's even better is that many of those views come from videos I produced months ago - meaning that I continue to benefit from work I have done in the past.

This is the notion of "compounding" content marketing at play.

The work you do today to answer a question or solve a problem can continue to generate commercial benefit for months and years to come!

The best part is you can get started for very little cost (ideal for this economically tough time).

What matters is getting started now, and being consistent, persistent, and diligent.

Here's a short video outlining why persistence and diligence are crucial for your ongoing marketing success:

Recommended Reading: They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan

If you're interested in this concept of compounding content marketing that is based around "question and answer", then I suggest grabbing a copy of 'They Ask, You Answer' by Marcus Sheridan.

This book outlines a very simple process you can follow to get traffic, leads and sales through nothing more complex than finding questions your prospective customers have, and then answering them to the best of your ability.

One of the reasons I recommend this book is that Marcus' experience comes from his own running of a business during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9 - the system he outlines was battle-tested in a recessionary, highly challenging business environment.

You can grab a copy here on Amazon.com - it is well worth your time and investment (that isn't an affiliate link either - I earn no commission for recommending this book; I just love how straightforward and effective his approach is).

Market To Current & Past Customers

There seems to be a common misconception out there that digital marketing is only about attracting new customers.

However, you should always be using digital channels to follow up with current/past customers - especially in the current climate.

It may be harder to attract new customers, but with strategic marketing to those who have seen your value and purchased from you in the past, it can often be easier to make sales.

Furthermore, strategic marketing to your current customers could boost retention, which is going to be mission critical in an environment where new opportunities could be far harder to come by.

Here are some interesting stats to chew over from Hubspot's guide to cross-selling and upselling:

It's 5-25X more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one. And when you do retain a customer, they're more likely to spend more and purchase more frequently.

 

Existing customers are easier to sell to -- by a long shot: You're 60-70% likely to sell to an existing customer, compared to the 5-20% likelihood of selling to a new prospect. So if your company isn't cross-selling and upselling, you're just leaving money on the table.

Think about whether or not you are doing enough to look after your existing customer database, as they could be the lifeline you need at the moment.

Is there some kind of special offer or product or service that you can offer those who have purchased from you in the past? What could you cross sell or upsell? Are you making them feel "loved" enough to stick by you as times get tougher?

Start Now & Scale Quickly

One final piece of advice for "recession proofing" your digital marketing:

 

You need to start NOW, and you need to scale your activity quickly.

 

There is a time lag to everything (especially content marketing). The best time to start would have been months, even years ago - I suspect there are plenty of businesses out there wishing right now they had done more to become digitally ready ... but we all have to play with the cards we are dealt.

 

However you choose to approach your digital marketing, you need to commit to doing it properly and being "aggressive" in your approach.

 

Now is the time to get your value message into the marketplace.

Conclusion

There’s no point in sugar coating it - life at the moment is tough for business owners.

Unless you are in one of those few industries that may directly benefit from Covid-19, chances are you are going to be feeling the pinch.

Regardless of how tough conditions are, it’s important to continue marketing your business.

Not only will this help you mitigate (to some extent) the effects of the current situation - it will also help place your business for future success when things pick back up again.

I hope this article has given you some ideas about how you can seek to continue marketing your business in the midst of this dynamic, rapidly changing situation.

I'm not claiming it's going to be easy, but there are pathways out there to continue getting your value message in front of the people who need to hear it and who could benefit from it the most.

And remember, I am offering a free video/phone call consult (got to keep the social distancing going!) for your business to cover personalised recommendations on how you should be doing digital marketing at the moment.

Just email info@samfrost.co.nz with a quick intro about your business and we can arrange a time.

This is a genuine, no-obligation offer - I want to help you out and help keep the wheels spinning for business.

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