Updated: Mar 19, 2020
As my first post, this is not the one I imagined writing.
Not the topic - which is presently outside my newly launched consulting focus - nor setting - searching for a 'quiet place' sequestered in my own house has posed challenging.
But here we are.
When 9/11 struck, I was working in corporate marketing at a major retailer, and again in the fall of 2008 when the housing market and economy folded beneath our legs. It was scary, revenues sank, and annual plans went out the window. After the initial shock, we adjusted, and eventually things returned to 'normal'. We even excelled.
Now I stand in the precarious position as a marketing outsider/consultant looking in, watching former colleagues respond the best they can to the crisis in front of them - empathizing with what I can only imagine is consoling panic-stricken employees, stakeholders and calming nerves to put their best brand face forward in an uncertain future.
Leaning only on my age and Spidey-sense from the magnitude of this global crisis- my fellow marketers - it's going to take longer to return to normal.
As we take care of the immediate crisis in front of us - internal and external messaging around temporary closings, customer communications about your COVID response, addressing customer service / social media inquiries far beyond your staff's capacity, and START the preparations for what's on the other side - and who knows when that will be - many Marketers will soon be asked/expected to:
'get new customers' in an exceedingly impossible acquisition environment
deliver sales in a climate of severely restricted disposable spending
come up with the next 'CV Promotion" - (please no) to cut through the noise
Leads, leads. JUST GET ME LEADS.
Businesses and livelihoods will be at stake, you will be told.
Most of this effort and spend behind it will be futile - a softening of a downward curve at best -and you probably know it - but feeling the enormity of the pressure to 'do something' you succumb. As if the head of marketing wasn't already difficult, now your own job will be even more at stake.
But here's the idea - what if you took this energy - heck - even 1`/2 of it - and instead of creating a flurry of marketing activity to prove to others 'look, we're doing stuff' - what if you took this and championed a movement around (re)energizing the organization around your customer. For real this time. Ask yourself:
How well does your organization really understand your target customer? Can they recite their needs?
Has your organization fully rallied behind a value proposition that uniquely delivers on these needs?
Do they know where your customer pain points are? Have you changed your internal processes to get rid of the pain points?
Have you started the work to adapt new practices? Are customer considerations anywhere in your organizational decision making?
Do you have the technology in place to understand and communicate with your customers effectively, authentically, personally?
If your voice of the customer has been sidelined for other 'pressing' matters,
If your advocacy of customer needs has fallen on deaf ears,
If your quest to define and overhaul the customer journey has fallen flat,
This is your time.
This is the time organizations need a voice not only solving what's immediately in front of them - but how they are going to come out of it and thrive.
The next few months - year - I'm going out on a limb here - it's going to be very rough. Many are not going to make it. The ones that will weather this better - (beyond the obvious pandemic-induced behavior changing recipients) are the ones that have already laid the groundwork in aligning their organizations behind a compelling purpose, they understand who their target customers are, they know how they uniquely serve them (and deliver on it well) - AND have already created an authentic culture that breeds connectivity and customer engagement through all levels of their organization.
I'm seeing it already in the local businesses that have been forced to (temporarily) close - customers are pledging their loyalty on social media and refusal to suspend memberships on services they won't use or buying gift cards for food they may not consume for months - because the idea of losing these businesses is worth more than the seemingly small outlay of cash for no immediate value. That's a sticky business that is deeply connected to their customers.
Marketers, get through the initial crisis management. If I could be in 100 places at once and take some of this off your plates, I would. Soon there will be a moment to breathe, and soon after that - an overwhelming feeling to 'do what we do' and help our businesses generate revenue again. The reality is the same old stuff didn't work that well before, and it's REALLY not going to work now.
Use this time to find (or re-define) your voice in the organization: that of a tireless advocate for the customer and a strategic leader to transform your organization around the customer.
They may not be asking for it - but they'll need it more than ever.
And this time they may be ready to listen.
Meredith Jurek is a former CMO and VP Marketing across several major consumer service brands. She is now the founder and Chief Articulator of Storycore, where she helps business leaders get their strategy 'out of their head' and onto a shareable format so they can evangelize change within their organization . Follow her on LinkedIn at meredithcjurek and Storycore.