Let's face it: 2016 (so far) has brought about a number of shocks, surprises, and setbacks for businesses -- from stock market instability to events like Brexit. And as a result, it's likely that many people are likely feeling a little less certain about their strategies than they did a year ago.
Now, I’m not suggesting this heralds the return of the wartime CEO, but a lack of certainty always forces business leaders and marketers to look at ways they can add more predictability to their organisations. They want to increase operational efficiency so no spend goes to waste, but also balance this by investing in sales and growth.
Thankfully there’s an existing playbook marketers can follow to help navigate uncertainty. Below you'll find five smart ways that marketers can think ahead during times of transition and change.
5 Smart Ways Marketers Can Prepare for Unexpected Changes
1) Double down on testing.
If your competitors are tightening their belts and scaling back marketing investments, use this to your advantage by doubling down on testing. The most effective marketing leaders encourage a culture of testing within their teams and run experiments to A/B test and optimise activity at every stage of the marketing funnel. Doing this helps to improve the operational efficiency across the board.
Using a marginal gains approach you can and should run a number of small tests to see which variants -- from website copy to landing page design -- perform better.
At HubSpot, the conversion rate optimization (CRO) team continually runs tests to improve upon our existing efforts and identify new solutions for the future. A few recent examples include:
- The historical blog optimization project which increased organic search views of old blog posts by an average of 106%
- A series of technical SEO updates which increased organic traffic by over 50% in just one month.
And the best part? We didn’t need to invest in the creation of new content.
Others may see uncertainty as a reason to pause or cut investments, but you should consider it an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what moves the needle on your marketing efforts.
If you’re looking for A/B testing inspiration, work your way through these conversion optimization case studies or check out this handy A/B testing checklist.
2) Focus on the value in your value proposition.
In uncertain times, many organisations look to curb spending on nonessential items. This makes clearly communicating the value your product creates to prospects and clients more important than ever.
Developing your product’s value proposition is both part art and science. You need to craft compelling copy, but also test different versions to see which works best. While it can be tempting to focus on product features, always bring it back to the job to be done and what the end-user values most, such as helping them do something faster or better, or by enabling the user to make more money.
Amazon is well known for making developers draft a product's hypothetical press release and FAQ announcement before even a line of code is written. This helps the company to fully define the product’s value proposition and how it will be pitched to customers.
Here are three examples of very different businesses that effectively communicate their value proposition to give you a better sense of how to approach this:
Stripe spells out exactly what its product is, who it is aimed at, and the value it generates. Ecommerce and online payments are notoriously complex industries with high barriers to entry, but Stripe shows how it enables developers to quickly and easily get businesses set up to send and receive money online.
The value proposition communicated by Tortuga Backpacks is that its backpacks make traveling easier. This is important to its target persona -- urban travelers who value convenience and want to avoid checking their luggage -- which adds cost and an unwanted visit to the luggage carousel.
The value proposition here has two clear strands. First up, Unbounce mentions that marketers can use its product to build, publish, and A/B test landing pages -- activities that help marketers generate results that create value for their business. Secondly, marketers can achieve this without the help of IT, which highlights how the product saves both time and money.
How do you position your products and services? We recommend partnering with your product and sales leaders to define your product’s “must have” value proposition.
Want to see some more examples of effective value propositions? Take a look at this post, or this one from IMPACT Branding & Design.
3) Invest in predictable lead generation.
All businesses need to sell their products or services so they can generate revenue to grow and invest in the future. But in order to sell effectively and hit quota each month, sales organisations need a pipeline of leads.
To that end, marketing teams run programs that create a consistent pipeline of high volume, quality leads. But what’s the most effective way to generate leads and customers?
For one, investing in the creation of content such as ebooks, webinars, whitepapers, blog posts and more, will help your business attract qualified traffic to your website. This is because content has a compounding impact that increases in value over time, whereas many traditional tactics are quick to lose steam.
Some organisations adopt a blended approach where they use inbound marketing for the majority of their lead generation activity, and occasionally top up their marketing funnel with PPC advertising.
How you approach it will be determined by the unique demands of your organisation, however, the important thing is that there are numbers to prove that the inbound methodology works. Just check out this HubSpot ROI Report.
In short: the businesses best placed to ride out any uncertainty have a pipeline of quality leads that is consistently topped up, as well as a marketing team that knows the right levers to pull to increase lead flow. Investing in predictable lead generation is what leads to predictable sales and revenue growth.
4) Explore new and emerging markets.
If a market becomes less attractive to do business in, then you should rightly look at alternatives.
Entering new markets doesn’t necessarily mean building a bricks and mortar store or opening a shiny new office. You can take the first steps by creating a local market website and launching marketing activity specifically targeted at that market. This nimble and “digital first” approach will enable you to test your hypothesis on whether or not a new market is right for your business at that time.
Tools like Google's Global Market Finder can show you online search volume as a proxy for potential customer demand for products and services. This coupled with the location data of your customers and leads will help you make more informed decisions about customer demand and where to plan future investments.
Why is this important? Organisations that understand high potential markets can more easily move to overcome changes in the business environment, such as currency fluctuations or economic uncertainty. Strategic marketing leaders know not only where the customers of today are, but more importantly where the customers of tomorrow will be.
5) Make marketing a profit centre.
With marketing becoming more data-driven and trackable, there’s growing consensus that marketing should be viewed as a profit, rather than cost centre. Much marketing activity now directly drives revenue, so it stands to reason that it should be considered an investment in future growth instead of an expense.
When marketing is viewed as a driver of growth, the idea of an annual marketing budget seems at best outdated and at worst a threat to the bottom line. But the reality is many business leaders still see marketing as a discretionary cost that can be topped up or cut each year.
You can take the first steps to making marketing a profit centre within your business by identifying spend which directly drives measurable revenue and looking at the ROI of this activity. If a particular marketing activity generates sales within an acceptable acquisition cost, marketing leaders should have the flexibility to invest more heavily (or perhaps infinitely) in this activity, rather than be constrained by budget.
Positioning marketing as a profit centre is a bold move, but uncertain times calls for new and innovative thinking. Importantly, this approach gives marketing leaders the opportunity to move from functional experts to full business partners and drive growth for the organisation.
In uncertain times, some businesses see a threat and look to consolidate, while others spy an opportunity to move quickly and gain an advantage over the competition. Admittedly, this is something of an oversimplification, but the best way to approach the challenge posed by uncertainty is by focusing on both today and the future. This means striking the elusive balance of increasing operational efficiency to reduce costs, while also investing in the future growth of the business by continuing to spend on marketing, sales, and research and development.
This approach -- although easier said than done -- can help you lay the groundwork for future success in more certain times. And while the tips we've suggested are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution, the important thing is that you and your team start thinking about these things sooner rather than later.
How does your business plan for change or uncertainty? Share your best tips below.