Why cutting marketing now is a mistake – and what you should be doing to keep reaching your audience

This post is part of our series Marketing Now, about marketing activities that will always serve you well, regardless of market conditions and external factors. We believe that “right now” is always the time to invest in marketing initiatives that will serve you in the short and long term.

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“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”– Wayne Gretzky

I got a newsletter yesterday from a prominent Israeli VC that declared, based on a “scientific” survey of 62 respondents, “70% of companies are cutting marketing – are you?”

I won’t go into the data analysis issues, or the tone-deafness of the subject line, but I want to address the core argument: that everyone is cutting their marketing, and you should, too.

In this post, I’ll share why you should not stop doing marketing, and the opportunities that exist to invest in marketing programs that will deliver results now and post-corona.

Why should you keep doing marketing now?

  • There are still pockets of opportunity. While this is absolutely a major crisis, it is not that 100% of businesses are shutting down. Some businesses are growing (grocers, online learning, anything work-from-home related to name a few). Some regions of the world are doing better than others. Your own prospects may still feel some of the pain points that made them engage with you. And they definitely feel new ones. So the funnel might be narrower, but it still exists, and some of it is actually closing faster due to the unprecedented speed of anything corona-related. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, if you don’t market, for sure you’ll close zero deals.
  • Customer marketing is a must. Renewals and upsells can be the lifeblood of your company this year. They require robust customer marketing and communication. Some of your customer marketing campaigns can also be used, with some tweaks, for demand generation for new prospects.
  • An opportunity to stand out. When everyone is paralyzed and quiet, your audience is going to appreciate your thoughtful communication even more.
  • Credibility. Startups always have to prove their credibility, and marketing helps with that. If you stop posting on social, don’t publish any new content on your blog, and stop emailing customers and prospects, your audience might assume the worst.
  • It’s easier to pedal faster than to get on the bike again. In X months from now, when things get back to normal, it will be much easier to accelerate your marketing activities vs restart them completely.

OK, so what marketing activities should you be doing now?

In terms of high-level strategy and planning:

  • Be more efficient. There’s going to be a slowdown, and it makes sense to be more conservative and spend less across the board. We’re all for efficiency in normal times, and definitely in times like this. Trim the fat first – as one prominent Israeli VC told me this week, “We’ve been eating sushi for 10 years, so it’s not a bad thing to get more efficient.” Some examples:
    • Run a tool audit to make sure you’re not overpaying for under-utilized tools
    • Reduce brand or fixed advertising
    • Bring things in-house or the other way around – outsource / automate menial tasks.
  • Update your goals, and then go get them. The forecast for new Sales Opportunities likely needs to come down. Perhaps it’s more about engagement with leads as opposed to demos booked. Maybe you’re going to focus on customer renewals, not new deals. Whatever it is, find new focus KPIs and concentrate your efforts there.

In terms of marketing channels, let’s go over channel by channel and see what makes sense.

1) Content: We’ve always been content fans. And today more than ever, this is where you should focus your marketing efforts.

Dave Gerhardt (former CMO of Drift) put it best:

Continue to provide value through educational, informative, entertaining, relevant content. People want trusted advice more than ever. They also want to be distracted and entertained. Take some time to figure out what this means for your startup.

More specific content recommendations:

  • Hone your messaging. You can’t do any marketing right now without referring to coronavirus. You need to figure out how corona is impacting your industry, your product, and your value proposition. A few real-life examples from the past couple of weeks: cyber tech is helping with securing work-from-home environments. A payments startup is helping restaurants and other businesses accept online orders for the first time. A video streaming startup is offering a special edition for schools and fitness studios. Of course, this needs to be done carefully so you’re not perceived as tone-deaf or exploitative of the situation.
  • Foundational content: Our Marketing Now series focuses on that. Now is a great time to create case studies, do market research, and create other “boring content.”
  • Data journalism: Using your proprietary data for interesting analyses and research reports is especially effective now, as people (and press) are craving hard data and facts about current events. You’re a tech startup selling to an analytical audience— help them with data-driven information about what’s going on in their world. They’ll appreciate it.

2) Email marketing: Another channel to expand. It’s a way to keep in touch, especially now when face-to-face and conferences are no longer an option. Dial down on hard-sell prospecting emails, and focus on emails that feature value-add content.

3) Webinars: We love webinars and they’re still worth doing (in fact, we’re doing one in a couple of weeks). (Some) people have more time. But there are also so many webinars right now. Try to put your own original spin to stand out from the crowd, but really, it all starts with content. Have the right content and people will come, no bells and whistles needed. Best content for a webinar? Bring on a customer to talk about what they’re doing now and share your joint success story.

4) Community, CAB (Customer Advisory Board): Fantastic channels to try or expand right now. People are craving connections, especially with peers, and being the facilitator will pay dividends for years to come.

5) Events & conferences: Unfortunately completely gone, for now. The silver lining is that this frees up some budget (and time).

6) Online advertising: We still claim that online advertising is mostly useless for early stage B2B startups. But in the current atmosphere there may be opportunities for running ads for cheap, as CPCs have sharply declined (TechCrunch published a good article looking at Unicorn keyword price decline).

Other things to do now

  • Try a new tool or vendor. If you’ve been itching to try a new tool, now is the time. Many are extending generous offers.
  • Learning and upskilling your team, and yourself. So much content is available now. Some excellent paid content is now offered for free. Now is the time to close knowledge gaps and make your team stronger. They will deeply appreciate it.
  • Keep your team members and trusted vendors. This is a tough one because sometimes you have no choice but making the hard call of parting ways with employees or vendors. That said, if at all possible, try to find a way to continue working with them. Maybe work with them to decrease fees, or in case of employees, decrease salaries or move people to part time. Finding good employees (and partners) is the hardest challenge for startups, and you want your good people with you once things rebound.

The bottom line

We’ll finish on an optimistic note with this screenshot from WalkMe, an Israeli unicorn we love. It embodies a lot of what we wrote about in this post: understand your value during these times, get your customers to help you, keep marketing, and use opportunities to get your product to shine and help your customers. Be realistic and thoughtful, and focus on the positive.

Keep safe and healthy!

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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