Agile marketing in the era of COVID-19, BLM and recession

A good friend asked me an interesting question the other day: How can a company in the email space build equity in today’s market?

It was interesting to me because I talk about this a lot, in forums like this and with companies I’m mentoring, whether they’re start-ups or established firms looking for their next areas of growth. 

It’s also a relevant question for where we are today. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything we know about marketing, whether you’re in B2B or B2C. Your own degree of change will depend on your industry, your products or services, but it’s a global phenomenon that we are all experiencing. 

This leads us to not know what we’re doing. We’re all guessing at the right way to go forward in marketing and sales. This caution is a good thing for now because hitting “pause” for now can help us avoid doing something that could actually hurt our brand equity instead of building it up.

What brand equity means

In business terms, brand equity is the commercial value you enjoy from the public’s perception of your brand, apart from the money you make from it. Think of it like a savings account. 

Every time you do something good or define your brand in a positive way, it’s like depositing money in that account. Every deposit builds up your account, and every positive action builds up your brand equity. 

People trust that equity and what it stands for. It’s your company’s persona.

But whenever you do something bad, that’s a withdrawal from your brand equity account. A tone-deaf social media tweet, an email with a major mistake, a major product fail or other kinds of public relations disasters – all of these are debits against your brand equity. 

In one sense, you don’t control your brand equity. The public is in that driver’s seat. But you can take concrete steps to preserve it and set the stage for building it. 

Many marketers are struggling right now because they’re worried about damaging their brands. Because they don’t know what to do, they’re doing nothing. They’re pulling back on advertising and marketing. 

These tactics can help you maintain and build brand equity:

1. Adopt an agile marketing discipline.

This is especially relevant today because if you aren’t practicing agile marketing in this era of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and a recession, you’re making a grave mistake.

 Here’s an excellent definition of agile marketing from Workfront:

“At its core, Agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high-value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.”

Agile marketing is important for businesses today because our fast-breaking world means your company has to move fast, too. Agile marketing gives you a fluid approach to marketing, as you can see in this graphic from Acoustic that compare traditional and agile marketing:

Image credit: PowerSlides

With agile marketing, you’re looking at the entire marketing process, your brand equity and being able to move quickly. Agile marketing means you can make decisions quickly without going through layers of approval or meeting after meeting. You don’t have to sacrifice the good for the perfect.

Agile marketing runs on the “80 Percent” rule. Get it out there, get it done, and then go back and optimize it. It’s fast – and that’s what we have to be.

What Agile marketing is not is a haphazard approach where you throw caution to the wind.  It’s a disciplined approach that takes a keen leader with a global view, who considers the brand equity and voice and can pivot based on years of education and experience.

As such, Agile marketing requires a special mindset. It’s not for the timid or indecisive. But it’s the way effective marketing is evolving, and COVID and other business realities are just hastening that evolution. Over the next 18 months (and beyond), it could be critical to your company’s business plan.

Agile marketing has trust at the core. You can trust yourself and your marketing team to make the best decisions that allow you to move nimbly and react in real time to capitalize on something that can help you build brand equity or pivot quickly to avoid damage.

That’s where we are every day today. What do we promote, and what do we avoid? Which doors do we open, and which do we close? 

This approach can help you decide where your brand should respond to current events. Your equity definition determines what your brand stands for. You have to answer the question of “How does the company respond to any cause or issue in an authentic way?”  

Your brand must be able to take a stand that aligns with what the cause is calling for.  Just making a statement is sometimes not enough because there’s a risk that it does more harm than good.

2. The content king is dead; long live the new content king!

The saying is the same – content is king – but the content sitting on your throne looks different. It’s not just your blog. It’s video, podcasts, commercials, email newsletters – everything that is an outward sign of who you are as a company affects your brand equity. 

In the email world, content from vendors seeks to educate prospects and clients alike, to lift all boats. Content is used to educate the industry on which direction to take.  The more content you produce and share, the smarter your company is perceived to be. That’s important, especially in B2B, because people like to do business with smart companies. 

Consumers like to do business with companies that meet their needs and share their values. Trust is a value. Respect is a value.

The content you put out there is critically important. When the COVID-19 became a pandemic and states began closing down operations, some companies pulled out of advertising because they couldn’t match their content with their brand equity so that it appealed to everybody.  

Whatever content you put out there, all the way down to your email, it’s affecting your brand equity all the time. If you’re agile, your content will be flexible enough to be able to react in real time. But you need a plan to manage it.

Why you need a content calendar. At some companies I’ve worked with, one question I have for the content or marketing team is “Where’s your content calendar?” The looks I get make me wonder if I grew up on Mars or something. 

It’s not a calendar in a SaaS tool. A content calendar is a comprehensive view of all content and themes, goals and titles.

A plan will make you think about the relationship between your content and how it ties back to your business needs, products or brand equity. It’s a symbiotic relationship. A comprehensive content plan gives you the flexibility and decision-making support you need to be able to respond appropriately on the fly.

At the same time, though, you’re not locking yourself into a 12- or 24-month plan. Your content month covers this month and maybe two weeks of next month, with rolling iterations based on market conditions and what you’re hearing from your teams, your prospects, your customers and other end users

A complex content plan looks at several factors to inform what’s written, not just “Here’s what’s on sale this month. Buy it!”

A strong content marketing plan adds regular deposits to your brand savings account.

3. Presence and perception are essential

This is one of my mainstays in helping companies market themselves. How you are perceived in the email space as well as in the real world doesn’t correlate with how much you spend on your content.

Are you or your brand perceived as a leader? Does your marketing team direct and control all aspects of the outward-facing communications of your company? How does the sales person talk to prospects? What are your unique selling propositions? What is your brand known for? How do you focus your content?

If you drop out of speaking at conferences or participating in industry associations, if you stop blogging and creating content that helps or educates others, you won’t be perceived as an industry leader. 

When chatting with an old friend, he tried to guess what my marketing budget was for that year. The number he guessed was 250% higher than my actual budget. Why? Because that’s how my company was perceived and how I built the marketing. We were able to market beyond the budget by leveraging our communications. 

You don’t have to have content everywhere – a blog here, a webinar there, a podcast up here, Instagram stories over yonder. You need to be perceived as being in all of the places that matter. 

You don’t have to be everything to everybody, either. Trying to appeal to everyone means you end up appealing to no one. Show what you stand for as a company. Look at your customers through a lens of sympathy and empathy. Recognize their pain, struggles and fears and match it.  

Wrapping up

These aren’t the only factors that affect your brand equity. Some others: Is your product good enough? Can you deliver it on time? Do you have good customer support?

In what we are expecting will be a chaotic next 12 to 15 months, c

Your company has to be able to pivot fast, but that’s not enough. You need to be able to trust yourself and your team, using the available data, to make decisions. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. But part of agile marketing is saying “I’m not going to do something because I can’t plan it or get it right enough.”

From the lowest-ranking employee in your company to C-level executives, everybody is responsible for brand equity. Here’s what you need to think about:

How are you delivering on your promises to your end user? 

In the end, that can be the greatest factor of all. 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Ryan Phelan is co-founder of Origin Email and brings nearly two decades of worldwide online marketing and email experience. Ryan is a respected thought leader and nationally distinguished speaker with a history of experience from Adestra, Acxiom, BlueHornet, Sears Holdings, Responsys and infoUSA. In 2013 he was named one of the top 30 strategists in online marketing and is the Chairman Emeritus of the EEC Advisory Board. Ryan also works with start-up companies as an advisor, board member and investor.

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