Shit is getting weird. It’s going to get weirder before the coronavirus fades from the headlines.
The human toll of this pandemic is inconceivable. The economic cost is already devastating. Even with a $2 trillion bailout, the U.S. and the world are hurtling toward a downturn.
Pipelines and revenue will be compromised. Budgets and spending will be cut.
If you’re a public company, there’s a very good chance you’ll miss your quarterly numbers and guidance. If you’re private, your access to financing — venture capital or bank loans — might become constricted.
The rules have changed, and no one knows the secrets of the new playbook.
So it’s time for you to write your own.
Here’s the thing. When things get strange, when things get weird, that’s when real leaders stand up.
The positive difference marketers can make in these tough times is incalculable. Here are 7 things CEOs and CMOs could be doing right now.
1) Lead through marketing
One of my favorite questions to ask is:
If I was a legendary leader, what would I do today?
A crisis is as an opportunity for CEOs to lead their company — and category — through marketing.
In times of crisis, every CMO should think of themself as the personal press secretary for the CEO.
The CEO and the CMO should be stapled to each other. Marketing sets the tone for the company. Marketing unifies all communications and spokespeople.
Legendary marketing in bad times can drive the agenda for an entire category and position your company to gain meaningful share through the downturn — positioning you to jam the throttle when the eventual upturn comes. Claim ownership on your terms.
2) Radical Generosity
If your company is in a position to help people, to help your employees, do it. Stat.
Donate what you can — time, money, resources — to those who are struggling.
Ask yourself: Is your company doing what’s right for your employees and their families? Everyone will be affected by coronavirus, either health-wise or economically or both. Have some empathy and help organizations that touch your community.
Never forget that your brand is going to be defined by what you do or don’t do during the COVID-19 crisis.
3) Make smart budget cuts / reallocations
Most marketing plans have at least 20% of stupid in them.
Use this situation as an excuse to stop supporting activities that don’t give returns to your company, that don’t move the needle.
Programs that you may have been supporting for years, that no one questions during the annual budget bingo. Cut more than you think you have to, so you don’t have to repeat this exercise two months from now. Measure twice, cut once. Now is time to shave the dog.
4) Radical transparency
Use clear, plain decisive language with your people, customers, prospects, partners and investors. It is attractive and endearing, and can inspire people to support even the most troubled company.
Forget legal bizno-babble designed to hide some flaw. Radical candor — especially in tough times — will increase the trust your stakeholders have in your organization.
5) Get thoughtfully aggressive
Research from firms like McKinsey and Bain, published in places like the Harvard Business Review, suggest that the pathway to success in a downturn situation is to act fast, make the changes or cuts that are required, and then be thoughtfully aggressive — ahead of the recovery.
The research says: Between 9%-14% of companies (depending on the study) actually outperformed competitors by at least 10% in sales and profit growth during a downturn.
Aim to be one of them! Exit the downturn stronger than you went in.
6) Evangelize the category
CEOs often say to me, we are too much of a vitamin and not an aspirin.
In down times, you want to make your brand the solution to an urgent problem. You want to lead that conversation.
Most of your competitors will cut what you could call, the big “M” marketing stuff and overfocus on demand generation activities designed to fill the funnel with sales leads.
That will open the door for you to grab category and point of view leadership.
You want to make sure your company is a must-have solution right now, not a nice-to-have one. The more urgent the problem your category — and company — is solving, the more money people will want to spend on it.
7) Drive short-term revenue
Here’s an idea: Get your five smartest marketers and your five smartest salespeople in a room for a day. Let them brainstorm short-term campaign ideas or offers — or maybe approaches that can sell more into white space with existing customers.
Pick the simplest, quickest-to-execute ideas and get busy driving the pipeline and making that cash register ring.
Be sure to listen to my entire rant about this topic. And get busy.
Christopher Lochhead is a #1 Apple podcaster and #1 Amazon bestselling co-author of books: Niche Down: How to Become Legendary by Being Different. He has been an advisor to over 50 venture-backed startups; a former three-time Silicon Valley public company CMO and an entrepreneur.