Riding the Black Swan: CMO’s Guide To Tough Times

In 2007 Nassim Nicolas Taleb wrote a bestseller called " The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable". He propounded a theory that great change is brought about by once in a lifetime " black swan" events. A black swan is an extremely rare unpredictable event with severe consequences, which in hindsight many ‘ expert’s’ claim were obvious. The 2008 Economic crisis and the ongoing Coronoa Pandemic are both great examples of this.

As corporates scramble to make sense and ensure continuity in these trying times, smart marketers must be looking at ways to limit the intensity and severity of this crisis on their futures. Here are some marketing tips and tricks for B2B marketers to ensure you come out with minimal collateral damage from this crisis.

Break Silos 

Typical marketing teams, especially for Multinationals, tend to be silo-heaven. There are Branding, PR, Digital, Field marketing, Program,& vendor management teams which are then subdivided by continents, countries and in some cases even cities. Creating such an intricate matrix structure it can be understood only by Chess grandmasters. This might be a good time to rationalize this structure. Generalists who add little value to customer conversions may function better outside than inside the revised structure. Eg: One of my past clients had someone who was a liaison between the HQ and India marketing team. Ask yourself if these kinds of resources are needed. 

This new structure needs to be nimble, and pro-active to change. for eg: IT firms can build 3-5 member teams, with a wide range of skills and experience, focussed on 1 product rather than 30 member generalist teams. Consulting firms need structures that mimic their client base with tight 6-8 member teams. If your company is too large to change, or feel that business may be back to normal in a year or two, feel free to use this time productively, watching smaller, nimbler competitors eat your lunch. 

You are the Customers new Best friend

Each B2B firm has a few anchor customers, the ones who help you keep the lights on. This is the time to keep those customers close. Key account managers should work closely with marketing teams to Renegotiate contracts, offer price-offs on new products ( as long as you’re not bleeding), rework payment plans, etc. Did I just hear a chorus of my readers saying " hey that’s not marketing’s role ?. If you think so, please read point 1 again. Not the time to Function in silos. If these decisions are made by a different paygrade, this is the time for marketers to champion customers’ causes internally, and your company’s role externally. Communicate internally about the economic impact on customers and communicate externally on how your firm is going to help mitigate the risk of working together. Also, this activity doesn’t need a Gantt chart a well-written email, or a conference call with all stakeholders that ensures an interlock with customers is good enough to ensure your anchor customers stay that way.

Rationalize not Slash

During the 2008 Economic crisis, the first instinct of many corporations was to slash their marketing budgets. While some amount of rationalization is needed a brand/ product that completely disappears from communication channels will disappear from customers’ minds. So what’s the best spend ratio for the next 3 quarters. ? Again there’s no one correct answer. 

There’s no silver Bullet: Not even Digital

Given large events are out of the question for at least two quarters of 2020, and customer spending is likely to go down rather than up is it right to move all spend to digital ?. Will that increase spending bring a commensurate return?. My reading is that digital ad rates are going the way of hand sanitizers in the real world: prone to wild price surges and hoarding, commit large sums to digital marketing only after mapping the ROI. 

Rework.Rejig. Be Relevant 

Ideal Marketing plans are built to ensure leads come in, there’s ongoing communication with customers across the buyer’s journey, till they are handed off to the sales teams to close. Neglecting any one stage would be harmful to long term plans eg: focussing only on hot leads, and not bringing new prospects. So what’s the best way to reset priorities pot-corona ?. I would work on the singular principle of staying relevant. Some useful steps maybe 1. A tighter more focussed content management plan. 2. A faster turnaround to PR releases. 3. A focus on enhancing visibility rather than cutting costs. 4. Collaboration is key. it may time for SME’s and large corporations to build their collaboration muscles with counter-intuitive partners. Eg: Large firms need to partner with ISV’s, Service firms with IT firms and consulting firms with facilities. Connecting with those who have similar customer bases without competing for the same revenue, may help drive greater roi on marketing spend.

 In conclusion, a relook at your marketing team structure and plan, with small nimble teams, proactively working on solutions. And small, incremental changes to the rhythm of your plan will turn more of marketing spends into dollars earned. Here’s hoping this Black Swan event works towards taking your brand higher.

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