We'd be lying to ourselves if we all said that right now, our teams aren't being forced to tighten up our budgets, cut off any loose ends, and run things more efficiently. Economic conditions are rough, and worse off, we have no idea when, and to what extent, they will recover.
Now, I don't want to be a complete pessimist. We do know that this situation will pass – I've been saying that for a while. But what will it look like when it does? That is the question we all have to be asking ourselves as we do our long-term planning. But, right now, in this moment, we need to remember we're still living and breathing - and so is our business! Let's get on with what we can get on with and keep forward momentum. But how do we do that? In a climate where we must be more efficient and are being asked to do more with less – what can we do to manage?
I think the first step is to realize that we can do much of what we were already doing with some tinkering and adjustments to our processes. The most significant factors preventing work, as usual, are the resources available to us – both in terms of budgets and in terms of working infrastructure. We'll dig into all of that in a bit. But before we do, let's revisit what's going on.
First: A Situation Analysis
The most significant trend we see right now is a pullback in client budgets across a variety of categories. Depending on the industry our clients are in, we've seen them either pull back on infrastructure investments, advertising spends, or payroll. None of these make anyone's job easier, because certain things need to continue to happen. We'll take a look at those items in a minute. But first, what led to this issue? Well – good times led to it. We had a strong economy, business was booming, and when that happens, it's hard to see or predict negative future events. Everyone thought there could be some level of recession – but no one believed that it would explode under the circumstances it did. Now, we not only are in that recession, but it's probably the worst we'll see in our lifetimes. The reality is, things changed quick and almost no one was prepared. But, despite this, we have to keep moving forward, even if it means we're all going to get our hands a bit dirty along the way.
Why does this situation hurt so bad? Well, first, it's a health crisis. On top of the economic uncertainty, let's face it – no one wants to get sick. The anxiety of illness is a cloud over everything else we are trying to figure out right now. And, the uncertainty of our institutions in response to the challenge of this health crisis has led to a variety of failures in multiple systems. Our government, private sector, healthcare system – all are feeling tremendous strains as a result of this crisis.
The second reason this stings is because it all happened pretty quickly. Sure, we had been watching the virus spread around China, then Italy, and in what seemed like a week or two, our country was inundated with cases. We went from a bull market, a strong economy, to a market devaluation in the magnitude of trillions of dollars literally in a week's time.
This all sounds really bad, right? Well, think about it this way: here we are – you've made it through the shock. Now – we must somehow keep going, right?
Only this isn't as easy as it once was. Marketers are being forced to let go of their team members, businesses are forced to furlough and contract their teams, meaning what was once a well-oiled operation may now be under stress. Now more than ever, we need to get more done, with fewer people and less spending power. So where should we prioritize our time and adjust our approaches? Let's look at some specific areas.
Communications: Maintain Continuity of Messaging
I alluded to this in a post a few weeks back, when the crisis started. In that post, I stated the importance of continuing to communicate with your customer base. Keeping the channels of communication open without any significant change from the norm. This is more important now than it was a few weeks ago. Now is not a time to cut off your social messaging. Should it perhaps change? Most likely. But should it slow down, or even stop completely? No way. The focus here should be consistency – staying in touch with your client base is essential. So, if you were posting to social 5 times per day before this – keep posting. Just change your message to make it timelier and more appropriate.
What should stop? Outbound sales efforts. Calls to cold leads. Emails to cold prospects. Unless you are in particular mediums where this is somewhat expected, like LinkedIn, stay away from this practice. No one wants to hear from you via outbound efforts right now. Everyone has their own issues and is working on it, but no one wants to be interrupted by a cold sales call. Continue your communications via inbound channels, but be cautious about starting new conversations right now.
Maintenance & Upkeep of Infrastructure
I encourage all marketers and website operators to not overlook routine maintenance, updates, and upgrades to their infrastructure. These tasks must continue – because not keeping up with these issues will begin to introduce instability, technical debt, and ongoing headaches in the future. If you had a maintenance plan and were undergoing routine updates, now is not the time to stop those efforts.
First, all of the reasons we conduct maintenance still exist. Keeping our software up to date ensures they are running safely and securely. We've seen upticks in worms and other nefarious attacks since this crisis began, mostly because attackers know that everyone is more reliant on these systems. As such, software updates are actually on the uptick to respond to these issues. Stay on top of such things to avoid embarrassing and potentially expensive security breaches.
Also, failing to update simply means you'll have to do it later, and it'll be more complicated. We had a client recently go dark on us, only to reappear months later with a site that was not just out of date but also suffered a hack and missed out on some dependencies that required upgrades. The fixes became an expensive endeavor. Maintaining structured and regular maintenance is not something that should be overlooked.
Patch Up Capability Gaps Via Flexible Staff Augmentation
One of the challenges we are seeing from our customers is the reaction to layoffs and filling the gaps now present in their teams. Many CMOs and senior staff are now being asked to do production work that just a month or two ago, they would hand to more junior resources. We've always talked about how important a well-rounded marketing team is to ensure success. Digital marketing requires knowledge of many different disciplines, as it is a complex medium to operate within. Now, you have to maintain continuity with less.
I'm going to make an argument that in many ways, the excellent economy led to an environment of over-employment. We have seen this at many an enterprise, where in the past few years, we were somewhat shocked at how full-time positions were created to fulfill what would best be part-time work within very specific disciplines. Sadly, now many of those hires are the first to go, and the work still needs to be done.
For quite some time we have recommended that clients consider a more flexible model of augmenting their team with agile agency support, wherein they are not fixed to a single person of particular talents but rather having access to many skillsets via an on-demand model. Now more than ever, this type of arrangement makes sense. If you are in the situation where you recently had to let go of multiple people who were doing specific things, the idea of having a team who can handle production of tasks for you while you focus on the strategic work required could be a return to efficiency, all with an agile model aimed at lowering your ongoing costs and commitments.
Plan for The Future
Sure, you are busier now than ever simply triaging issues and keeping the lights on. But, now is also the time to take a hard look at your business and where you want to be when we come out of this mess. I've spent time recently talking to clients and friends about this specific topic... If market conditions were to return to where they were (and they will at some point), what would you do differently versus what you did before? This isn't saying that you have to execute all of these concepts now. It just means that you are working to define a new vision, a guiding north star, from which you can begin the journey back to normalcy.
The environment has changed and will continue to evolve, this much is true. But when we are all through this, what will you be kicking yourself for not doing? Or what will you be thankful that you did? Predicting the future is essential, and doing so while considering risk factors will guide us towards making decisions that will benefit us in the long term.
With that said, the one thing I've been personally working on these days is patience. We can't force the market to change, we can't force the economy back to normal. I have a quote that I work hard to remember on a regular basis: You can't control the waves, but you can learn to ride them. We can make informed judgments and predictions, act on those perspectives, and patiently accept that we are doing all we can in the current environment. With careful, thoughtful action, we will succeed on the other side of this mess!
What a difference a month makes, eh? While right now, we may be stressed, we need to keep the focus on what we can be doing to maintain continuity and messaging to our customers. Meanwhile, a commitment to keeping everything running reliably and securely must be a focus. And finally, while doing all of this, an eye on the future and where we want to be will help guide us during difficult times. You can do this!