The world is sheltering in place. Business revenue is tanking. Sales leads are going cold. Children are video bombing our Zoom calls and making this classic BBC moment a daily occurrence. It’s stressful, to say the least.
As marketers during The Great Inflection of COVID-19, what should we be doing for our brands and our existing customers? The best advice I’ve heard: control what you can control.
Beyond the unpredictable re-budgeting, rescheduling, and even reduced workforce that is affecting our businesses, we can win back some control by looking inward and revamping our inbound marketing approach.
Take an Honest Look Inward
When was the last time you audited every digital marketing touchpoint of your brand? Be honest. Never? I can tell you with confidence that you’d be in the majority.
In the new reality of fully remote workforces, your customer prospects are exclusively experiencing your brand online. Every digital marketing touchpoint with your content and creative is affecting your prospects’ perception of your brand—whether it’s positive or negative. Are you positioned as a thought leader or a dinosaur in the space? There is a whirlwind of other possibilities that could be affecting how your audience perceives your brand. Right now, there are no tradeshow booths for your sales team to rub elbows with customers and add nuance to your product offering. No in-person keynote speeches for your CEO to position how your brand fits into the future of your sector. It’s all digital. And if you take a comprehensive, honest look at your brand online, you’ll likely find inconsistencies in your strategy.
One of the most undervalued traits the world’s top brands have in common is that they have the best brand consistency. That means that a brand’s messaging and visual identity is so dialed in that its target audience can identify the brand even if the logo is removed from a Facebook ad, an email, or any marketing asset. Each digital touchpoint’s message ladders back to a core brand story, and each visual element ladders back to a unique style guide. Take Apple, for example, which has written the book on brand consistency to become the most valuable brand in the world.
To take the leap as a brand, you must first audit your entire customer journey. If you’re thinking this sounds time-intensive, you’re correct. From a website content audit to an ad channel audit to an email marketing audit and more, the entire digital brand ecosystem needs reviewing. And while you survey from 30,000’, it’s important to understand what brand perception your current ecosystem has created (at LEWIS, we answer this question with our market research services).
Over time, like an onion, your brand’s digital touchpoints are growing, layer upon layer. Peeling them back may make you cry, but COVID-19 presents each marketer with an opportunity to take your foot off the promotion accelerator, tap the brakes, and tell a more cohesive brand story that propels it far beyond 2020.
After you’ve taken an honest evaluation of your brand’s current marketing strategy, it’s time to consider the long-term benefits of retooling your inbound marketing.
Build an Inbound Marketing Engine
If you look past the business ledgers and social constructs that COVID-19 has thrown into the red, there is a ray of hope for marketers that is clearly in the black—content. This has indeed proven to be a crisi-tunity for online content, and not just for media outlets. According to eMarketer, US B2B buyers reported that better resources from vendors are key to getting through a recession. Your target audience is looking for high-quality, relevant content. Remember that the slowdown in your sales cycle doesn’t only affect you, it also affects the individuals in those buying committees—however, it doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped learning and educating themselves about your brand and its solutions.
But won’t content distribution during COVID-19 appear tone deaf or contributing to the noise? As explored in this blog about marketers leading with empathy, it depends. Now is certainly the wrong time for your brand to be self-promotional and aggressive, but it is the right time to distribute content that adds value to your target audience. Free, educational content is in high demand, such as industry reports, thought leadership, webinars, and solution-oriented resources. This top-of-funnel content is critical to generating and building relationships with prospective buyers, not only in a crisis. The content shelf-life will benefit your brand far beyond these business-not-as-usual times and help secure a quality pipeline of prospective customers for when your brand is finally back-to-business. Bottom line – your content marketing strategy should be carefully curated to produce quality content that your potential customer is looking for, especially in uncertain times.
If this marketing approach sounds familiar, that’s because we’re describing inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is a methodology that attracts potential customers through customized, highly valuable content. As defined by HubSpot, “while outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t want, inbound marketing forms connections they’re looking for and solves problems they already have.” It starts with great content, and it ends in a long-term relationship.
In order to execute a successful inbound marketing strategy, begin by defining your ideal buyer personas. Once you identify who you’re targeting, shift your content marketing strategy to produce content that answers your potential customers’ questions or breaks through their purchasing reservations. Now that your content creation process is more strategic, it’s time to promote that great content. Post your ‘how to’ blog post across your brand’s corporate social media channels: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Exercise your marketing automation muscle by setting up drip email marketing campaigns, steadily introducing prospects to your brand with valuable content. Look at your website analytics. What content is driving organic search traffic? Optimize your top performing blog posts and landing pages to appear higher in Google’s search engine rankings. Follow search engine optimization best practices and watch your website traffic steadily grow from your inbound marketing tactics. By keeping your target audience front of mind in all of your marketing efforts, you’ll naturally spread more brand awareness.
If an inbound marketing strategy is not already a pillar of your marketing strategy, now is the perfect time to implement it. And if your inbound engine is built but sputtering, COVID-19 has given you an opportunity to take it to the shop for some fine-tuning.
The Time for Brand Soul-Searching
COVID-19 is a crisis, but it’s also an opportunity to do some marketing soul-searching on behalf of your brand. According to Gartner, 27% of B2B buying groups’ time is spent researching independently online. That’s a lot of time for individuals to form an opinion about your brand. This is where our recommendations collide. An inward assessment of your brand touchpoints will confirm (or reject) that you are telling a strong and consistent brand story, and inbound marketing will attract and build relationships with the right audiences.
To bring it full circle, even in these uncertain times, you can control how your brand is built for the future. All you have to do is look inward and refine your inbound strategy.
Need help conducting a content or website audit? Our digital experts can examine your full marketing stack and get your brand up and running with lead generation campaigns, organic social strategies, SEO best practices, and much more. Let’s get started.