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Many marketers clearly aren’t faced with awesome business prospects and prosperous growth lately. The CMO Survey released in June reports losses during the COVID-19 pandemic in sales (17.8%), profits (14.7%), customer acquisition (9.2%) and company optimism — marketers’ optimism over their company has dropped to near Great Recession levels. That said, not all marketing leaders lost their sense of optimism.

Optimism or not, marketers have to perform — crisis or no crisis. The question is, which kind of marketing is the go-to right now? Long-term strategic efforts or short-term wins? LinkedIn researchers last year before the pandemic found only 4% of B2B marketers measure impact beyond six months. So why should things change now? For B2B, and even B2C, what’s the better playbook now? “COVID-19 has been particularly challenging for CMOs as it finally forced the digital transformation that we’ve been hearing about for years. And frankly, marketing wasn’t ready,” said Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at Recorded Future who authored a LinkedIn post on the subject. 

Brand Creates Demand

Not ready? Marketers? One of the organizational leaders in digital transformation? Say it ain’t so. “We’ve been addicted to tried-and-true physical channels like events and tradeshows as a way to hit the short-term demand generation goals that keep sales leaders happy — and keep CMOs employed,” Wentworth said. “But at what cost? Chasing short-term demand generation goals, even in the middle of a pandemic, is a surefire path to mediocre long-term results."

Why? Because, Wentworth said, brand creates demand. "Sure you can spend your way to short-term success," he added, "but with the complete elimination of physical events for the foreseeable future, now is the perfect time to repurpose your marketing budget.”

Related Article: Marketing in a Time of Crisis

Keeping Revenue Top of Mind

Living in the short-term, marketing-sales-funnel, demand-generation grind? Or are you building long-term strategy like branding, content development and educational material vs. promotional?

Sure, it’s easy to say “balance each.” Every leadership position ever has your day-to-day duties that plays tug of war with long-term visionary projects. But marketers need to make tough decisions right now, experts told us, the pressure is on. Forrester in May reported that the month before, Sotheby’s furloughed 12% of staff; Class Pass laid off 22% and furloughed 31%; and Condé Nast, Coty and Tailored Brands implemented 10% to 50% pay cuts. 

Marketing is expected to produce answers, results and numbers, and now. How does long-term strategy serve that? “I think that you have to stay focused on the long-term and what you have set out to do,” said Kristi Anderson, who runs Kristi Anderson Marketing and was former portfolio marketing manager with IBM Watson. “You really have to stay focused on that, but then have to look at where can you find some short-term wins. How do I get the fastest track to revenue? I'm a big believer in marketing always tracking back to revenue. It's hard to prove it sometimes, and it's hard to report on it, but I believe that you have to try to make sure that you're always looking at generating revenue from what you're doing.”

Ultimately, she said, it's not a crazy philosophy to spend less on demand generation and more on content. “It’s all about execution,” she said. “If you have something going don't abandon it. I know a few tech companies that really ran out of the gate hard and they’ve had to pull back and they don't spend any money on marketing right now. And the markets have asked, 'Well, what happened to that?' That's not good. You can't let that happen.”

Related Article: How CMOs Are Leading Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Taking on the Pandemic With Two Marketing Teams

Daniel Rodriguez, chief marketing officer of Simplr, said his marketing teams, like many others, felt the uncertainty of the pandemic. In early April, they split the marketing effort into two distinct teams: Tiger Team and Endurance Team.

The Tiger team was focused on the very near-term pipeline, with a cold outreach strategy narrowly focused on a list of a few hundred companies that were having surging demand for their products — and therefore great fits for Simplr’s on-demand customer success staffing solution.

The Endurance team was the long-term content marketing effort and community-building effort. “If we're going to pursue the give-give-get strategy that Gary Vaynerchuck has written about, we can't stop the long game,” Rodriguez said. “Communicating this strategy to the rest of the senior leadership team was critical because the natural reaction was to go all short-term.”

As it became clear that the pandemic wasn't going away in 2020, Simplr turned the Tiger Team into a formal business development team (BDR) and hired five new reps for its marketing effort. The Endurance Team was developing content for the BDR teams, such as a “Mystery Shop report” that allows almost 800 ecommerce retailers to see how their responsiveness and empathy compare to pre-pandemic levels. And a “CX Life” team community is almost 1,000 members strong. “By putting CX Life on the Endurance team and shielding it from our own natural desire to sell directly to them, it allows the community to flourish for its own sake — which we know benefits Simplr in the long run,” Rodriguez said. “The long-term eventually becomes the short-term. If you don't continually plant seeds, the harvest can't possibly get bigger.”

Marketing's efforts are almost always yielding results one or two quarters out in a B2B pipeline — and that's the short-term win. “Longer-term positioning and shaping of a market narrative is measured in years,” Rodriguez said. “If you stop the longer-term efforts, or fail to start them due to indecision, you delay or never achieve the pipeline windfall that comes when the market ‘tips’ in your favor."

Time for Marketing Evaluation

Amanda Beto, marketing director at Honore Holdings, said when the pandemic started, she saw a lot of business leaders panic and start to cut budgets and stop marketing initiatives. This is the last thing you want to do because it can have a longer-term impact than most companies realize, she added. “I view times like this as an opportunity to really evaluate what's working and what's not rather than cutting just for the sake of cutting,” Beto said. “I also am of the belief that this is the time companies should be investing in their strategy and brand because you want to stay top of mind and not lose the momentum you've invested in thus far. A strong, credible brand is ultimately what is going to drive demand generation in my humble opinion.”

However, that's not to say that everything should be the status quo, Beto added. Understand what your customers are facing and be present where your audience is. Any type of demand generation should be done in a manner and tone that reflects the current environment.

Related Article: Marketing in a Time of Crisis, One Month Later

Never Take Eyes off of Lifetime Value

It’s tempting when times get tough to batten down the hatches and divert all available budget to grabbing clicks and cash, according to Alyssa Jarrett, director of brand and content marketing at Iterable. However, the North Star metric should be customer lifetime value (LTV). When you prioritize putting your customers first, you don’t have to choose between brand-building and short-term wins, Jarrett added. “True growth marketing is about maximizing LTV by harnessing the power of the entire funnel, not just acquisition but also engagement, retention and loyalty,” she said. “When the pandemic struck, the first major marketing initiative Iterable launched was our Random Acts of Kindness campaign. The most important objective was that we support our customers and prospects and not ask for anything in return. This campaign equipped our go-to-market team to provide gift certificates to services provided by several of our most valued customers, including a premium subscription to leading meditation app Calm.”

Keep Content at the Heart of Marketing

It’s possible to do short- and long-term marketing campaigns in the current environment, according to Dan Frohnen, CMO of Sendoso. Content should be at the heart of each, he added. “Utilize content that is being written for search engines and apply it in a variety of ways like in database nurture emails, sales cadences and direct mail,” Frohnen said. “Not only are you making great use of your resources, you’re also driving short- and long-term pipeline and revenue. The beauty of putting content in the center is you get the immediate term impact by leveraging it right away while also planting the seeds for the future to generate long-term SEO gain through optimization.”