It’s well documented that the UK and world economies have shrivelled in the face of the covid crisis. Inevitably and understandably many businesses have put marketing on hold while they sort out more immediate problems, like “how do we pay our bills?”
It’s very easy to wheel out the old adage that when times are tough you shouldn’t cut back on your advertising because, come the upturn, your brand is the one that people will remember, but that misses the point that most small businesses don’t have the cash to fund their business on a monthly or weekly basis let alone invest for the future. However small businesses can learn from the major players: Proctor & Gamble, for example, may continue to pump money into advertising their consumer goods brands like Ariel, Olay and Fairy, but one thing they don’t do is dilute or betray the brand. They don’t try to appeal to a different market in a desperate attempt to gain market share by changing their brand message or target market. Instead, they innovate in terms of product development, packaging and promotion; their brand values remain trenchantly unaltered. And when you realise how many famous brands P & G have (https://www.pg.co.uk/brands/) you begin to understand the complexity of that task and the consummate skill they have in keeping the products right at the forefront of the market.
So how can we learn from this in the world of small business, especially B2B? The big brands are famous for their obsessive analysis of customer information, sometimes derided for researching and focus-grouping their products ad nauseum. But what that process gives them is the confidence of knowing their customers’ needs and desires to the nth degree. I’m not suggesting that every small business invests in market research – although that would be good; what I am suggesting is that businesses know – with certainty – what their customers want. Very often business owners can’t answer simple questions like “why should people buy from me rather than competitor(s)?”, mainly because they’ve never asked the question – of themselves or to their customers; and until we know the answer to that question – really, really be sure we know the answer – we can never develop a marketing strategy that ensures the robustness of their brand, now and/or in the time of coronavirus.
By having a focussed approach to its brand a business can make decisions about how to develop its business in times of hardship. It can assess which products to keep or strengthen. Or if it’s going to diversify into other markets it can decide whether its current brand values are relevant and appropriate for the new venture. In a nutshell – business isn’t about what you want to sell; it’s about what customers want to buy. If your brand is not right for current circumstances beware of tinkering with your brand for short term gain, only to find it becomes irrelevant in times of normality. Instead it might be wiser to create a new and separate brand, designed specifically with the task of catering for the needs of a new market. It doesn’t have to be expensive – so long as you are certain you know and recognise who your customers are and what they want.