Despite any amount of planning, no business could fully prepare for the impact COVID-19 would have. For many, it might have seemed the sensible choice to hunker down, pull back on marketing spend and wait until it all blows over. But was cutting back on communications really the way to go?
It's been a pleasure talking to a number of North East businesses about what they've had going on 'behind the scenes' in marketing since March. And first up is Zoe Christopher, marketing manager at TruStack (pictured).
TruStack provides business solutions for IT and infrastructure needs, from IT managed services to cybersecurity. For many years they have successfully implemented remote working capabilities for clients, ensuring that staff can fulfil their role no matter their location.
And with remote working now the norm for many, I'm sure you're as keen as I was to hear what approach they have taken to marketing during this global crisis.
Do you feel marketing is more or less important as businesses adjust to Coronavirus challenges?
Obviously, as a marketeer, I would say that it is more important.
I've noticed that I'm communicating with customers and prospects more regularly and more sympathetically. Working in a marketing role on any typical day, you need to try and stop yourself from being sucked into talking about how great your products and services are all the time. I've noticed in the past few months that I've been much more focused on what added value TruStack can offer to customers to meet their needs.
We're sending helpful, educational emails out most days and updating social channels with hints and tips, all with the aim of making our customers lives easier at the minute.
We recognise that it was a big task for businesses to suddenly deploy an agile workforce in the middle of a pandemic, and we want to arm our customers with the right tools and content to make that transition as easy as possible.
That all has to be communicated somehow, so for us, marketing couldn't grind to a halt.
Have any aspects of your marketing plan had to change dramatically as a result of Coronavirus, and how have you adjusted?
They certainly have. We run a lot of face-to-face events throughout the year which range from extremely technical events where there may be 15-20 customers to more hospitality-style events where we have 60+ attending - and obviously we can't run these for the foreseeable. We also sometimes participate in other businesses events, or we will take sponsorship packages.
So we have had to either swap these events to virtual ones or cancel them altogether.
We're also conscious that our customers are probably getting hundreds of invites to different webinars now, so we need to pick and choose the ones where we're likely to get the highest engagement and offer the most value. At the end of the day, everyone is still busy, so our virtual events need to pack as much punch as our physical ones did to attract the right attention.
Is there anything you're doing now to stay in touch with customers that you weren't doing before the pandemic?
I wouldn't say we were doing anything drastically different. We are just doing more of some things and less of others. So more webinars, more digital advertising, more social content. Anything we can to keep in front of our customers now that we're not able to do so face-to-face.
What kind of engagement are you seeing with the marketing/comms approach you're now taking and what methods are working well for you?
The response to our email marketing has seen a huge spike, but I think that is partially down to the type of content we are producing at the minute. We are throwing every piece of advice we can give out to our customers, whether that be free product licences, quick-fix tips, how-to guides for home users. It's all free of charge, and we want to show customers that we are here to help as much as we can.
In terms of email marketing, we have also been working on our mailing lists. I'd rather that we had small lists of subscribers that were more engaged, than sending out to the masses. It makes the work more meaningful.
We are also spending more time targeting smaller sections of our lists with different and tailored campaigns, something that we didn't do as often before.
So for example, if we know a particular group of customers could do with some education on a certain product, or they don't have that product, we're creating more targeted campaigns for that specific group.
In a more general sense, what impact do you think the Coronavirus could have on the future of marketing and the way businesses communicate with customers?
I think people will now see the value that marketing and comms staff bring to businesses for sure. We are constantly engaging with customers, keeping them informed, whether it is business as usual, or business unusual.
For TruStack, I think we will go back over our events strategy for the next year. Would people prefer an online webinar? Is it easier for them to attend? Do they want it on-demand to watch in their own time?
I certainly think that many businesses will review budgets. Can they afford to be spending thousands on sponsorship, when they can reach the same amount of customers via some Google ads or a downloadable whitepaper?
I don't think that physical events are dead by any stretch, but I believe businesses will maybe think twice in the future.