COVID-19 has impacted our industry, customers and company — especially as a restaurant management software provider — in a speed and depth that none of us could have ever imagined. The gravity of the shift was more drastic than anything I have witnessed in my 30-year marketing career. We had to completely change our 2020 marketing plans in a matter of days.
I want to share some of the strategies we have used — and you can use — as a team to pivot quickly and what I believe will be our new normal as marketers.
1. Marketing Events
This is where the crisis hit first. In the first week of the virus, shutdowns largely targeted events. It was March, the beginning of our busiest quarter for customer shows and national tradeshows. Events are a significant marketing expense in most industries, and as marketers, we are evaluating hundreds of opportunities based on brand awareness, customer relations and lead generation potential. Suddenly, we were reevaluating all of our events based on employee safety, customer needs and minimizing investment loss. The first week, about half were canceled and half were held. By the second week, all were canceled.
Going forward, reimagine your own events and how many events you realistically should attend. Events are expensive. Should you replace half your events with virtual events? How can you make virtual events more effective? In our new normal of the future, we may have a very different ratio of in-person events and virtual events.
2. Marketing Message Tonality
We quickly adjusted the tonality of all our external communication to incorporate even more empathy for what our customers were experiencing. They needed data, ideas and an understanding of how COVID-19 was impacting their businesses. We immediately started aggregating industry date, exploring alternative operation strategies and sharing all the good our industry was doing during the crisis. We had to study and become experts (or at least share other experts’ opinions) on how restaurants can switch to a 100% takeout model overnight.
Go from selling mode to helping mode, and switch your focus to creating content that will give your customers answers. Content marketing and thought leadership are both essential elements of a strong marketing strategy, but during COVID-19, they become everything.
3. Internal Message Alignment
Marketing is never about your external message only. You have to ensure your internal communication is aligned with your external. Team up with your sales, human resource, support, training and customer success leaders, and share everything you are saying externally to catch them up to speed.
As a team, we had to craft new processes and customer responses to when customers call in for hardship requests. What was our company’s stance on hardship requests? Our team members were getting fearful. It was essential that we offer financial help to our customers, given the crisis, but it soon became evident how our financial situation was changing as a company.
4. Company Financials and Restructuring
Within days, our worst-case scenario became our best-case scenario. Our leads and new business contracts slowed dramatically, and we realized that 100% of customers were going to have difficulty paying their bills for the foreseeable future. Every strategy, plan and priority list was obsolete. It was a new world, and we had to adapt.
We had to scale our expenses down. It started at the top with board members and executives taking pay cuts. All unnecessary expenses were trimmed, and then we made the difficult decision that we were going to have to furlough and lay off a significant percentage of our employees. My marketing team was cut by 75% overnight. Some of the most talented individuals I have ever worked with were gone with the hopes that if this thing turns around soon, we could bring them back. It was gut-wrenching.
During a crisis like COVID-19, the decision could become how many individuals you can afford, not how many talented people you can keep. You might have to look at the type of talent and skill sets you need to keep the lights on for the short term so that, as a company, you can be here for the long term when this is all over.
5. Marketing Spend ROI
Before the crisis, we measured every marketing spend at my company against a pretty stringent ROI. Every marketing dollar was accounted for, and the stages of leads and conversion rates were measured. Suddenly, we had to switch to a new currency to measure — our trust and credibility.
You are not going to get the typical ROI on any traditional marketing spend. However, how you respond and what you communicate to customers, prospects and the industry during this crisis is going to build trust and credibility. It is my belief that, eventually, this will have the greatest ROI in the long run. Customers need you. They need your software. Your only choice during this global pandemic is to be there for them every step of the way.
My challenge to all of us as marketers is to be agile and continue this level of awareness as we settle into a new normal. Shouldn’t we make an event virtual if it makes economic sense? Shouldn’t we always be building trust and credibility with our target markets? Shouldn’t we reprioritize priorities constantly based on what is happening in our marketplace?
COVID-19 is challenging us as marketers, as leaders and as humans. Let’s connect and share all our lessons learned during this crisis.