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Marketing Through The Crisis: 7 Ideas

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.

Why Marketing By Committee Sucks

By Christopher Lochhead

“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

 – Charles Kettering


Ever notice that most marketing is shitty.

And by shitty, I mean not just that the creative will be bad, although that is true, but that much of this onslaught will make little difference to the market share, market cap and valuation, or revenue of the companies doing the marketing.

So why do so many companies do bad marketing?

In my experience, a major root cause is committees.

Committees = bad.

This is probably true for most major initiatives in business, but it’s especially true in marketing because legendary marketing is about leadership.

To become the leader in your space – the category queen, you must define and dominate your market niche.

For the most part, technology is a winner-take-all game.

Building the company that wins takes a clear point of view about what problem your solving, what makes you different, and why people should buy your product and stock.

Rarely do big groups make bold, decisive strategic decisions.

Does anyone think that Steve Jobs sought the approval of a committee before launching the “Think Different” campaign?

Not a chance.

The problem with most committees is that they are focused on process, not results.

They generally try to incorporate everyone’s “feedback”, spend time “socializing ideas”, analyzing data and trying to make everyone happy.

Committees strive to be collaborative and ensure that all constituents have a say.

A structural problem with many committees is that a lot of people can say no, while at the same time, they are not clear about who can say yes.

As a result, committees produce compromise.

They settle on the ideas that everyone could agree on. Not legendary ideas.

The driver of committee behavior may be simple human nature. Some people find comfort in larger groups, because if the project fails blame can be spread.

It has been said that success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.

While that may be true, ass-covering behavior does not build legendary companies.

Accountability does.

To make matters worse, in the technology industry, many executives and board members seem to think they are marketing experts.

They apply the “I like that” and “I don’t like that” test to evaluating marketing strategies. As if they were picking the color of their car or the name of their cat.

I was in a marketing review meeting with a CEO once where an orange motif was being presented.

He barked, “Orange is awful. Don’t you people know that orange makes people angry!”

Many executives forget that great marketing is not about what they like.

Great marketing is about what works.

Now it is true that a group of smart, committed people can make a huge contribution to positioning and marketing strategy.

Clearly, there are massive advantages to having a killer team of brilliant people collaborating on solving problems, creating new ideas and plans.

But the group must be small.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously instituted a company-wide rule about “two-pizza” teams, which proclaims that any team must be small enough to be fed with two pizzas.

And for teams to win they need one leader.

Legendary marketing teams must have one decider, ideally the CEO or CMO.

The leader’s job is to define a process that yields the best ideas, while making the courageous decisions required to position your company to design and dominate your category.

In closing, I’ll leave you with another quote by Electronic Data Systems founder H. Ross Perot, who said, “If you see a snake, just kill it.

Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”




Christopher Lochhead is Host the hit “dialogue podcast” Legends & Losers and Co-Author of #1 Amazon Bestseller Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different and Harper Collins’ “instant classic” Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets.

 Follow him on twitter.