Here at Sureshot, we’re looking forward to a far happier new year than the last one and we hope you are, too. Sometimes when you’ve been pummeled by a year that’s been as brutal as 2020, the best thing to do is learn from the chaos. That way, the next time things go sideways in a hurry, you’ll be able to push beyond adapting and actually thrive. Now let’s get to our 2020 countdown of lessons learned.

Lesson #1: Look Before You Leap

2020 had more drama than a Latin American soap opera. In a split second it seemed everyone began looking to digital marketing to save them from obscurity or worse, obsoletion. Whether you took your show on the road via Zoom calls, pumped up your pay-per-click ad spend, or amped your social media presence, etc., there was a lot of pressure out there to hurry up and dive into all things digital. However, just because you can add a new digital channel to your mix, it doesn’t mean that you should. When there’s a panic going on, it’s easy to confuse wants with needs. The same phenomenon occurs when you get blinded by the bells and whistles of a piece of software and end up investing a big chunk of your budget in something that does 22 things you don’t need and one thing you do. 

The Takeaway — Pinpoint the Problem You Need to Solve

The key to making wise decisions during an emotionally charged crisis, like the pandemic, is to give yourself a moment to hone in on the problem you need to solve and then define the right course of action from there. For example, if your email campaigns aren’t producing the results you desire and you are looking to revive dead accounts, start your digital journey off simply by adding SMS to the mix. SMS and MMS are ideal for bringing dead accounts back to life. If however, your problem is that you need to add a specific demographic to your funnel, then social media may be the right channel for that job. Give yourself time to feel confident about each channel you add before taking on another. 

Lesson #2: A Shrunken Budget Shouldn’t Shrink Your Goals

At the beginning of 2020 (a.k.a. the Pre-COVID era), the good people at CMO Survey  had projected that marketing budgets would grow by about 7.6 percent. It was a solid estimate based on marketing budget growth trends from the past decade. Fast-forward a few months later to June of 2020, when CMO Survey conducted special research on how the pandemic was impacting marketers and found that the actual growth turned out to be a tight-fisted 1.6 percent. According to Robin Langford, an editor at digital intelligence firm, NetImperative, “The [6%] fall marks the worst reduction since the global financial crisis in 2009.” Of course, anyone in marketing who remembers the financial aftermath of September 11th, 2001 can tell you that whenever there is a national crisis, one of the first budgets cut is marketing. 

The Takeaway – Make Every Dollar Count 

When your budget plans seem to evaporate overnight, there’s a temptation to hit the panic button and stop all presses, but decisions made in a panic are rarely good ones. A better course of action is to practice what marketers have been preaching for a decade and let your data inform your next steps. What does that look like in real life? For us, it was about reassessing what we had been spending money on, crunching the numbers on what our data showed us was paying off, and reallocating our budget likewise. 

For example, pre-COVID Sureshot participated in a steady stream of marketing conferences (man, do we miss meeting folks in person), but obviously we were going to need to switch gears in order to make our goals. We took a portion of what we would have spent on events and invested it in promoting and producing webinars and live Q&A sessions. It was a good move for us and one that enabled us to stay on target. 

Lesson #3: See Marketing as Essential

According to Nirmalya Kumar, a marketing professor and contributor to the Harvard Business Review, “During recessions, when most firms are cutting back on their brand advertising, a firm’s share of voice increases if it can maintain or increase its advertising budget.”  While marketers have traditionally had an uphill battle when it comes to asserting their value, there is a ton of research out there that shows just how vital marketing is to an organization’s ongoing success during hard times. Nathan Hall, a Forbes Council Member, shared several studies that support this fact, including:

  • McGraw Hill Research studied 600 B2B companies and found that those that doubled down on building their brand and advertising grew 275% more than those that did not.
  • Advertising during a recession leads to, on average, a 1.5x increase in market share.
  • MarketSense research found that investing in long-term brand-building and short-term performance programs produces the best results in a recession.

The Takeaway – Make Investing in Your Brand a Perpetual Priority

Spending money to build your brand during a recession may seem counterintuitive, but research shows time and again that it’s a move that drives results. One of the odd benefits of the pandemic was the gift of excess time. What did we do with our gift? We did what most marketers want to do, but rarely have the time for thanks to a million other irons in the fire.  We took an in-depth look at our overall brand voice and image and made adjustments based on what our data was showing us. Essentially we looked at our current messaging on our website and compared it with various messages we were testing in campaigns and found we had a bigger story to tell. More importantly, this story is one that resonated on a deeper level with customers and prospects.

Lesson #4: Be Useful

One of the best ways to combat a palpable atmosphere of fear, anxiety and negativity is to find a way to make yourself useful to others. The world does not need another brand talking about how they care about people, health, social justice, etc. But, the world does need brands out there doing something about all of those issues. Yes, it’s important to let folks know where you stand, but it’s even better if you are walking the walk when you invite people to follow your lead. In addition to giving finances, services and time to the causes that matter, it’s a good practice to be useful in business without being concerned over how your kindness may benefit your company. 

The Takeaway — Go Goodwill Hunting

This past June, one of our partner companies asked our CEO, David York, to serve as a panelist during an Eloqua workshop. Before launching Sureshot, David worked at Eloqua for years as a solutions consultant, so his wisdom on the subject is extensive; plus he’s great at showing people simple ways to solve complex problems. During the panel, David got the chance to help a variety of people resolve Eloqua issues and he came away from it energized – so much so that Sureshot began hosting monthly Eloqua Office Hours. Full disclosure: Sureshot does sell solutions that integrate with Eloqua; however, that’s not what these sessions were about. Our Eloqua Office Hours were open to anyone who uses Eloqua and the audience had the opportunity to ask any Eloqua question they wanted — and they did. We helped a lot of marketers without pushing Sureshot on them and it felt good to hear their joy and relief at being able to finally fix an Eloqua issue that plagued them.