Look back before looking forward
No one needs to be reminded of the disruption that the current pandemic has caused most businesses. Likewise, no one has a crystal ball that can tell precisely what the future holds. But while it is human nature, especially among businesspeople, to take control of our own destiny, the worst mistake one can make is to over-react. Whether the future returns to normal or brings us a new normal, business leaders who apply clear and concise strategic thinking to the situation will triumph over those who panic and resort to a series of reactionary tactics. In many ways, the British mantra during WWII, “Keep Calm and Carry On” has relevance today.
In that spirit, here is a game plan for protecting your brand and maintaining (or growing) market share as the country continues moving into the recovery phase of the crisis.
The most appropriate starting point for moving forward is to look back at the marketing strategies you established before the pandemic.
Assuming you had a marketing plan in place, how were your branding and marketing strategies defined? Remember, tactics are only relevant to the degree they support clearly articulated strategies. Strategy is the foundation of your plan to achieve specifically defined goals. Tactics, on the other hand, identify actions you will take in order to accomplish your strategic mission.
The first and most important steps involve determining what led you to these decisions originally, how effectively they were working, and what you perceive to be the residual impact of the current situation moving forward. In other words, are there compelling reasons not to stay the course? We recommend a deep dive into these questions. Objectively consider which parts of your marketing strategy were producing results and which were not. Were you accurately tracking the outcomes of those efforts? Did you have a clear, expected outcome identified that would define success?
When markets are humming along as they were before the virus outbreak, most of us were caught up in the daily flood of activities that consumed our workdays. Often, there wasn’t time or a perceived need to stop and think about marketing strategy and the tactics being employed. It was just business as usual. One of the few benefits of the current crisis is that with this sudden disruption of markets, many of us now have the time to actually step back and re-assess our circumstances and/or challenge our previous assumptions.
Once you have thoroughly examined the marketing plan that was in place prior to the pandemic, you should consider the implications of the crisis on your business model and your ongoing marketing efforts. The business community has been shredded, and the workforce along with it. Some businesses were forced to shut down completely and others could operate at something less than normal. Some businesses were deemed essential and allowed to remain fully in operation. And a small number of businesses have even seen increased demands for their products or services.
Regardless of where your business ended up on this broad economic spectrum, there are undoubtedly factors that are morphing in ways you may have never previously considered. To what degree has buyer behavior, both consumer and commercial, changed? In a short period of time, nearly 30 million people were suddenly out of work. No job means diminished consumption. As for commercial business, besides the overall drop in demand, many supply chains (domestic and international) have been seriously disrupted. For many companies, the laws of supply and demand are now governed by lack of supply and demand.
Given this new reality, it is critical to assess what your marketing plan is. What is the appropriate message you should be communicating? And how much of it is the result of your decisions versus what the current environment is dictating to you? Again, looking back, which part(s) of your original plan are still valid, and which need to be re-evaluated?
It is equally important to determine the changes that should be made to your business model and how you serve your target audiences. Some organizations have discovered that they have become surprisingly effective delivering services remotely. A few may even determine that remote work will become permanent for their organization. And other structural efficiencies may have evolved that can be grafted into the new business model.
So, what does the future look like? As stated previously, no one has a crystal ball nor any silver bullets to guarantee future success. Hopefully you can begin to form a vision of how to determine what your marketing plan will look like once we are on the other side of the crisis. Determining where and how to go from here is the most challenging part of this exercise. It is always easy to look back and clearly see the outcome of your decisions. It is not so easy to predict the future, particularly when there are no relevant precedents for the situation in which we now find ourselves.
Developing a post-pandemic plan will require all of your skills and experience in order to outline the assumptions that need to be made and in what areas. In addition to traditional planning processes, your plan should fall into two categories:
- A best-case plan. This is your most optimistic expectation if all of your assumptions turn out to be right and everything else falls into place.
- A worst-case plan. This is your most pessimistic plan and will consider that many or most of your assumptions may turn out to be wrong.
Realistically, your expectations will rest cautiously somewhere in the middle. But you won’t know where that is until you have defined the best- and worst-case scenarios. So, what are the assumptions and thought categories you need to consider as you craft your post-COVID plan?
Here are some concluding thoughts to consider. History has proven that businesses that market aggressively through and after an economic recession have better outcomes in terms of increased market share. While it is human nature to be extra cautious during times of uncertainty, analysis should not lead to paralysis. Be safe—and be smart and strategic.
While we don’t know what the post-pandemic world will look like just yet, we all need to prepare now to make the decisions necessary to return our companies to positions of strength. By doing so, we provide assurance to our employees, confidence to our customers and value to our communities and to the global marketplace.
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