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Marketers: 3 things you need to hear (and probably don't want to)

May 12, 2020

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Every article lately starts with a recap of what’s happening in the world. Let’s skip that part - we get it, everything sucks, we’re all living it. 
 
Let's just get to it. 

A few weeks ago, in an initiative with tCAN (the Canadian Agency Network), ZGM started offering free marketing & communications advice to businesses across Canada to help get them through this crisis. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of small business owners about the impact to their business and hopefully provide some guidance along the way. It’s been enlightening, emotional at times and encouraging to see how open and honest they have been with me. 
 
Throughout it all, I’ve learned a few hard truths that I think are important for all marketers to hear.  
 

1. Nobody wants to hear from you


Perhaps I should explain: nobody wants to hear from you - right now. 
 
You may or may not have seen this diagram from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Even though it’s been since around 1943, it still holds up. Basically stating that our wants and needs are dependent on other, more basic needs, being met. 
 
 Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
 
A lot of us are lucky enough to live at the top of this chart normally. Living in Canada especially allows us the freedoms and luxuries to let us worry about things like recognition and self-actualization. Then, out of nowhere, COVID-19 took us directly to the bottom layer. Suddenly, we were worried about things like food, health and shelter. As businesses, we were worried about our survival and whether or not we are laying off staff or losing our shirts.
 
When you are stripped down to these basic needs, the rest suddenly doesn’t seem that important. If you are trying to resurrect your business at a fundamental level where time is of the essence, hearing from marketers may be the last thing anybody wants to hear. 
 
So if nobody wants to hear from me, what do I do?
 
If you are finding that you are getting radio silence from your clients, you might want to consider what you are asking them. Is now the best time to launch a new product? Communicate product features? Convert leads to in-store customers? 
 
Probably not.
 
Think of what layer in this diagram they are in and what their needs are at the moment. If it’s near the bottom then unless you can help with finding some core and urgent needs like access to funding or helping them figure out how to setup a remote working environment, it may be best to hold off. As they get these fundamentals back in place, you may find more success reaching out at that point.
 

2. Faster is better


If you are a creative soul, this will curl your toes, but there is a lot to communicate and very little time. Businesses have lost their connection to customers and they need to reconnect as fast as possible. 
 
There are essentially 3 stages companies are going through:
 
Phase 1 - Discovery. This is the “what the hell is happening?” phase. Scrambling to figure out what the impacts to your business are and asking questions like: “Do I still have a job?”, “Is my business still viable?”, "Will I have to lay off staff?” Or “how are we going to stay safe through all this?”
 
Phase 2 - Reactive. This is where you start to make changes. Finding funding. Fixing the supply chain. Connecting with customers. Basically, strapping together the basics of your business to allow it to function again. If you’ve heard the word “Pivot” lately, this is what you’re doing in this stage. 
 
Phase 3 - Strategic. This is the proactive phase where you can finally lift your head and look forward. What are the long term opportunities? How can your business change permanently and how can we take advantage of this to permanently change for the better?
 
Right now (and keep in mind when I wrote this, it was the beginning of May 2020) we are somewhere between phase one and two. Reeling from the shock and scrambling to reconnect the dots to our customers.
 
Speed is of the essence
 
How can you quickly get those landing pages up, set-up e-commerce, help with email and social crisis communication? How fast can we help get things back up and running for our clients? It doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to work. Pretty can come later. 
 
It’s time to use those tools that are sometimes overlooked by the industry because they are considered too simple or cheap. Yes, I’m talking about things like Square Space, Wix, MailChimp, Drift, Survey Monkey, etc. Quick, easy-to-use, cheap tools that can quickly get things done. Need a landing page up? No problem. A live chat? An email campaign? I am living by the mantra lately: By Whatever Means Necessary.
 
So get over whatever it is you need to get over and roll up your sleeves. Grab whatever you can, duct tape the shit out of it and make it work. 

 

 

3. We’re in this for longer than you think


Unless there is a cure or a vaccine, there is no ‘normal’ again. The vaccine is quite possibly more than a year away and there are no cures on the horizon. Even as states and provinces are opening up restrictions, there is talk of a second wave in the fall. If that happens, there will likely be a ‘clenching up’ again and so on and so on. 
 
All this to say, if you think you can bury your head in the sand and wait for it all to be over, you are likely in for a rocky ride. It’s time to make some permanent changes to how we interact with each other and our clients/customers. When it’s all over, we can always go back to how we used to do things but perhaps this will open our eyes to new possibilities. In some cases, businesses may change permanently for the better or find an alternate form of revenue. 
 
Regardless, things will never be the same. That much is sure. So if you’ve been waiting to make your move, make your move. 
 

We are all in a position to help


As marketers, we take a lot of things for granted. Things like publishing to the web, communicating remotely, learning new tools and basically living in front of a computer. Our clients and businesses have been forced into this world overnight and some are reeling with trying to learn everything at once. 
 
Of course you can help with marketing but if you are truly a partner with them you can help with a whole lot more. I hope you are reaching out and having those conversations about what is keeping them up at night. I am sure you will find new ways you can help drawing on years of adapting yourselves to new situations. 
 
With people like you we’ll get through this. Good luck out there. 
 
Peter
 
P.S. If you would like to hear more ramblings like this through your ears, I co-host a podcast (Tableside Mashed Potatoes) where we just covered this topic to exhaustion. Have a listen here.
 
P.P.S. if anyone wants to chat about their business and wants some advice please reach out to me anytime. No strings. Seriously, it’s the best part of my job. 
 
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