This month, senior content marketer and marketing technology analyst Barb Mosher Zinck picks out some brands that have learned to play their tune for the customer, not for the brand, and hopes that this playlist continues after the current Covid-19 crisis.

For the last few months, my inbox has not been overflowing with a lot of useless promotional emails. For the most part, brands have been supportive and helpful. And I’m not complaining. It seems the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a wake-up call for marketing and sales, and I think most got the point.

The way we were

Before Covid-19 there was too much email. Too many SDR emails pushing for a call they just didn’t seem to realize they weren’t going to get, too many invites to surveys and webinars that felt forced and irrelevant. The inbox is a rabbit hole, and the emails just kept pulling us down further and further.

Then Covid-19 struck, and suddenly marketing and sales teams needed to stop and rethink their strategies. It wasn’t just about budget cuts. It was about being relevant to customers, prospects, and audiences that had much more critical events happening in their lives.

But it wasn’t just email. It was content development, it was events. There is so much need to fill customers’ lives with things that deliver brand awareness, leads, social love, etc. I believe that as much as brands said they were focused on the customer, they were really focused on their need to find customers.

The way we are

Today things are different. Marketing is still relevant, and it’s very much still important. But we’re taking more time to look at our strategies through a true customer lens.

What’s important to the customer right now? For many, getting through the day. And we saw marketers show their understanding of that through what I’ll call ‘the Covid-19 emails’. Sure, some of them were pure newsjacking, but many were thoughtful notes to let people know that yes, it’s tough right now, and support is there if needed (in the context of the brand).

I’ve also heard that SDR and sales calls have been less pushy. There may not be a budget to purchase right now, but there are plenty of opportunities to talk and build a relationship so that when the time is right, that brand is top of mind.  

And then there are the digital events, including webinars that have skyrocketed. Not all great, if we’re perfectly honest. But I’ve attended a few that were pretty darn good. With travel on the back burner, smart brands figured out how to adapt their physical events to digital. One thing I’ve appreciated is seeing the people talking. Not only does it give you a view into who that person is (what they ‘really’ look like, and what their ‘office’ looks like) but also, it’s a less formal talk because the person is on the screen. They can’t read from a paper or a screen without looking very stilted and boring. It feels more like an office conversation.

I’ll also give a shout out to Alyce, who did something pretty cool for their Youniverse digital conference. The first day was all about the 5to9 – things people do when they aren’t working, like make puppets, make cocktails or learn to box.

The path forward

Through my writing for Diginomica and my work on the Content Matters podcast, I get the opportunity to talk to smart marketers who do get it. And they have excellent points on what we should be doing now and going forward.

Randy Frisch, the CMO of Uberflip, talked to me about creating contextual content-driven experiences. It’s not about more and more one-off pieces of content. It’s about a content experience that is relevant to the person (it could be highly personalized, it could be segment or persona-based). The point is, you take the time to think about the customer and what experience they need, then you decide how to create that experience.

I mentioned Alyce above. I spoke with Greg Segall, Alyce CEO, about the need to focus on personalized experiences by understanding people’s 5to9 lives, not just their 9to5 one. According to Segall, salespeople and marketers often talk to people based on what they think that person might like or want to hear. Getting a feel for who that person is outside of office hours can help you build a better relationship.

And then there are the digital events. Tessa Barton, VP of Marketing at ON24, talked to me about how marketers need to rethink digital events and how to build engagement. My big takeaway from that talk is that digital events can provide marketers with a ton of data that enables them to reach out to attendees post-event in a more appropriate way. So instead of every attendee getting the same ‘thanks for coming’ email, or the same SDR call, you can segment attendees and develop customized outreach.

These three examples point to one thing – taking the time to know your customer and building an experience that uses that knowledge. Focus on the customer. Be relevant, be contextual, be present.

These are things marketers should have been doing before the pandemic – and some were. But many changed because the pandemic forced them too.

Every brand didn’t get it right. But many did. By stopping and rethinking what it means to focus on the customer, not the customer in terms of the brand. That focus comes from leadership and filters down through marketing, sales, and support. I hope that doesn’t go away just because Covid-19 does.

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