As the COVID-19 pandemic exploded onto the scene in mid-March, I found myself on the phone, engaged in a tense marketing discussion with the CEO of a nationwide retail client.
As with most of you whom are reading this blog, the pain for him and his B2C company was intense: Seemingly overnight, he went from reaping record profits to being forced to close 75 percent of his stores, to lay off masses of highly trained employees, and to suspend payment of almost all expenses to conserve cash.
For a while, our discussion was decidedly downbeat. But then it occurred to both of us: What would prevent this CEO, post-pandemic, from turning his sails back into the wind, and recapturing the tradewinds that were propelling him forward previously?
As we discussed the idea of a bold and strategic grand-reopening program, we quickly grew excited. We turned our creative energies to strategies that could quickly re-prime the company’s growth engine, immediately generate customer traffic, get his stores’ sales associates as busy as possible as quickly as possible —and perhaps even allow the company to steal market share from competitors who weren’t as savvy about their post-pandemic plans.
So how can you shift from surrender to surge? How can you best position your company to re-emerge from the cataclysm dramatically and quickly, instead of just writing off 2020 as an unrecoverable disaster? Read on.
Turning the Growth Gears
In formulating the post-pandemic marketing plan for my retail CEO client, I enlisted the help of Chief Outsiders’ Growth Gears approach to growth planning – a means to develop sound go-to-market strategies, while avoiding less purposeful plans that we call “random acts of marketing.”
The three-step Growth Gears process is profound in its simplicity. It starts with an exploration of customer and competitive Insights (especially critical in a post-COVID-19 world). Next, it involves weighing the pros and cons of alternative marketing Strategies; and, finally, uses the information gathered in the first two steps to mete out tactical Execution elements, and the budget impact of those elements.
We found it especially meaningful, in the Growth Gears-driven whiteboard planning session, to take a fresh new look at the company’s calendar — considering alterations to the business cycle and possibilities for where resources could be best positioned for maximum impact.
We also knew we would start by targeting our existing buyers – understanding that even in the worst of times, the old adage , “Your best prospects are already customers,” is still relevant. Certainly, considering the post-pandemic world, we could safely assume that our existing customers could more easily be induced to re-visit and purchase anew, than a prospect who knows far less about the brand.
Stepping into a Changed World
Our plans included multiple “touches” via emails, phone calls and postcards offering incentives to come in for a festive Grand Reopening party. Further, we added a “happy hour” for selected customers – appropriate for the nature of our client’s business -- where they could demo new and recently-launched products while rubbing elbows with glitterati and enjoying a wine tasting.
The addition of tightly-focused geo-fenced digital and traditional advertising were also considered vital to get nearby prospects to visit. Also, holiday gift giving – including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day opportunities — would take on much larger importance, from a sales goals perspective, then in a non-pandemic world. Looking down the road, the same would be true of Christmas, and the most significant celebration of each year—birthdays—which provide sales opportunities 365 days a year. Messaging to support the new calendar and tactics would be tweaked for national broad-reach digital and traditional advertising. Finally, a new Referral and Customer Rewards incentive program would be layered on for good measure.
It is important to note that the ancillary investment made by the client company in this quick burst of crisis management marketing planning was extremely modest. (I even worked out the terms of my services to the company to help them conserve cash). But the result was a smart recovery plan – built and and at the ready to execute – when the pandemic crisis has passed, and social distancing measures are relaxed.
All CEOs who have ever been part of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Problems) strategic exercise recall that the Weakness and Opportunites quadrants are almost always completed simultaneously, as they often represent opposite sides of the same coin.
Today’s heartbreaking COVID-19 business weaknesses can be tomorrow’s opportunities — but they need to be acted upon quickly and smartly by both consumer goods and B2B companies, in order to ensure productivity in the return to normalcy.