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.

Inglourious Bankers: Can the Yes Bank Brand survive the current crisis?

The big finance news story this week is the crisis faced by Yes Bank. Experts in the media are opining on the causes ( NPA’s, Overreach Financial Impropriety), the players ( Shady businessmen, promoter’s friends, and family) and amplifying whispers on the quantum of cash siphoned by unnamed dodgy hustlers. There is also another set of people, stressed out without contributing to this mess. viz customers. Due to the moratorium placed by the RBI, suspended online banking activities, and panic, customers have had trouble getting finances sorted out.

An unaddressed question central to this situation is ” Will this cause the Yes Bank brand to be irreparably damaged ?”. At this point, I’m sure that most fair-minded readers would be aghast. ” Rashmi! Why should we worry about a brand with bad governance and financial impropriety ?” they would ask.

There’s good reason to do so.

  1. Remember, pre- 2019 Yes Bank was a bright star in the Private banking firmament.
  2. It was a decent brand known for customer service and innovation.
  3. People committed these improprieties, The brand is a stand-alone entity where a lot of resources have been invested.
  4. What about existing stakeholders i.e. customers, employees, investors, vendors, and regulatory authorities. Wouldn’t they prefer things set right, rather than a long drawn demise?
  5. Given the state of our economy, protecting the brand ( not the bad guys) is a good idea.
    So here’s what I would do if I was a part of the beleaguered Yes bank team.

Level 1: Move from being Reactive to Proactive

A crisis management team consisting of leadership, Marketing, PR and branch management needs to be put together. Working together they would be able to stem the damage wrought to the brand from the crisis. some recommended steps would be as follows.

Apologize: Acknowledging the mistakes made in the past is the first step to moving forward. As of now the only information coming from Yes Bank has been transactional eg ” All fund transfer options are disabled, we will keep you posted”. They need to start getting their customers back on their side if they intend to stay in business. If this means spokespeople taking some heat, that would be well worth the effort.

Face the music: There will be negative news across media, collect collate and Analyse this information. This would be a great resource to realize who are stakeholders, what priority do they have in your worldview, & who is influencing their behavior.

Put a Plan together: Given the size of Yes Bank marketing spend, their PR agency would have put a crisis management SOP in place, this would be a good time to relook and rework it to meet the current crisis.

Level 2: Control the Narrative

Having set the past actions straight, the team would then need to work on Keeping the Flock ( so to speak) together. Their primary task would be to take control of the messaging around the crisis.

Clarity: A clear set of messages updating customers on what the crisis is about, how long will it’s resolution take and reassurance on their money being safe. Numbers of crisis managers at branches, and easy resources for routine banking activities. Along with customers, tailormade messages to vendors, and suppliers to keep business running as usual.

Channels: In 2020 there are several ways to hold on to the most critical constituency, the general public, specifically customers. Influencers like journalists may be central to driving the discussion, but they are messengers, not the audience. For them, a hot story trumps the need for customer reassurance at this time. Updates on Social media would be a great way to start. A better way would be personal communication. A bank, which sends an OTP and confirmation for every transaction can surely send an SMS or voice message.

Frequency: A message a day keeps panic away, in the initial fortnight would be the prescription. The timing of this crisis, so close to the financial year-end, and just before several banks are expected to merge in the first week of April, will ensure quick work from regulators on stemming the crisis. Holding fort till then would ensure great rewards to the marketing team.

Level 3: Rework & Recalibrate

Usual Post-crisis reviews are focussed on the steps taken by crisis management teams and are used to create the next steps.

Status Check: Did the Bank manage to come out from the crisis with brand values ( like credibility, trustworthiness) in place or is it severely damaged. How would this be reworked/recalibrated?

Team structure and alignment: How did the team manage the crisis situation? What resets are needed internally? What should be changed to avoid it happening again? What tools, best practices and systems need to be put in place to overcome the next crisis.

Summary: Share & Collaborate

The new reality in an interconnected world is that crises are imminent. One negative social media comment is all it takes for brands to get setbacks. Building crisis management action plans, messaging templates are crucial. Will Yes Bank manage to overcome this crisis remains to be seen, one learning from this crisis is that all brands need a crisis management control plan in place. Does your brand have one ?.