How to Market When the Marketplace Is Changing Fast
by Michelle Speranza Monitor 100 2022
Change can be scary, but it will happen regardless of your reaction. Michelle Speranza explores three areas marketers can focus on today to meet change head-on, stay flexible, keep in tune with audiences and build strong relationships.
Michelle Speranza, SVP & Chief Marketing Officer, LEAF Commercial Capital
Change is having kind of a moment right now. Its little sister, uncertainty, is on a roll too.
In marketing departments across the equipment finance industry — and every other industry — people are asking when things are going to settle down, when they’ll get a chance to catch their breaths and get back to marketing like they used to.
They’re probably not going to like the answer, which means it may be time to stop asking when we’ll get back to the way we were. A better — and much harder to answer — question may be how will we keep connecting in an environment where change and uncertainty just aren’t going to let up anytime soon.
Even though we’ve all had quite enough hard-to-answer questions lately, this one really needs tackling.
What’s it going to take to continue marketing effectively when change is hyper-caffeinated and bent on overachieving? Here are three areas marketers can focus on right now to stay flexible, keep in tune with audiences and build real relationships that aren’t just resilient in the face of change, but strengthened by it.
Give Creativity Room to Breathe
Creativity and flexibility like to hang out and go everywhere together. You don’t often see one without the other, and that’s why we’re starting with it. Creativity and the flexibility that comes with it really are foundational to marketing into change, especially when things are changing so much and so fast.
It makes sense, but here’s the problem: change often makes people freeze up. And the faster things change, the more frozen people tend to get. One reason why this happens is that change turns up the dial on everything. Yes, the rewards for getting it right can be greater, but so can the consequences for getting it wrong.
Here’s a secret though: When things are changing, doing nothing new is the same as getting it wrong. And change too often makes people want to play it safe, wandering around in a tight little circle in the middle of their comfort zone.
Doing that is bad enough, but besides impeding the flow of creative ideas in your own department, this understandable-but-unfortunate deer-in-the-headlights response to change often leads to a creative freeze across the company as teams huddle in their own silos.
When that happens, your task is to thaw the creative ice and break down the silo walls to get your whole company’s best brains back online and communicating seamlessly. Easy, right?
No, but if change leads to contraction and isolation when what you really need is expansion and collaboration, start with a close look at your company’s creativity culture. Ask yourself if your company:
Fosters and/or rewards creativity?
Has established channels to encourage the flow of creative ideas across departments?
Clearly shows its teams the connection between a given creative idea and its impact — not just in terms of reaching business objectives, but also in light of employee-focused benefits such as expanded career opportunities?
Of course, your answers should be yes to all the above. But if they’re not, here are a few ways to address that:
Create a creativity committee. This is your nexus for all things creative, and it should be comprised of at least one person from every department. Make it known from the highest levels of leadership that when people submit ideas to this committee, those ideas will be heard, considered, celebrated and rewarded publicly, even if they’re not acted upon. If you don’t have the resources for a full committee, designate a creativity captain (or whatever you’d like to call them). The point is, you want to make it part of your culture to honor and reward creativity.
Designate channel monitors across departments. Obviously, the point of all this creativity is to align with market needs. And one of the best — and most economical — ways of understanding these needs is to go one-on-one with the people who have the needs. That’s what your channel monitors will do: keep their antennae up to identify and anticipate needs as well as interact with prospects and customers personally to gather in-depth insight you’ll use to fuel your creative efforts, whether in the marketing department or anywhere else.
Hold regular, all-hands meetings. Use this time to draw a line from the creative ideas you generate to the results you get. And be sure to call out the people whose ideas made it possible.
Listen Like Your Business Depends on It (Because It Does)
For our purposes here, listening is more than just paying attention when your audiences communicate. Of course, that is also important, but to really understand the context you’re marketing into — and that’s a really important thing to do if you want to connect — it’s essential to go beyond listening passively to actively seeking opportunities to hear what your audiences have to say.
Don’t look at this as data harvesting. This is about listening in the context of real relationships, not just gathering information from your customers. Customers don’t love this, and if they do put up with it, don’t expect to get great insight. But what customers do tend to like, and respond well to, is when you get honestly curious and excited to find out what’s on their minds.
To work well, a purposeful approach to listening with the intent of marketing effectively through change must be implemented companywide since some of the most valuable insights can come from places you might not expect. Here are a few ways to listen more actively and stay in tune with the quickly evolving needs, concerns, challenges and opportunities of your audiences:
Active listening means listening across every touch through every department. That’s a lot of listening, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll lose some of what you learn if you don’t formalize a way to collect it and make it available to everyone. And while CRM software can be very powerful in that regard, it may not be handy to every employee at any time. So, if it’s not, consider a shared repository that can collect written and audio notes made during or shortly after an interaction. To be effective, this should be accessible from any connected smartphone, tablet or computer.
In addition to designating channel monitors, devote resources to frequently and authentically engage on social media, which offers some of the most direct access outside of speaking to a customer or meeting face-to-face.
Create your own opportunities to listen with forums, focus groups and other ways to read the pulse of your audience. If you’re not sure where to start, check with the industry associations you’re a part of — they’ll often be more than happy to work with you on creating these opportunities. After all, they want audience feedback too.
Focus on Relationships Over Transactions
Maybe it’s because they have more choices than ever (and so many of them look the same), but for many of today’s customers, the transactional business approach just doesn’t work anymore. Instead of a transaction here and there with businesses that are essentially interchangeable, customers are looking for ongoing relationships with companies that authentically address their full, unique business context and offer more of what they need to solve problems and win opportunities in a changing marketplace. Sound like a lot of work? It absolutely can be. But so can getting a customer to engage in a transaction with your company. Where would you rather put in the work? In a one-off transaction or a relationship that yields far greater dividends in terms of loyalty, lifetime customer value and referrals?
With that in mind, there are ways to build the relationships you want without overtaxing your team:
Leverage marketing automation technology to boost the personalization and relevance of your messaging at any scale. With availability at different price points depending on the capabilities you need, marketing automation solutions take the audience segments or personas you’ve defined and the content you’ve created and automatically get it in front of customers on the right channels and at the right times based on customer behavior and other triggers.
Create marketing content with an eye toward modularization. One of the biggest obstacles to a fluid approach to marketing across channels is the sheer work involved in creating assets that are optimized for any given channel and complementary across all channels. But, with a modular approach to generating these assets, you can easily repurpose parts of longer content for use where it makes sense in the context of the relationship you’re building.
Of course, managing the workload of creating deeper relationships with the resources available is only half the battle. What goes into an effective strategy for getting beyond transactions to relationships in the first place? Here are a couple of points to guide your planning:
Relevance is essential. In life and in business, we ideally develop relationships with those who connect with us in ways that matter to us. That’s why it’s so important in all your communications to speak directly and authentically to the questions, concerns, hopes and opportunities that occupy members of your audience. One way to do that is with research-based personas that are updated on a frequent basis — especially now, when things are changing so quickly. Another way is to get the deepest feedback you can from your audiences as often as you can.
Nurture constantly and deliberately. Relationship building is all about nurturing at every stage of the customer journey. From prospect to customer to repeat customer, establishing and deepening the relationship should be a consistent, high-priority marketing focus. Hand-in-hand with this, consider increasing the frequency of prospect and customer interaction in a way that shows you’re interested in teaming up with them, not just selling to them. There are a lot of ways to do this, including offering to chat about their strategy for navigating a new challenge specific to their industry or sharing a relevant resource based on a contact’s LinkedIn or other social media activity.
Turn Big Change into Lasting Relationships
Change is here to stay, but with a creative, attentive and relationship-centered approach to marketing through change, teams can stop dreading it and pivot to embrace the opportunities it offers to develop deep, ongoing relationships with customers who won’t want to do business anywhere else.
About the author: Michelle Speranza, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of LEAF Commercial Capital, has been with with the company since 2005, where she leverages extensive expertise in creating results-driven marketing and public relations campaigns with a strong emphasis on brand building, lead generation and customer retention.
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