What to write in these days of content overkill … Reading this article (in Dutch) made me dedicate to a personal story on how Corona impacted the role of marketing, our team, customers and myself over the last months.
One of the most direct results of the corona crisis was that we lost one of our accounts. Unfortunately, it was a client that we loved working for. But, luckily, we lost no more than just this one. As for our workload: that hasn’t changed much. What has changed, is the scope of our assignments.
And this scope has everything to do with marketing messages. In fact, shifting audience priorities – resulting from the disruptive impact of the corona crisis – are dominating the conversation. According to Adele Revela, it is time to seriously rethink marketing messages and stop talking about long-term strategic outcomes. Buyers are under stress, and in this kind of environment, it makes more sense to focus messages and content on a single, vital aspect of a segment’s short-term objectives.
At a time when communication agility and targeting precision are even more relevant than ever before, there is an increasing urgency to create spot-on content. Now! This is even more so, now that the internal pressure is on regarding outcome and efficiency.
These dynamics directly impact the type of requests coming from our key accounts. Typically, we see a strategy shift from long- to short-term. Instant opportunities in lead generation are immediately embraced. “We need a campaign for this niche, now!” has become all too familiar.
But, there’s also a focus on mid-term opportunities and considerations. An important one of which is: “How do we build our dream team for the years to come?” And other questions also, such as: “Will I keep on doing this in-house? What do we do ourselves, what makes more sense to outsource?”
And as for long-term focus and strategies, we see disruptive things happening where added value is concerned. In fact, the complete Bain triangle – defining where B2B companies add value – is changing. Where delivering in time and on spec were possible table stakes up till now, corona has changed the name of the game. With value chains being seriously impacted, ‘in time’ and ‘on spec’ are now campaign drivers. In addition, we see that more visionary elements are being reconsidered and finetuned, not only to meet short-term needs, but also to be future proof.
Customers who have typically been characterized by slow transition projects, are speeding up. And achieving speeds we could only dream of previously. There is a new urgency to have positioning crystal clear. The need for digital lead generation and business support is higher than ever before, now that sales people are not allowed to travel or meet prospects in person. With this sense of urgency, comes the awareness that it is vital to make well-considered choices, that match changed added value and a company’s brand promise.
An interesting read on this topic is a free e-book by Joe Pulizzi. He describes thirteen steps a marketing professional needs to take NOW, to achieve massive success once this crisis is over.
For my professional life, the biggest impact of corona has been the search to find new and effective ways to communicate and collaborate. Not being able to meet up face-to-face, meant discovering new ways to ‘read between the lines’. Both where it concerns our customers, but also with colleagues. What is really being said? What is really needed? We needed to be bolder in explaining an idea or intention to a customer.
It made me realize once more that 50% of what we do – and our roles and responsibilities – are concerned with stakeholder management. We find ourselves in a new, more complex world where we cannot meet in person, have a quick catch-up before official meetings, or miss out on body language clues.
Looking at our team, I’m really proud of the way they manage to stay calm and collected despite heavier workloads and the impact of having to work from home. From the very outset, we have kept tabs on their challenges, concerns and successes. Calling in regularly to each team member, we each time ask three key questions:
In doing so, we tend to dig a bit deeper than we’re used to when meeting in person. Because we know they’re a tough bunch, who don’t like to moan. About the difficulties of working from home with kids, about the massive pressure on marketing support.
I’ve learned the value of opening up a bit more every now and then. To say where things are not going quite the way we had hoped. To reach out for support or help. Still, I can’t wait to get back to working together in our office. To be able to truly hear and see what is on someone’s mind. Until then, we can continue to learn from the new ways of communicating with each other. Make fewer assumptions, listen better and ask more. All the time and every time.
During the first days of the lock-down, a strong survival instinct took hold of me. No way that this virus was going to have a negative impact on ten years’ worth of hard work setting up a successful agency. Neither was it going to impact the hard work of our cherished customers. Nor was it going to impact any of our team career-wise or personally. The fight modus was what took over.
After the first week of the crisis, it appeared that new opportunities were claiming victory over initial feelings of fear. We kept going. Our customers kept going. Marketing was becoming even more important. Leads weren’t being taken for granted anymore. Work harder, think smarter, be stronger. The expected negative impact on business wasn’t as big as we had feared. Our focus turned to things we could influence. So did the focus of our customers.
As for my personal situation, corona turned everything upside down. We were about to set off on a sabbatical. For eight weeks we’d be travelling through Spain and Portugal with our 4-year-old son. It was to be a well-deserved break after ten years of hard (and fun) work building this agency with eighteen full-time employees. Managing partners Maarten and Jorg were all set and ready to take over from us. Much to my own surprise, having to cancel our sabbatical plans didn’t bring with it any feelings of sadness or regret. Instantly, gratefulness for having such a wonderful team of people in place and the responsibility we had in keeping the business thriving was the only thing that mattered.
My full focus was on decisions that had to be made and opportunities not to be missed. Looking back at these past two months, corona has, ironically, given me what I had hoped our sabbatical was going to give us. Firstly, it has given me a deep understanding of why I love what I do. It has also taught me to focus on what is truly important. To let go of negative emotions and things that don’t deserve attention. Our sabbatical was to bring us more time with our son, before he would start primary school at the end of the summer. It turned out we had a crazy amount of family quality time (so much that it sometimes drove us crazy). And lastly, my partner, Niels, realized there is no time to be wasted when opportunities present themselves. Such opportunities come for a reason. He decided to follow his heart and commit to a longer-term, permanent position. Bottom line, corona has given us much.
However, being an adrenaline junky, corona has also been challenging my patience. New business is slow. So, I’ve had to slow down also, be realistic and take it step by step. But above all, corona has taught me what matters most to me as marketing professional. No, I’m definitely not one of those marketeers who, according to Forbes, consider their job as being one of the most unhappy jobs in the world.
I’m extremely happy and thankful to be working in this sweet spot of business, marketing and people. My mission – and dedication to fulfill it – is clear. To guide our customers, agency and our team of professionals through challenging times. To enable us to look back in 2021 and be thankful for the lessons learnt as a result of corona.