Important Lessons for Marketers – and their Agencies – During this Time of Crisis

Important Lessons for Marketers – and their Agencies – During this Time of Crisis

While social distancing is the new normal, there are some important lessons marketers, and their agencies, can learn from other crises in the not so distant past. Different times require different actions. 1. You have to make course corrections on your media spend and messaging. This is not the time to bombard consumers with messages totally unrelated to the topic at hand and top of mind; they’re not in the mood to listen. Organizations and brands that merely “stay the course,” not making any adjustments,  are pouring dollars down the drain.  One might argue that “my funny commercial” or “new brand video” is just what the doctor ordered, but studies of past social crises indicate that people just can’t get enough news and information about CV-19 right now.  They don’t want to be “enlightened” by other messages while their energies are fixed on the problem. 2. You should stay in the market, but in relevant and appropriate ways. Studies also show that during recessions, and social/economic disasters, advertisers should not go completely dark.  Loss of awareness and market momentum requires as much as five times the normal spend to make up for lost ground when footing becomes more solid.  So, it’s important to stay out there, but in relevant ways.  Virtual “situation rooms” with your full team are essential to talk through and take corrective measures with your messaging and channeling, especially in social media.  How your brand is responding to CV-19 and  how it’s engaging your marketplace is mission critical.  3. Now is not the time to introduce a new brand or campaign. Can’t tell you how many LinkedIn and other social media posts have focused on bringing something “new” to the market.  You might have had the big launch planned for months, even a year, but now is not the time to press the button.  All that hard work will be lost in the noise and confusion surrounding the CV-19 virus.  Besides, internal communications are key to a new launch, and with so many people working from home, best to wait it out and pick the right time.  When the dust settles, you’ll be glad you did. 4. Now is not the time to force a client meeting or action. I know this sounds obvious, but agency people are persuasive types.  That’s why we are in the business.  I’ve scanned many LinkedIn posts from those on the client side who seem to be hugely annoyed at their agency right now for repeatedly calling and requesting a (virtual) meeting to “keep the ball moving.”  What I’m reading that appears to be sitting well with clients:  letting  them know you’re here for them and if they need anything, you’re operational and able to help them through this crisis personally and professionally. 5. It’s also not the time to send solicitous emails.  Like you, I’ve probably received over a hundred emails these last few days from companies selling their services.  Not in reference to the virus, not as a solution to my current business needs, and not in any way/shape/form related to what’s happening in the world.  From music searches to “new” direct mail lists, this is not the time to sell me something – I’m not buying!  Oh, and I do appreciate your “sincere” well wishes for me and my family during these troubling times, as indicated in your email.  Do I know you? HOW YOU ACT NOW WILL DETERMINE HOW I’LL ACT IN THE FUTURE. 6. Agency folks: It’s not business as usual.  Your clients are struggling and being torn in many different directions to weather this storm.  If you have great relationships with them, be empathetic and let them know you’re there for them (#4).  Put your skills to use in relevant ways and think about how you can provide a true value add.  Think creatively, not in terms of big ideas and ads,  but in new ideas and business solutions  that will benefit your clients during the storm. You’ll see – when their world calms down, they’ll remember who was there for them. 7. Client folks: We know you’re not ignoring us. You’re probably working from home, too, with many distractions and new fires that require your attention.  We know you’re not paying as much attention to meeting reports and proposals, so we’re going to go easy on you. Challenge us to help you through these difficult times.  Don’t feel you need to do it all “in-house” and have the belief that your agency partner is not interested in the ‘small stuff.’ We are here for you and have your personal and professional best interests in mind.  While you’re dealing with the pressures of sales goals and customer volumes, we’re using our time to learn new ideas and remedies that might be helpful to you. 8. We will all get through this together. At the time of this writing, there’s not much good news to report.  The virus is rising in reported cases and the market is falling.  Businesses are struggling and employee wages are in question, if not non-existent. We are all in this together and as history has proven, we’ll make it through this together.  With every crisis comes a new normal.  I’m not sure what that will be yet, but perhaps it’s the way we view our partnerships, work, and cultural surroundings as well as professional sensitivities. There’s a fast-growing plant-based food chain, Plant Power Fast Food (plantpowerfastfood.com) that has always been a great community citizen in the markets they serve.  They have a very strong mission and cultural compass.  To help support their employees during this difficult time, they are selling tee-shirts and the proceeds are going directly to their staff.  The shirts don’t tout their amazing sandwiches and creative concoctions – but share a message that I’ll leave you with: Be good to yourself.  Be good to...
“Cultural Brand Performance” – A New Indicator of Sales Growth and Consumer Engagement

“Cultural Brand Performance” – A New Indicator of Sales Growth and Consumer Engagement

There have been important, game-changing strategies associated with marketing performance over the years.  For example, “value proposition and differentiation,” “brand positioning,” and “corporate social responsibility.”  Each has evolved from the previous and all have demonstrated revenue growth. The latest idea being integrated into brand and marketing strategies is that of cultural relevance.  Simply (easier said than done), integrating what’s most relevant and important in our culture, social consciousness, and personal responsibilities with brand personas and communications strategies…no easy task. Take a look at a couple recent failed attempts of seeking cultural relevance: Peloton lost almost a $1 Billion in market value as a result of backlash from a TV commercial perceived as depicting men encouraging women to stay in shape. Hallmark pulled, then re-instated, a “wedding” commercial for Zola featuring the marriage of two women. Cultural amplification forced their turnaround in thinking. Watch any video today, on cable, network, or social media, and you’ll see brands seeking that fine balance with cultural relevance.  Whether it’s interfaith and interracial relationships, political or satirical points-of-view, or gender defining/neutralizing, how a brand performs and reflects cultural relevance has a direct and significant impact on its bottom-line.  I refer to this as “Cultural Brand Performance,” a new indicator and strategy for sales growth and consumer engagement. More fuel for this perspective:  in September, Merriam-Webster added the singular pronoun “they,” used to refer to “a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary,” or “to a person whose gender is unknown or is intentionally not revealed.” Earlier this month, the publication went a step further and chose the pronoun as its “Word of the Year.” Cultural Brand Performance is a new, important strategic consideration in today’s marketplace.   Finding the right equation in your market, while sometimes ‘like walking on eggshells’, is key to a brand’s long-term success.  More than ever, it’s paramount to stay on top of what’s trending culturally in your marketplace.  While I have never been a big proponent of creative testing, it seems to be worth every penny.  And can save hundreds of millions. Just ask...
8 Changes to Make in 2020 to Improve Your Healthcare Marketing Success

8 Changes to Make in 2020 to Improve Your Healthcare Marketing Success

As 2020 approaches, there are important changes to make in order to help improve your personal and professional success in healthcare marketing. 1. Focus on growth and business building, not marketing Marketing in many healthcare organizations still lands on the promotional side of the equation.  Successful marketers are those who understand the growth goals of their organization and develop strategies, beyond campaigns and clicks, to generate revenue and support new customer acquisition.  Marketers need to shift their “frame of reference” from “doing marketing” to “leading organizational growth through marketing.”  This will earn you a more favorable spot in the C-Suite and among your team.   2. Develop the right dashboards You’re too focused on the promotional side of things when your marketing “dashboard” consists of primarily digital terms that leave the C-Suite in the dust.  When you include business metrics, your dashboard will light up and provide a snapshot of your organization’s marketing success in terms of share-of-wallet, customer acquisition, profit margin, and conversion rates.  CEO’s consistently state they don’t really understand digital metrics (nor care to) but want to know how this investment translates to new revenue and growth opportunities.   3. Conduct market research to learn about your customers Most market research studies ask a lot of questions about the brand, not about the customer.  Other than demographics at the end, very few ask consumers about their interests and passions, what’s important to them, and the issues they’re most interested in.  Look at your customer research from their POV and you’ll gain great insights on how to make your marketing strategies much more relevant and engaging.   4. Develop a clearly defined brand position It’s head scratching and nail biting to develop a brand position that your organization can own; one that fits like a glove and is different in the marketplace.  But, oh is it so worthwhile.  Without this, your brand defaults to a “me too” position and means everything to everybody.  Absolutely the opposite of what a brand position should be about.  Take the time and resources required to really understand how what your organization stands for and how it should be thought of in the marketplace.   5. Create a message strategy around “heartbeat,” not chest beat It takes great insights about your customer and a continuous nature of learning, observation, and discovery about your marketplace to develop a “heartbeat” for your brand.  The opposite of this is a chest beat brand, one that talks primarily about itself and reels off a list of attributes and features.  I’m sure you can guess the approach that is more interesting and engaging to customers and encourages them to share or co-author a brand story.   6. Remember the 8-second rule With over 5,000 messages a day vying for the average person’s attention, studies show an approximate 8-second time span exists to make your point.  This is why more communications are going visual; to capture attention, gain engagement, and motivate toward an action. There is always an important place for content, but keep it relevant, and short.   7. Be Social, but not too “social” Social media is powerful, but it doesn’t need to be “too” social.  Brand strategies should drive your posts and, as with every other media, shouldn’t be “all things to all people.”  Overly social posts don’t benefit from optimization of keywords and tend not to stay on brand, rather, they take your message in an entirely different direction.  You can drive engagement and interaction without sacrificing the integrity of your posts and brand platform.   8. Make your internal audience a priority The role of internal communications has evolved over the years from a preview of an ad campaign to an engagement strategy with real ROI.  Hospitals experiencing “leakage” often find that employees are unaware of the scope of services provided by their health system.  Physician practices find that making in-system referrals can be tedious and time-consuming, and therefore default to old referral habits.  As healthcare companies grow through merger and acquisition, it’s more imperative than ever to not only educate, but facilitate communications from within.   At the time of this writing, we are six weeks away from 2020. There is still time and opportunity to strengthen your healthcare branding and marketing strategies.  Time flies, so take a moment to reflect on these suggestions and avoid defaulting to old habits that weaken your position, both personally and professionally. For more information on your healthcare marketing success, contact...
Healthcare Brand Naming | What comes first – the position or the name?

Healthcare Brand Naming | What comes first – the position or the name?

Fall is a season of great transformation.  From colorful leaves to kick-offs and playoffs, the season brings change, reflection and hope. In the healthcare industry, fall also unearths many metamorphoses among companies, hospitals, and health systems.   After months of planning, studying, researching, and “cocooning” new ideas, brands emerge and dot the landscapes across U.S. markets.  Many of these names surface from the multitude of mergers and acquisitions that have also been in the planning stages during the summer months. I always enjoy reading about these new brands and learning their story as told by a new name, logo, and tagline.  Some, you can tell, are thoughtful, customer-based, and research-influenced.  Others seem to come out of the blue (healthcare’s favorite color, of course) with little explanation and depth. This always begs the question in brand evolution; what comes first – the name or the position? By “position,” I’m referring to the classic marketing discipline of determining the “why” of your enterprise and “where” it intends to be established in the minds of your key audiences. Without stringing you along, I’ll provide my viewpoint on the discussion of what comes first; I strongly believe every healthcare brand naming opportunity should start with and revolve around an evaluation/evolution of a brand position.  This provides the opportunity to develop a unique marketing strategy and reinforce it with a name, identity, and tagline that communicate your story.  How great is that!  A name and identity which actually makes sense in the context of your brand.  Its equity and relevance, and not just comprised of clever or computer-generated terms that offer little differentiation and no value proposition. Working with clients of all sizes, and in all segments of the healthcare industry, the nature of a request determines their level of sophistication and long-term view of a new brand and name.  If the request is, “we need a new name,” there’s a good chance they’ll want the same exercise again in two years.  If it’s “we need a new brand,” this typically implies the desire for a new market position and corresponding branding elements. So, while the argument around the chicken and the egg continues, I believe there’s less of one with healthcare brand naming and positioning.  It starts with a strong, desired market position and all the branding elements, including the name, work to support it.   Just coming up with names that will “work” and then determining the brand position is an exercise in futility; and success will not be what it’s cracked up to be. Contact Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy for more...
Reviving your Healthcare Brand’s Cultural Relevance with CSR

Reviving your Healthcare Brand’s Cultural Relevance with CSR

Twenty years ago, when some companies were “printing money,” corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies were often developed as a way to deflect consumer attention away from big profits, write-off more expenses, and – in fairness to those who did – do good for the sake of society. Studies prove that CSR has a positive impact on a brand; increasing preference, loyalty, and engagement. The companies benefit, too, with less employee turnover and more revenue. That was then. This is now, and CSR seems to have taken a back seat. Not saying it doesn’t exist, but it appears less visible and instrumental in brand strategies. There are probably good reasons for this; certainly digital media is highly targeted and therefore these types of initiatives are not as mainstream as they once were, markets are much more competitive and some brands can’t afford to spread budgets too thin, and senior marketing people are less willing to take risks and implement programs that don’t generate an immediate ROI. After all, CMO’s are the most volatile in the C-suite with an average tenure under five years and constantly feel the heat in terms of performance – and CSR initiatives can’t always be measured in weeks or months. Beyond the economy and corporate performances, the world needs more CSR and it can do wonders for your brand relevance. We live in a time of social turmoil; whether it’s tragic mass shootings, political divide, acts of hatred and bullying, or just a general sense of uneasiness in our world. This is not a climate for strong brand “selling.” In fact, there are many audiences (i.e. Millennials) who don’t want to “buy.” They want to support, help, and heal. And your brand should focus on these initiatives, too. Brand relevance is created not only on what’s important to your consumers lifestyles, but also what’s meaningful in their lives. Marketers have reacted well to changing lifestyles by recognizing today’s “family” is vastly different from 20 years ago and showcasing these different profiles in their communications strategies. But the opportunity exists to also recognize social trends and create CSR strategies around how your brand is helping the world or community in which it lives. Take a stand. Have a POV. Make a case. Do more than “sell” your brand. Look for non-traditional ways to integrate your brand into the lives of your constituents, both inside and outside your organization. Years ago, a great client – Lehigh Valley Health Network – was willing to put its money where its heart was and developed and launched one of the nation’s first anti-texting/while driving campaigns. Using the theme, “Stop in the name of love,” the initiative underscored the dangers of distracted driving and created a multi-layered strategy including yard signs, community ed events, physician engagement, and traditional media to spread the word. Oh, they also were willing to invest in the Diana Ross’ music to make the effort more visible and memorable. Talk about being culturally relevant – engagement was never higher and the organization benefited from all the metrics; employee satisfaction, revenue, loyalty, you name it! Bottom-line, CSR isn’t about the bottom line. It’s about creating a “heartbeat” for your brand. Using its strength of it to do good and make people feel better. And in today’s world, there’s nothing more culturally relevant than...
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