COVID-19 has had a profound, disruptive effect on nearly every company in the United States over the last couple of months.

For a fortunate few, their revenues have exploded. However, for the majority of companies, revenue has either declined or has completely fallen off a cliff. As a result, companies are re-evaluating their overall marketing programs and rapidly making changes to how they go to market today and beyond.

Content marketing programs are also under scrutiny and are being evaluated on their:

  • ROI.
  • Capacity to grow.
  • Barriers to scale.

Content marketing program messaging is also changing dramatically. When you consider all these adjustments collectively, it poses significant opportunities and some challenges for content marketers. This article is going to explore some of these opportunities and challenges. It will also provide recommendations for moving forward.

How will the impact of COVID-19 change marketing programs?

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is forcing companies to change their marketing programs.

Programs that required in-person attendance

Stepping back a year and looking at the macro picture, many companies, especially those in the B2B space, have been reliant on a mix of offline marketing programs. These programs were used to get their message across, drive inbound leads and nurture their existing customers.

Many of those programs no longer effectively exist or are significantly impaired. They include:

  • Trade shows.
  • Event marketing.
  • Roundtables.
  • Other events and programs that required the prospective customer to be able to be there and experience it in person.

An example would be billboard advertising. The number of cars that are on the road today is a fraction of what it was as recently as February 2020.

When half or more of the audience disappears, the billboard campaign performance goes negative. This forces companies to either renegotiate their media buy down significantly or cancel it. Either way, advertisers are forced to shift those funds to other marketing programs, with digital being the greatest beneficiary.

Event market
Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Customers’ behavior

There are also challenges when it comes to assessing digital marketing channels. Consumers, whether B2C or B2B, have changed their behaviors more over the last couple of months than they’ve done collectively over the course of the past decade.

Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Individuals are dropping their traditional cable TV providers in favor of purchasing Netflix or other online subscription-based entertainment.
  2. Buyers within the manufacturing space used to rely on defined supply chains for MRO and product input purchases. That is no longer the case. COVID-19, as well as the ongoing trade wars, have been disrupted long-established supply chains. As a result, many companies are scrambling to establish relationships with new vendors.
  3. Companies are beginning to consolidate vendors and suppliers. This is happening because solutions providers are rapidly adding to their capabilities and offerings to stem the revenue losses from their core solutions. Unless your company is rolling out and actively marketing your new offerings, you’re at risk of getting locked out of long-standing relationships.

When added together, all of these changes are having an outsized effect on marketing programs.

Where are companies having success today? Will those be the same areas 18 – 24 months from now?

For marketers, growth areas are as follows:

  1. Content marketing.
  2. Email marketing.
  3. Telemarketing.
  4. SEO.
  5. SEM.
  6. Social media marketing.

Influencer marketing is one area that is not on the list but will emerge onto the scene soon. Collectively, these areas will represent most of the marketing mix for most B2B companies over the next 18 to 24 months.

Content marketing
talhakhalil007 / Pixabay

What are the threats that companies are facing with their marketing programs?

On one end, technology brings benefits to many companies. However, at the same time, it’s also a serious threat for most marketers in the following areas:

  • Analytics.
  • Attribution tracking.
  • User experience tracking
  • Post-sale customer success tracking.

They are threats in the sense that those companies who cannot make the required investments within these areas risk obliteration. This is not an exaggeration. Let’s use a hypothetical example.

How marketing technology investments can create a sustainable competitive advantage?

Companies A and B both make widgets. Company A implements deep analytics and attribution tracking, while Company B doesn’t.

Using these technologies, Company A is able to identify the specific 20% of their marketing spend that is driving 80% of their sales. More importantly, they are able to determine that a specific digital marketing channel is originating most of those downstream sales.

With this knowledge, Company A is able to buy out all the inventory in that upstream marketing channel, blocking out Company B. Company A is also able to see a significant increase in revenue and at a lower cost. Both come at the expense of Company B.

Meanwhile, Company B is completed blindsided by Company A’s actions. Without the same level of insight, Company B ends up spending more money on downstream digital marketing channels, at ever higher costs and lower ROI than before.

This scenario is playing out every day. If innovative companies make enough of these investments over a long enough period, they can effectively put their poorly equipped competitors out of business.

Getting those inputs on a dashboard makes it easier to make business decisions. Connecting data to data warehouses internally within the company and through third-party data warehouses and data repositories helps give an omnichannel view of the prospect and customer. It will also present opportunities where you can increase marketing spend to generate the greatest return on investment.

Here’s another example.

content, social and influencer marketing
jmexclusives / Pixabay

Deploying multivariate testing across all marketing programs.

Your company is advertising on Google AdWords. You have a couple of direct competitors, each having similar budgets and marketing ROAS thresholds. Prospects click on advertisements and are driven to a landing page. If the landing page is acceptable to the prospect, the prospect will convert by either downloading, registering or purchasing something. If you and all of your competitors have similar landing page conversion rates, you’re all on a fairly equal playing field (at least from an advertising perspective).

However, in this example, your competitors are making massive investments in A/B testing, multivariate testing, eye tracking, heat mapping and other landing page optimization technologies. They’re making those investments now. Over time, they are going to gradually increase the conversion rates on their landing pages.

In my example, every one of them started off with a 1% conversion rate on their landing pages. Everyone makes approximately 2x ROAS. Fast forward to 6 months. Competitors now have a 2% to 3% conversion rate on their landing pages, while you remained stagnant at 1%. They now have a competitive advantage over you. Your competitors can now leverage their superior conversion rates to bid higher for converting keyword phrases on Google AdWords.

What ends up happening is it becomes an arms race. As competitors improve their conversion rates above what you’re able to do, it gives them the ability to bid higher and get more visitors to come to their site than yours. If that happens over a long enough period, you will essentially be shut out of Google AdWords for those keyword phrases where you can no longer compete. This is a serious situation, and it’s happening right now for nearly every B2B business.

Content marketing

The same concept applies to content marketing. Whether realized or not, content marketers are in a winner-take-all battle with their competitors. They’re all trying to gain supremacy across organic search results through their content marketing programs.

Consistently creating, publishing and amplifying quality content over time can give you sustainable advantages over your competition. Here’s how:

  • Search engines are going to start to view your site as an authority for your industry.
  • Your authority will make it increasingly easy to get indexed and appear on the first page of search engine results pages.

You will ultimately end up in the number 1, 2 or 3 positions of the major keyword phrases that drive volume and sales for your industry. Over time, that means revenue and profits for you. For your competitors, it means increasingly more costs and diminished results.

Smart businesses are using the COVID-19 crisis to invest heavily in these digital marketing channels. They know that the faster they can deploy and optimize these solutions, the quicker they’re going to be able to achieve scale and drive their revenue forward.

kreatikar / Pixabay

Block out the competition

What is also interesting is that we’re beginning to detect a change in how they view their digital marketing programs, especially content, social and influencer marketing. They’re no longer viewing them as media buys. They’re now looking at them as strategic assets that can be deployed to achieve corporate or competitive objectives.

Market leaders are trying to use these marketing programs as barriers to prevent upstarts from gaining traction. If enough of these marketing channels are locked out, those start-ups wither and die on the vine. This eliminates the threat they posed to the market leader.

COVID-19 is acting as an accelerant to this trend. When the total market was growing, there wasn’t as much urgency to weaponize these marketing channels. With revenue down in most industries, market leaders are racing to buy revenue through acquisition while stomping out the competition by flooding these newer digital marketing channels.

What are the consequences?

Right now, many companies are still in a state of shock by what has happened. They’ve also been too slow to react and adapt their businesses. Over the next 18 to 24 months, you’re going to see a lot of companies go out of business. They will have been too slow to realize that the market pie has declined significantly. They will be too slow to rapidly shift their marketing dollars to digital. They will also be too slow to make the necessary investments in technology needed to improve marketing program performance.

Their competitors will not be slow. In fact, they are quickly racing to take away the remaining market pie. They’re doing it while you read this article, and that is truly sobering.

In summary

Will your business race forward and make the moves that matter, or die a slow death? You’ll know the answer much faster than you realize.