The four phases of the business cycle — expansion, peak, contraction (recession), and trough — are only one way to look at the evolution of a business. Contraction and recession are often positioned as something that we endure, but these shifts are inherent to growing a business even if they do come with upheaval and uncertainty.

Instead of thinking about recession or contraction as something to survive, think of it as a time of reflection and strategy. It’s critical to the next part of the cycle because it is a time to prepare, regenerate, and gather energy. Innovation happens in chaos. The most successful and innovative companies of our time are reinvented or born in times like these because they shift focus onto their market, their people, and themselves.

In this three-part series, we’ll take a deep dive into how we can use this time to prepare — and to be ready to pounce.

Your Market and Your People

The idea of risking investment on innovation and marketing in uncertain times can be unsettling or completely paralyzing. However, we would argue there is no better time. Consider, in times of contraction:

  • Competition leaves the market due to performance issues, acquisitions, or retirement
    Price to reach — advertising — decreases
  • Customers reject underperforming solutions as buyer leverage increases directly as discretionary spending decreases, creating opportunities for disruption in micro-markets
  • Scarcity of customers means partners are more willing to collaborate 

Embrace strengthening the value of your relationships with your customers in both the B2B and B2C spaces. Typically, we think that the value is focused on the product or service that your company provides, but we need to flip the script here. Adding value to a relationship means serving the customer when you can for a positive outcome for the customer. Let’s explore how you can achieve more valuable relationships by serving your customers.

Rule number one is to look to expand your relationship with the customer. Instead of securing a purchase, it might mean a stellar review or a referral. It could mean no tangible result at all. Consider every action you take as a deposit into the bank of value with your customers. Only by accumulating deposits can you ever ask — and ask only rarely — for a withdrawal.

A true customer-first community requires that you focus on your audience first and the dollars last. From there, the dollars will follow. Here are some immediate actions you can take to strengthen marketing your customer experience in both the B2B and B2C spaces.

Communicate with Your Customers

Keep your marketing communications and your customer communications separate. Send them a regular newsletter-like communication that is focused on deepening the relationship you have with them. This isn’t a space to list your recent awards and certifications (though there’s a place and time for that). Make sure the newsletter delivers value. This same methodology can be applied to your social media efforts as well. Consider following your customers on social media, highlighting their stories with your company as appropriate.

Get to Know Your Evangelists

Whether your customer database is an excel spreadsheet or a CRM, you should have data on your customers that gives you context about their relationship with your brand. This isn’t just their name, but their purchase history with you, notes, their birthday even. This should also include a lead score. This is based on properties that characterize your best customers’ relationships. Your highest scoring customers are your evangelists. Know them, be on a first-name basis with them. Stay in regular contact with them beyond their purchase.

Get Time on the Front Lines

Anne Hathaway, in the movie “The Intern,” works the phones on the customer call center line. Her customer is upset because she ordered dresses for her wedding that won’t arrive in time. Thinking fast, Anne solves the issue and takes the customer experience beyond a typical “lost package” call. Leadership should put themselves in this position a few hours every week. Listen. Talk directly to disgruntled customers or those seeking help. Work the phones. These interactions will tell you more about your market than any study. Leadership should embrace the humanity of our roles as problem solvers and get to know our customers beyond their named. If you can’t provide the solution, suggest one that your company doesn’t provide, even if it is your competitor. Put your customer first and in turn, you will earn customers for life.

Get Feedback and Use It

Don’t forget to ask your customer community for feedback. The same steps apply — be transparent with your results, communicate and take action. If you ask only one question, use a Net Promoter Score survey questionnaire on a regular basis. This alone will give you enough data to measure your company’s customer experience.

Expanding your customer base can mean seeking adjacent opportunities (innovation) or looking to attract and solve the exact issue your company exists to solve for new ideal customers (marketing). Let’s focus on the latter.

All companies need an evergreen marketing strategy that works to automatically attract ideal customers to your business. This is not an ad-based approach, but a value-based approach. Remember your bank of value. This applies to your current customers and your prospects. The more deposits you put into the bank, the more likely you can make a future withdrawal. Approach your marketing efforts from a lens of value to the customer first — not your company.

While digital marketing can appear to be full of mysterious buzz-words, any company can implement an automated marketing program by focusing on three areas to create value for their customer community.
Invest in your website

Depending on your business, a website can be overwhelming and complex, but remember that your website is your digital doorstep. It communicates your distinct offering, who you serve, and why you serve. It should help potential customers interact with your company, get a clear understanding of what you do, and determine if you can help them with their particular program. If your website accomplishes this, you have a great foundation to build value upon.

Create Content of Value

With a website that clearly articulates who you are and what you do, you can start to generate value and facilitate customer conversations by providing deposits in your future customer bank. Most marketers would call this lead generation, but we prefer to frame this from the lens of value first. If you are providing value, lead generation will follow. This is achieved by content marketing — you’re creating the possibility of a relationship between the customer and the company by giving away information of value. This doesn’t mean endless gated content or email forms in exchange for information. If your information is of value, the customer will take action to deepen the relationship. Remember, too, that your content can take many forms — FAQs, video, webinars, blogs, articles, white papers, how-tos, demonstrations, etc. Customers will find your content organically, i.e., search and social media promotion, or through paid ads that drive targeted segments that look like your ideal customers to your content. *Tip: You can’t have lead generation without content. Lead generation without value is an ad.

Automate and Connect

Digital transformation is achieved when you automate value processes through web technology. This includes e-commerce, communication bots and live chat, FAQ indexes, and automated information delivery systems — such as emails, searches, and gated educational course content. Once you have created a marketing system that delivers value to customers, you need to automate the system. Examples of automation are the emails you receive after you abandon your shopping cart, or a copy of a guide emailed to you that you forgot to download. A programmed chat bot that answers frequently asked questions or an indexed and searchable FAQ are also different examples of automation. Automation, once enabled, frees up resources once managed by your team that you can apply towards other needs.

What actionable opportunities can you seize during a time of uncertainty, upheaval, or recession? What should you focus on externally (to your customers), internally (to your employees), and within yourself (not to be forgotten)? Each of these areas should be analyzed and addressed and collectively they will identify your company's new business plan for the future.

Have you ever considered that your customers also include your internal team? Investment into internal marketing allows organizations to retain top talent, attract ideal candidates, and create a frictionless energy that propels your company forward towards its mission and vision.

In part two of this series, Kenwood Management will provide key insights on how your company can leverage internal marketing to improve operations across the board. Subscribe to our blog to be alerted when all of our original content goes live!

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