The global pandemic has thrust us all into uncharted and unexpected territory. The uncertainty around what the new world looks like has put the advertising and marketing industries in a strange place, one where over-promoting to consumers can feel out of touch or inappropriate. But amid the uncertainty and the expected economic downturn, brands can — and should — remain part of consumers’ lives by making the appropriate shifts in strategy and messaging.
The key right now is to de-emphasize acquisition and instead invest in simply staying in touch with your existing customers, maintaining a strong relationship that will survive.
A Time to Nurture, Not Recruit
The reason to stay engaged with existing customers during a downturn is that every customer, past or present, is exceptionally valuable at times like this. Think of your consumers as your friends. You can’t ignore — or ghost — your consumers during a tough time. Marketing to them will improve the situation in the long run, even if you’re not making a hard sell. If you neglect your consumer relationships by suspending communication altogether, it will be very expensive, if not impossible, to win them back amid better circumstances.
Learn From the Past
While our current situation is unprecedented for nearly everyone alive right now, the aftereffects — namely, an economic downturn — are not. We can learn how to move forward from fairly recent events. Marketing took a strong downturn following both the September 11 attacks and the 2008 recession, but in both instances, some brand marketers recovered faster and had more resources to invest back into their business because they continued to market during the downturns.
Unlike in 2008, there are more channels to keep the conversation going, so there is really little excuse for dropping consumer communication. Brands need to strategically reach their customers directly, which requires more than just a branded social channel that pushes messages. Using direct mail, paid social, display, and email, brands can focus on their customer base. Building a comprehensive multi-channel strategy ensures customers know you are there, no matter how they engage with media right now.
Lean on the CRM file
While this tactic is all about lessening acquisition campaigns, it doesn’t mean only engaging with active customers. Communicating with inactive customers is a more affordable way to bring in revenue, compared to acquiring new customers. It will require a smaller investment to convert them, and ultimately will yield a higher ROI.
As a general rule of thumb, aim to devote 80% of the planned budget during a downturn to existing and inactive customers from the CRM, and the remaining 20% on acquisition. For all efforts with your customer file or prospect audiences for acquisition, take advantage of every opportunity to optimize your multi-channel strategy.
If you are using social, fine tune a look-alike model for audience targeting or perhaps explore a custom model for programmatic display. If you are using direct mail, model your prospect lists and mail only those with the highest index. Don’t forget to carefully review the quality of audience data. Recently, I received four catalogs and a nonprofit mailer at my office address. That’s just poor audience management — it doesn’t make sense to mail to New York office addresses right now.
Beyond audience optimization, re-craft your messaging. Don’t simply blanket message your audience about how your brand is responding to the current climate; instead, create messaging that is reflective of the situation but also relates to their past purchases, creating value and ease for the consumer.
Campaigns need to be more nimble and testing should be minimized with a stronger emphasis on trusting your marketing instinct. Simplified mail pieces, updated creative, or even a new channel are all ways to update your messaging and delivery to engage consumers. While testing and major shifts should be minimized, market changes — particularly in the TV sector — have opened a window for many digital-driven DTC brands to affordably test an addressable TV audience. The decrease in traditional TV advertisers and increase in inventory has driven reduced pricing, presenting an additional opportunity to reach your consumer in another channel.
Most importantly, remember that now is not the time to give up on your customers. The times ahead will be difficult for all of us. Special offers that can make life easier for consumers have the ability to create deep brand loyalty well past this economic downturn, and possibly through any that come in the future. Brands’ decisions to invest in their customer base will not only speed their recovery from a recession, but set them up for long-term success.