The COVID-19 pandemic put marketers (me included) to the test. After talking to many marketers, we all agree that we need to start thinking about how to do marketing differently in order to react fast as a team. The question is: “How can marketing move quickly in fast-changing situations?” The answer is that you’ll need to modify your existing processes and initiate a new protocol, a Marketing Continuity Plan.  

Identify the potential factors inhibiting you from moving quickly 

Before you can do that, you need to understand the factors that prevent marketers from moving quickly.

Here are 5 potential causes that I identified by talking to various customers and doing a quick COVID-19 analysis:

  • Lack of marketing continuity plan to enable making decisions quickly
  • Lack of communication protocol to collaborate on a daily basis
  • The nature of marketing, especially digital and content marketing, is slow
  • Lack of clear direction from the top
  • Constant directional changes from the top

Note: If you identify more reasons, please let me know. I’ll update this blog post and credit you.

Lack of a marketing continuity plan or communication protocol to guide marketers

A series of unfortunate events just piled on between 3/6-4/6.

The image below shows the new case numbers in the US on a daily basis. It started with minuscule 20 new cases on 3/6, then jumped to 1,237 new cases on 3/15, which was a 60X increase in 7 days. 

Quickly, all professional sports franchises, such as the NCAA, NBA, MLB, GPA, and NHL, announced cancellations of their events on 3/12.  With the acceleration of new cases and a lack of feasible solutions, state governments swiftly issued “shelter-in-place” executive orders and mandated closures of restaurants and non-essential commercial businesses starting between 3/19-3/25. 

Things were moving very fast in the first 30 days as we saw new cases reached its height on 4/6 at 43,438 which is >2,170X increase in 30 days. Of course, with social media and 24/7 media coverage, news spread fast and furious and anxiety built up quickly among all of us.

Marketers were crippled while struggling with questions like: “To market or not to market, that is the question.” “Should we cease communications altogether?” “What is appropriate to do? What is not?” Sales can’t visit customers anymore, what can we do to better support them? Many questions needed to be answered, but our current processes were not set up for that.

Marketing Planning

The nature of digital marketing doesn’t allow us to move quickly

Nobody wants to acknowledge it, but digital marketing takes time to plan, create, promote, and measure. To deliver a seamless digital customer experience, you need to build a workflow, write code, and test on multiple devices from desktop and tablets to phones. CX (customer experience) and UX (user experience) don’t happen instantly.  

Creative development for campaigns, event planning, and content creation such as blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos also requires time to brainstorm and plan. Again, it’s not like you can wave your magic wand and have an awesome event, a beautiful TV commercial or an SEO-optimized post just appear. 

It takes time to write the posts and the video/podcast scripts to drive home the key messages and calls-to-action. It also takes time to edit and re-edit the content. Using this blog post as an example, I have made five rewrites over three days before being ready to publish.

Many of us have experience running big campaigns or developing creative ideas under a short and compressed timeline, but the short deadline is KNOWN in advance to allow us to plan ahead. With this pandemic, it was quick, fast, and unexpected from the start. Most importantly, we didn’t know what the next day would look like nor the end date (we can only guess). 

The nature of marketing is…you can’t rush marketing. Ugh!

Lack of direction or constant changes from management create chaos in marketing

I often say that marketing is not a business strategy. Business goals and strategy need to be set first, then marketing can plan accordingly to help business and sales. If the business direction is not set or changes constantly, it’s almost impossible to do marketing. 

Say, the management team decides to go after the healthcare segment in 2020. Key marketing efforts such as SEO keywords, content creation, copywriting, and even TV commercials will be aimed at that segment. 

Then, in the middle of the year, the product team makes a massive product update, the company decides to focus on the financial segment. Now just imagine the changes marketers need to make: the website, paid ads, content planning, buyer personas, event sponsorship selection, email campaigns, PR and more. 

One segment change at the top causes a cascade effect for every element of marketing. 

Therefore, any unforeseen disaster or sudden business change creates a massive pain for marketing. This is something that senior management fails or refuses to comprehend (sadly). I often have to be the bad cop for my marketing clients to educate their bosses as to why the internal teams need time to redo their marketing. From management’s perspective, it’s just a simple website update. 

Marketing is at the tail end of it all, so s#!t falling downhill makes it very challenging to plan and execute marketing when directions are unclear or change suddenly or constantly.

Understanding the reasons will help you evaluate your existing processes.

To move fast, it’s time to modify existing decision-making processes or build a marketing continuity plan

As we know, many companies demand that their IT organizations have business continuity plans and processes. Say, the network goes down, IT has a “Plan B (or even Plan C)” to keep the business running without interruptions. Many IT groups can initiate a task force quickly and activate a documented communication protocol to provide updates to employees and hourly or daily briefings to management.

To move fast in a crisis situation, marketing also needs to have a Marketing Continuity Plan, like its IT peers.

So, what is a Marketing Continuity Plan?

Let’s define what is Business Continuity Plan first. And I like this definition from IBM, Adapt and respond to risks with a business continuity plan (BCP):

“A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that outlines how a business will continue operating during an unplanned disruption in service.”

In IBM’s blog post, it went on to explain: 

“It’s more comprehensive than a disaster recovery plan and contains contingencies for business processes, assets, human resources and business partners – every aspect of the business that might be affected. 

Plans typically contain a checklist that includes supplies and equipment, data backups and backup site locations. Also, plans can identify plan administrators and include contact information for emergency responders, key personnel and backup site providers. Plans may provide detailed strategies on how business operations can be maintained for both short-term and long-term outages.”

Then, I used that as a based to craft the definition of Marketing Continuity Plan.

“A marketing continuity plan is a document that outlines how marketing will continue operating during an unplanned disruption in service. 

The plan should address every aspect of marketing that might be affected. The plan should contain a checklist to evaluate creative, copy, and communications in owned, earned, paid, and social media channels. It should also include key decision-makers and representatives from each marketing function. A frequent huddle will be activated for the duration of a crisis.” 

So, if you have daily huddle calls, use the opportunity to document your marketing continuity plan

During the pandemic, many marketing teams started a daily marketing huddle to ensure close communications. Key players or representatives from management staff, social media, PR, email, paid media, product marketing, web, content, demand gen, or data analytics work together to address any urgent issues.

The initial daily huddles tend to last for hours since many issues need to be addressed at first. The team would discuss the current issues of the day:

  • Share content that will go out 
  • Discuss current ads in running and proposed replacement ads
  • Brainstorm creative outreach
  • Modify talking points or messaging
  • Review data analytics
  • Address “help needed” from team members at the tactical or execution level
  • Communicate key initiatives and adjusted priorities 

Over time, the number of issues has declined, and the meeting times can be reduced to 15 or 30 minutes.

This is very important to do! While you are going through a daily huddle, it’s important to document the processes you use, such as:

  • What were the key topics addressed during the crisis?
  • How did the team reach certain decisions?
  • What data was needed to make these decisions?
  • Who were the decision-makers?
  • What help was needed at the tactical and execution level?
  • What templates worked the best to communicate with upper management or to convey tactical information?
  • How did we decide on budget allocation?

Then, document the daily huddle routine and turn it into the documented marketing playbook for crisis management, the marketing version of a Business Continuity Plan. 

Viola, now you have a documented process to help marketing move faster next time. Well, let’s hope there is no next time.

If you don’t have a daily huddle call, well, you can start one to discuss how to move ahead with the reopening of the economy. I have several templates that you can use to facilitate the discussion before making changes (AGAIN) to your marketing plan. Check out this blog post: Important templates you need to update your marketing plan. You’ll love the templates!

Review and improve your current processes

Changing existing processes is easy-to-say but hard-to-do in mid-size or global enterprises. Working with my manufacturing clients, I’ve discovered that manufacturing plants are constantly looking for ways to improve their yields and outputs. However, that kind of mentality has not translated into other business functions within a manufacturing company.

I am also a guilty one. Being on a client’s side, when I set up a process on how to plan and implement specific marketing elements, I rarely went back to re-evaluate the process unless I introduced a new platform or the department went through a re-org. 

Going through this pandemic, my biggest takeaway on the marketing side is that we need to think like a manufacturing plant manager: frequently re-evaluate our current processes and think from the perspective how can we be more efficient. 

Moving forward, the future of marketing is not business as usual anymore. Marketing simply need to move faster!

Process and management direction is key to being agile and consistent

Marketing is responsible for external communications. What marketing says and how it is said matters for brands. In uncertain times, many marketers are walking a gray area between selling products and being empathetic.

If you tip to the selling side too much, your audience won’t bite. If you tip to the empathetic side too much, you are not helping sales. In addition, marketing budget tends to get cut at difficult times. Therefore, management direction is critical to minimize confusion and help prioritization for marketing teams.

Marketing is a team sport. You won’t be able to move faster unless your processes and decision-making flows are set up and communicated well. 

Process, process, process

Changing processes and documenting actionable marketing continuity plans are not marketers’ forte or priority. On several occasions, I worked with clients to change their processes and help document actionable marketing continuity plan so that they could focus on important priorities such as creative, marketing planning and outbound executions.

If you need help evaluating your processes, feel free to reach out anytime. Brainstorming is free. Schedule a call now

Stay healthy and be safe.

If you’d like to learn more about B2B, marketing, and sales, check out the list of my upcoming FREE webinars.

What can Pam Didner do for you?

Being in the corporate world for 20+ years and having held various positions from accounting and supply chain management, and marketing to sales enablement, she knows how corporations work. She can make you and your team a rock star by identifying areas to shine and do better. She does that through private coaching, keynote speaking, workshop training, and hands-on consulting. Contact her or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter. A quick note: Check out her new 90-Day Revenue Reboot, if you are struggling with marketing.