This month we speak to one of our marketing focused advisor Jack Briggs for our spotlight. He is a product, communications and growth marketer with over 10 years working in senior roles with content-driven, high growth and digitally-led brands. With the advice that we should ignore marketing and business development at our peril, he answers questions on marketing in the current climate and top marketing tips entrepreneurs can introduce to their business from today. He is an award-winning team member at Three and Vodafone, previously working with Thomson Reuters content marketing and an early senior brand employee of Rapha, leading the physical execution of the brand in the UK and Ireland.
How should start-ups and scale-ups tailor their marketing activities in the current climate?
We've seen businesses both old and young having to hard pivot to either keep the business afloat or simply stay relevant. How you tailor your marketing efforts boils down to the core of what your brand stands for and what capital you have to leverage (in a non-crass way).
My first port of call is to discuss ideas and options with all my employees. What do they want to be identified with? Where can our business help? Or is there an opportunity to work harder for the customers we already have? All marketing efforts, particularly brand efforts more than demand, in the short-to-mid term should be employee-led. Doubling down on doing more of what you use to do most likely equals struggle.
Tactically speaking, increasing efforts with online and social spend makes logical sense, but it won't necessarily yield results if consumers are generally saving rather than spending and competitors are pushing the price of ads up. Leveraging your own assets that have some organic reach will keep costs low and you could pass that on to consumers. If you can pivot your model to make a difference, either for society or your employees, then that’s fantastic - if you feel you can't pivot or adapt, you're probably wrong.
Harness the brand as much as possible. Do what feels right, accept market decline is there not just for you but your competitors too, and appreciate lower consumer confidence is real. Work within those parameters and adapt as best you can!
How to market through 'the noise'?
There’s a lot of noise right now from brands announcing their support plans for their customers, the NHS and vulnerable groups. Brands are actively talking about what they are 'doing' to support the crises gripping the world. You may already be part of this noise and acting in societal unison. It's refreshingly human.
To stand out, even lead, in this societal melody, create lots of positive can-do content. Get your employees to generate their own. Celebrate what role your business is playing. Now's the time to experiment with new formats and have conscientious fun with your brand. Explore new channels, but don't pay over-the-odds for placements.
Are there any lessons learned from previous downturns or difficult periods?
There's not a lot we can learn from the past, and I get the irony with that statement. Our business landscape is so very different, our buying patterns are far more impulsive, and the way brands communicate with consumers is deeply omnichannel. I'd focus more on what China and countries further ahead in the pandemic are doing to restart and respond to their economies. Use market share data, look at where product variations change and get some creative ideas on how to come out less scathed.
How have you adapted your marketing approach over the past few weeks?
At Vodafone, and as a telco, we're in the essential services category. Keeping the country connected has been the driver for us all and we've been working to support our customers. We provide the network for NHS111 and many hospital trusts across the country, and focussed on making sure the nation’s critical services can function with unprecedented demand. We also aiming to keep our customers happy with increased data allowances and support for those who are having difficulty paying their bills, for example. Like many businesses, we've had to postpone campaigns and launches as they just wouldn't be relevant. We've also lost a huge sales channel - our retail estate - so we are adjusting our outlook to this new reality.
What are your top three tips startups can do from tomorrow to improve marketing in the current challenging environment?
What message are you putting out? Have you recalibrated to what your consumers' behaviours are?
Get leaner. Cut any spend you are doubting, and double down your spend on content creation. Can you commission any new types of formats?
Make sure you are working hard for your existing customers. Go heavy on account-based marketing - strengthen your key relationships.
As a marketing leader, how do you feedback 'less than ideal' marketing outputs to business owners, CEOs and investors?
It's market-wide - you are not suffering alone. Leaders and investors want confidence you can weather the storm so don't bang on about poor performance. It shapes the narrative but doesn't write the next chapter. With speed, present new outlooks and a new plan to hit it. Align it to the P&L, focus on profitability vs volume. It may paint a picture that's YoY decline, but it should give courage to those who have to execute the plan and reassure those in senior positions that the business has staying power.
Which startups or scale-ups are doing a great job of marketing right now? What are nice examples other businesses can learn from?
Great stories are coming out from the smallest of business to the very largest. Nike is manufacturing face shields, Duke & Dextor (a young shoemaker) has turned their production to facemasks, making 5,000 a week, and M&S is creating care packages for the NHS. Those examples are long-term brand building, they are not intended to drive demand. There are some great examples of how Chinese brands have responded and bounced back. Master Kong, a leading instant noodle and beverage producer, anticipated hoarding and stock-outs. It closely tracked retail stores re-opening plans and adapted its supply chain to match. As a result, its supply chain had recovered by more than 50% just a few weeks after the outbreak, and it was able to supply 60% of the stores that were reopened during this period — three times as many as some competitors (source: HBR).
Interested in engaging Jack to advise and support your marketing or communications function? Contact us for more details on firstname.lastname@example.org.