How to Cultivate Long-Term Marketing Success: 6 Actionable Steps during a Downturn

By Stephanie Weiss

Success During Difficult Times

Hi friends, 6-foot air high-five to you.

While we normally discuss all things marketing, branding and design on the blog, this post’s tone may feel a bit different.

Our businesses are facing the sweeping impact of COVID-19 and we’re all experiencing heightened levels of stress and uncertainty.

In our 31+ years of business, we’ve experienced other periods of crisis. We surrmounted the downturn after 9/11 and navigated the 2008 recession. While these current times are unlike the others we have faced, we know that with crazy change comes opportunity. Dale Carnegie says it well:

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

COVID-19 is forcing us to adapt our budgets and strategies, but it’s also forcing a slower pace on marketers, which we need to embrace.

In usual life, we are always looking for another hour in the day. With a global pandemic, we are forced to cancel a lot of our plans. We're no longer crowding each day with activities. We’ve stopped planning travel and events.

It’s time to seize these slow moments to speed up later on. The actions you take now will be your foundation to survive and emerge stronger when the economy starts to stabilize.

But how do we do that? Here are 6 actionable steps for a swift and strong restart for when a sense of normalcy begins to return:

  1. Strengthen existing relationships
  2. Listen
  3. Improve digital presence and processes
  4. Build new inbound tactics
  5. Help your community
  6. Learn new skills

What do all 6 of these things have in common? They take advantage of digital tools, more downtime, and maximize lower budgets.

They’re things that may have been pushed off with busy schedules several weeks ago and we now have extra time to focus our energy on them.

1. Strengthen existing relationships

Thank You Note Clients

Relationships are key to driving success. You’re probably checking in on your family and friends more than ever.

The NeigerDesign team has been checking in with each other every morning and we meet for virtual happy hours on Friday evenings – something we weren’t able to make happen as often when we were trying to catch the train or had other plans.

Now is a great time to deepen your business relationships whether it’s with customers, clients, members or others that you serve.

You may know many of the people who root for you and have stayed the entire course. They want you to survive and thrive–so show up in a consistent way for them and show them how you can bring value to this situation.

Actionable ideas you can execute right now:

  • Send personalized messages: Send personalized, contextualized notes and messages, or establish regular email newsletters that share news and updates about your business to your engaged subscribers

  • Gather testimonials: Take this time to reach out and gather more testimonials. Ask them: What is their experience with your business or organization? What results and successes you have helped them to accomplish? They can help you sound more credible and authentic than writing about yourself.

  • Be helpful: Offer them a relevant resource that can help them achieve something like a helpful article, download, webinar, an eBook, a how-to video or blog post.

  • Share stories: Help promote the wins or any stories of good news from your existing customers or members

  • If you don’t know your superfans, your data can help you find them. If you have an email list, you can create a segmented list of subscribers who open your emails 50% or more of the time over the last 6 months. If you host conferences, segment your list of past attendees and invite them to a virtual webinar. If you track sales, segment a list of the people who have spent the most with your business over the last 1-5 years

2. Listen

Social Listening

Set up social monitoring streams – See what influencers and competitors are posting and stay connected in the larger community. There are many tools you can use – here's the  top 10 list of social media listening tools from HubSpot.

Actionable ideas you can execute right now:

  • Monitor references of your brand or organization to provide an insight into what is being shared on social media and alert you to instances where individuals may be trying to reach out to ask questions or get more information
  • Identify hashtag and keyword monitoring streams that are potentially valuable
  • Follow relevant social accounts and learn what content is being shared by others in the industry

3. Improve online visibility

If you have a good foundation of digital marketing tactics, this is a great time to take them to the next level and tee up your business so when the pace of life starts to get back to normal, you’ll be on top of your game.

These tips are all about helping you review and improve to help you drive more relevant traffic and help you build a more trusted online authority by improving your user experience.

Actionable ideas you can execute right now:

  • Google your brand: Have you googled your business’s name recently? What shows up? What ranks?

    Google Your Brand

  • Website improvements

    Your website is a reflection of your business and it’s one of your most important marketing assets as you start to rely even more on your digital presence. It should help you convert prospects into customers or members and delight your existing audience. If you haven’t had a chance to update your website recently, this downtime is a chance to catch up. If you’re unsure where to start, here’s a list of 5 places to start:

    1. Mobile responsiveness: It may seem obvious, but it still needs to be noted. Your website needs to provide the same experience regardless of the device it’s viewed on.
    2. Clear navigation: People visit websites looking for answers and information. Your navigation is prominent and communicates instantly. Keep it simple and descriptive so visitors understand at a glance what your business does.
    3. Improve white space: Website visitors are often scanners. Images and copy need to be formatted to create clean, balanced, and user-friendly design to draw attention to important elements.
    4. Post more testimonials: Testimonials are a great way to engage and build trust with new website visitors and this is a perfect time to ask for support. Your loyal fans want you to survive and can help you sound more credible and authentic than writing about yourself. There are many ways to ask for one and your questions will vary based on your business.
    5. Study your traffic patterns: You have high-performing and low-performing pages. Hop into Google Analytics and find the pages that need the most improvement.

  • Marketing automations: Review your current marketing automations and make sure they make sense for the current situation. Good messaging + bad timing = bad idea. You can tweak them or hit halt until it’s appropriate and your message will not be lost or misinterpreted.

  • Clean up your lists: Have you received a ton of COVID-19 emails from brands you forgot have your email? Same here. With more communications and updates going out to your subscribers, take this opportunity to tidy and make sure you’re staying in touch with the right people. Take it one step further and segment the lists based on their data in your system so you can send more personalized emails in the future.

  • Get more social: Block off time every day to respond to mentions and comments, engage with posts by others. Set a goal of engagement 3x/day and follow and connect with high profile followers or influencers in your industry.

  • Conduct a content audit: If you already have a blog, you don’t always need to feel like you need to brainstorm and create new content. It’s important to conduct content audits and review and improve what you already have. Sometimes you just need to make slight adjustments and your content will perform better. Start by analyzing your traffic and see what’s high performing and low performing. Find the low performers and do a quick Google search for what other sites have put out on the same topics and key phrases. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    • Does this content feel like it’s in a time capsule? (i.e. Vine is going to be the next big thing!)
    • How can I make this content more valuable than other people who cover the topic?
    • Can I be more accurate or cover a topic in more depth?
    • Is it mobile friendly?
    • Is it visually appealing? Can I add more pictures or infographics?
    • Is it easy to read? Is it broken up into short paragraphs with clear, meaningful headlines?
    • Can I add any original research to it?
    • Can I add any quotes from other experts?
    • Could I repurpose it into another form of content? (i.e. downloadable guide, video, podcast)

4. Build new inbound tactics

Are you attracting, delighting and engaging your audience?

Inbound and content marketing take time so now is a great opportunity to focus on it. Everyone is facing new challenges and they’re looking for answers and information. The demand for high-quality, helpful, engaging content and digital support is enormous.

HubSpot Inbound Flywheel

Actionable ideas you can execute right now:

  • Develop a new content series: Produce evergreen content in a consistent format. Think about your favorite TV show. You love it because you can know you can look forward to it and anticipate it–it’s not random. Produce your content in the same way. This could include a series of best practices blog, step-by-step guides, how-to videos, webinars, or a podcast. You can entertain, teach a new skill, help their mental and physical well-being.

  • Build new automations: Set-it-and-forget-it can source tons of traffic. Are there any automatically generated emails you’ve meant to create? Some examples could be:

    • Emails: welcome series, birthday greeting, review or feedback, thank yous
    • Email receipts

Even if these tactics don’t have anything to do with COVID-19, people are simply spending more time online to be productive and learn and get questions answered.

5. Help your community

Think about how your particular industry or local community is struggling with the implications of COVID-19. Can your business or organization help by offering support and resources? Is there an opportunity for you to create some long-term goodwill? While you wait for revenue to normalize, get generous wherever you can.

There are a growing number of brands offering discounted or free content. At the end of the day, it will help you build trust and grow your customer and fan base.

6. Learn new skills

LinkedIn Marketing Skills

What’s that thing that always interested you, but you always had to ask for help? Now you have the time to learn it. Find the thing that will feed your personal ambitions, your career goals, your company, your life.

Actionable ideas you can execute right now:

  • Read a book on the topic (Then, connect with the author)
  • Watch three videos on the topic (Then, reach out to the expert in the video)
  • Listen to a podcast on the topic (Then, reach out to the podcaster)
  • Read five blog posts on the topic
  • Sign up for an online class
  • Connect with local experts on the topic on LinkedIn

Imagine how this improved skill will help you advance in your career. Imagine how you’ll be able to talk confidently about it with clients, members or in a job interview. It’s something you can add to your resume or LinkedIn profile.

Your time is now

While our primal instincts during a global pandemic may make us feel paralyzed or frozen in the face of this challenge, it’s incredibly important that we push forward. The marketers who are creative will adapt, and deepen relationships in times of uncertainty to be best positioned to grow. The lessons you choose to learn and execute right now will stand out.

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