Things have been difficult in 2020. The coming months and years are, by most reasonable forecasts, going to remain tough for many sectors.
As usually happens in such circumstances, marketers are going to be asked to do more. We’re going to face demands to deliver more. We’ll be tasked with making our marketing more effective. We’ll be tasked with doing more of the marketing that, in eyes of the finance department, works.
So, when times get tough, effectiveness becomes the name of the game. And when consumers are demanding more and being more discerning about their spending, the onus is on us as marketers to ensure that more of what we’re doing works in what are often very different circumstances to what we’re used to. So how do we do that?
You’re looking to make your marketing more effective, but what does “effective” mean to you - and what does it mean to the people you answer to?
Being clear on what success looks like is often overlooked part of the ‘effectiveness drive’ that many organisations go through when budgets come under the microscope. Reaching a clear consensus across stakeholders on those metrics can be even more difficult.
In the drive for effectiveness, so-called “vanity metrics” generally take a back seat. Yes, metrics like traffic, events, organic rankings and social media audience reach play a role, but they are very much constituent parts of the much bigger picture. The headline act are the metrics that carry the most weight in the boardroom.
Most niches are facing significant economic pressures and it puts the issues of performance management and process management under the microscope. When it comes to the crunch, organisations are going to play less attention on the softer metrics that tell the “how” and the “why”, and focus on the “what” – those hard outputs that tell the story of both the top and the bottom line.
Efficiency and effectiveness may sound as if they are broadly the same thing in the context of marketing, and they are indeed closely linked. But what is efficient is not necessarily effective and what is effective is not necessarily efficient.
What has arguably happened in many organisations is that efficiency and effectiveness have become synonyms – terms used interchangeably in boardrooms and at conferences. A widely-made assumption has developed, particularly in the context of digital, that efficiency is effective and as a result, we see many marketers obsessing over shaving another percentage point off their average cost per acquisition (CPA) or delivering fractional increases in click-through-rates (CTRs), when what they should be striving for is to generate more from their marketing activity.
That happens because, when a marketing budget is cut, the inherent nature is to demonstrate that (at least) the same marketing output can be done at that lower cost base. But then, surely that simply creates a race to the bottom?
The much more difficult argument to have, particularly with a finance director that is looking at the next line item to cut, is that spending to make the marketing more effective is possibly, in many cases, the better approach and the better investment. At a time when everybody else is cutting back, increasing aggression could actually allow the brand to capture market share and deliver longer-term benefit.
It is also worth stressing that what is effective is not necessarily measurable by traditional ‘spreadsheet’ metrics. Brand building, for example, can play an extremely important role in the consumer decision making process, particularly in times of low consumer confidence where buyers are looking for products and brands that they can trust. But how does the effectiveness of that brand building activity show against efficiency metrics?
Effective marketing can be, or appear to be, less efficient. Perhaps more dangerously, efficient marketing can appear to be much be more effective that it really is. What matters is whether the marketing works.
In times of crisis and downturn, what matters to consumers tends to remain the same, but the way in which they matter evolves.
Consider what was important during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; connectivity, community and financial security. The hierarchy of needs remains relatively consistent in the majority of changing circumstances and states, but the way we satisfy those needs and the priority we place on them evolves to the situation.
So, our connection to the community and people we care about was not maintained through physical contact but instead, by high-speed broadband and Zoom quizzes.
As marketers, we need to understand both what matters to our audiences and how our audiences are going to look to fulfil those needs at any given moment and in any given circumstances.
Take the time to walk your personas through the crisis and consider how their lives have changed, giving specific focus to how they might value (or devalue) your product. Now is the right time to talk to your customer base, produce content that creates a dialogue and invest in your customer facing agents to understand how they’re feeling.
Are your consumers looking for more value in times of financial difficulties? Are they looking for reassurance and a product that they can trust? Has the importance that they place on your product changed? These are the questions to answer and those answers may dictate how your strategy needs to pivot in response.
Now is the right time to talk to your customer base, produce content that creates a dialogue and invest in your customer facing agents to understand how they’re feeling.
As consumers change what they demand from their spending and how they satisfy those demands, it brings into question whether what you offer and the way in which you offer it remains relevant. Does your product or service deliver on those consumer expectations and, as importantly, does the way in which you talk about it and sell it meet those expectations?
In the “new normal”, whether that is a temporary norm or a more permanent one, your “evergreen” content may not be as evergreen as you thought it might. In times of changing consumer moods, sentiments and needs, your content may not quite be hitting the mark.
That makes it important to look back and review any content you deem 'cornerstone' to ensure that it's relevant and resonates in our new way of living, highlighting what actually matters to consumers in the current circumstances. Don't revert to your planned content strategy just because it took you a long time and you worked really hard on it. Instead, be flexible and be prepared to put in work to ensure that your plans are reflective of the current climate.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t still stand out from the crowd and retain your own brand tone and personality – you should absolutely continue to do that – but be prepared to adapt your content strategy to what your audiences are actually looking for.
Having determined how you are going to measure marketing effectiveness, set realistic goals that identify the difference that your approach is going to make at each stage of the funnel. How are you going to get the right attention and engagement at the top of the funnel? How are you going to guide those audience to purchase? How are you going to convert those audiences at the bottom of the funnel?
A huge part of this process is to focus on the keywords that are most likely to be driving the most commercial value. In many cases, that means that you could be better served diverting your attention away from those high-volume “vanity” keywords and towards those that have more commercial merit.
Look at the keywords that really are driving value. Use Google Search Console to understand how important those keywords are, report how your competitors target those keywords both through organic and paid search.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns and social distancing that followed, has forced most of us to adjust plans at the last minute. Many people have found themselves in a position that they didn’t expect to be in, and it puts an onus on organisations and marketers to adapt to those circumstances.
As consumers change what they are looking for from brands, and how they access it, consider how your brand needs to adapt to that both strategically and tactically.
If consumers are looking for value, promote the value you provide. If they’re looking for trust and security, make it easy for them to trust you and the credibility of what you offer.
Even now, this is a fast-evolving situation. How consumers, economies and even governments will react to the pandemic crisis as it evolves is unpredictable, so remain agile. If you are forced to close stores quickly, if you’re faced with sudden changes in demand of if you find your logistics functions hampered by changes in advice, make sure that you are agile enough to respond to those changes as quickly as possible.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and follow us on social media for the latest news.