Just like their clients, firms will be exercising restraint and prudence as we experience the economic aftershock of covid19.
Your marketing people will be leading your firm down one of three possible routes. The first: to continue with the same strategy of generating and converting leads. In the current climate, this is the mother of all tasks. We find ourselves facing a situation where a vanishingly small number of businesses are buying anything that isn’t mission-critical. As a result, leads have all but dried up. (The exceptions will be with those clients who’ve had a spectacular falling out with their current firm or where the firm itself has ceased to exist.)
The second route is to slash your marketing and advertising budgets, "go dark" and disappear from view until budget can be fully restored. For firms in dire straits, this option may be unavoidable. For others, however, it’s simply a rash overreaction.
Business reactions to past recessions tell us that going dark is likely to have a damaging effect on a firm’s bottom line because, while your firm is out of sight and out of mind, your competitors – who are (spoiler alert) following the third route – are staying visible and building an unassailable lead. What’s required is a change in tack.
Back to real marketing
For some time, much of accountancy firm marketing has been a numbers game, focused on chasing prospects that are as ready to buy as possible. It’s a strategy that has been driven, partly, by pressure from higher-ups, who expect to see a return on investment, and who view new clients and increased sales as the only appropriate returns. It’s an approach that works fine in a market where leads are plentiful. But now, they’re anything but.
This climate forces a new strategy, a third path: one that demands your marketing people reconnect with their traditional role of brand-building, and creating and nurturing long-term demand (which is very different from short-term leads).
Companies, albeit now more risk-averse, still buy services and switch suppliers during downturns. But brand visibility and credibility become all the more important as a source of trust when they are being bombarded by offers from desperate vendors. If your firm has worked hard to stay distinctive and visible and is continually demonstrating relevance and value through quality content, your brand will be front of mind.
As we all know, it takes many months (sometimes years) to get a new client to sign a contract. That calls for a long-term approach to marketing. So, the focus of every firm right now should be on growing your brand, being distinctive and memorable, and showing how you’re helping real-world clients make progress in the things that really matter, and amidst a crisis.
While you are likely to continue to create tactical content – how to take advantage of government schemes, etc – you’ll need to balance this with higher level material that focuses on longer term brand differentiation. This will be the content that reflects the firm’s unique worldview. It will focus less on what you do and more on how you do it and, ultimately, why. Importantly, it will still be totally focused on clients and their real-world challenges.
Seize the opportunity
A new survey by Marketing Week found that 14 per cent of B2B companies are already seizing the opportunity and investing more in marketing. And history tells us these brands are likely to outperform the competition. When McGraw-Hill looked at sales in 600 companies between 1980 and 1985, it found those that maintained or increased their advertising spend during the 1981-82 recession had significantly higher sales than those that didn’t.
Now is not the time to underestimate the power of marketing. Firms taking a long-term view, and taking advantage of lower-cost advertising opportunities, stand to thrive both during and beyond the recession.
Jason Ball is founder of B2B marketing specialist Considered Content and managed content service Prolific.
(Content courtesy ACCA)