Entrepreneur & Business Owner Jesse Willms Looks at How Marketing Has Changed Due to COVID-19
We are years — and perhaps decades — from being in a position where we can reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and fully calculate the impact and consequences. However, at this point we are already seeing monumental shifts in many areas across the business landscape, and arguably the biggest and most significant transformations are happening in marketing.
1. Listen Up!
Now more than ever, businesses need to actively listen to what their current and potential customers say; particularly with respect to learning forward during the crisis. Gartner
advises implementing a comprehensive voice of the customer (VoC) program, which includes monitoring all channels and touchpoints, and mandating that all employees who connect with customers in any capacity — sales, account management, administration, support, and so on — constantly capture any customer feedback and sentiment.
“Listening to customers doesn’t just mean paying attention to complaints and dealing with escalated issues,” commented Jesse Willms, who owns several vehicle history websites that enable consumers to check out the history of used cars and identify whether vehicles of interest have been in an accident, have any recalls, and are reliable according to other drivers. “Listening to customers also means leaning forward and engaging in dialogue to learn about factors like motivations, aspirations, expectations and perceptions.”
2. Enable Customer Success
As noted by Ipsos
, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced brands to re-invent how they stay relevant to customers in an increasingly unstable world. A key way to close the gap and remain relevant is by shifting from providing customer service to enabling customer success. The former deals with escalated issues, and essentially assumes that if customers do not complain or leave negative feedback, then they must be happy. The latter appreciates that it is also up to the business — and not just the customer — to ensure that buyers get full value from their purchase.
The difference between customer service and customer success is significant. It is not enough for businesses to ask if customers are happy. Businesses have to make sure that customers are completely successful, which means that they are taking advantage of all functions and features and getting the most results. If customers do not succeed, then businesses cannot succeed.
3. Get Agile — or Go Home
Agile in an IT context typically refers to a methodology (e.g. Scrum) for developing software. However, agile as a mindset and an approach also has a role to play in the marketing space when it comes to adapting to changing marketplace needs, and just as importantly, anticipating future opportunities.
“Agile marketing teams leverage technology, workflows, processes, policies and protocols to pivot based on changing variables, which can be triggered internally or externally,” commented Jesse Willms. “As we have seen over the last several months, businesses that adopted an agile marketing framework prior to the pandemic have been much more capable of re-shaping their marketing strategy and delivery in light of COVID-19, while businesses that were locked into a conventional command-and-control marketing framework are struggling to make the adjustment.”
4. Empathy Is the Best Policy
The classic non-scientific definition of empathy comes from Harper Lee’s epic novel To Kill a Mockingbird: it’s about “climbing into someone else’s skin and walking around in it.” Inspired by this wisdom, marketing teams need to grasp what is going on inside their customers: how they feel, how they think, and ultimately how they make decisions and take actions.
“The COVID-19 crisis has created a hyper-awareness among consumers of businesses that authentically want to help them and make their lives better, and businesses that are only interested in making as much money as possible,” commented Jesse Willms. “Businesses that authentically demonstrate empathy and caring at this time are making an investment that will pay dividends for many years to come, while businesses that are only in it for themselves will find out soon enough that scorned customers have very long memories, and they also do not hesitate to share their unhappy stories online and offline with anyone who will listen.”
5. Make Marketing a Cross-Functional Effort
As pointed out by Harvard Business Review
: “marketing teams should work closely with finance and operations to forecast different scenarios and potential outcomes, depending on how long the crisis lasts.” For smaller business that do not necessarily have these divisions and distinctions — for example, the same employee (or small group of employees) who handle finance may also cover administration and other functions — the advice to make marketing a cross-functional effort is still valid and worthwhile.
“Marketing should not be holed up in a silo, and disconnected from other aspects of the company,” commented Jesse Willms. “Right now, with so much change taking place, businesses need to leverage all of their knowledge capital to understand their marketplace, and how to effectively connect with profitable target customers. While marketing will obviously spearhead this effort, other teams and individuals need to make an ongoing contribution. For example, Jesse Willms says technical support teams need to let marketing teams
know what kinds of questions customers are asking, what challenges they’re facing, and whether they find their purchase rewarding or regrettable. This actionable intelligence can then be used to formulate and optimize marketing campaigns, as well as a wide range of collateral such as videos, articles, blog posts, infographics, ebooks, and so on.”
The Bottom Line
As noted earlier, we are a long, long way from reaching the end of COVID-19. Indeed, even if a vaccine is developed and distributed in the next few months (which hopefully will happen, though some experts say towards the end of 2021 is more realistic), the reverberations on the business landscape as a whole — and marketing in particular — will be felt for decades. Businesses that follow Jesse Willms’ advice surely increase the chances of finding the future welcoming instead of hostile.
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