For marketers, disruption isn’t anything new. Whether it’s undergoing digital transformation within your organization, managing shifting goals and budgets, pivoting to counter a new or existing competitor’s successful strategy, or losing talent and facing skills gaps — disruptions happen all the time.
Over the past year, we’ve all had to put our change management skills to the test, modifying our marketing strategies and messaging as a result of the pandemic and subsequent recession. Acting like it was business as usual was not only not an option, it was also incredibly insensitive and tone deaf.
That’s why, in my previous blog post, I focused on what Marketing and Sales should (and shouldn’t) be doing during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, there are still many other out-of-left-field kinds of disruption that can test a marketing team and the organization’s agility, brand reputation, and customer relationships:
- PR crisis
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Market disruptions (think smartphones, video streaming, and ride sharing!)
- Natural disasters
- Organizational restructuring or a change in leadership
- Societal shifts in awareness, such as Black Lives Matter and #metoo
These kinds of disruption can have a significant impact on your current brand, messaging, and positioning, requiring an extremely thoughtful approach.
Even we experience disruption
As you may have heard, DemandGen recently joined with BDO Digital. Both personally and professionally, I am very excited about joining such a well-respected organization with core values that truly align with my own as well as those of DemandGen. I know our strong team, brand reputation, and core mission will strengthen and add value to BDO Digital.
A merger and acquisition is, however, by its very nature, a huge disruption to any existing marketing plans, strategies, or budget you may have lined up for the next calendar year. If you’ve experienced an acquisition, regardless of which side you’re on, you know there won’t be a shortage of things to do, but “the show must go on.” It’s quite a balancing act, to be sure.
This is the third merger and acquisition of my career. And, in all honesty, the first two were not small tasks. All of the hard-won experience and lessons learned, though, have taught me a thing or two about how to help keep a demand center operating (and shifting gears, when necessary) when unexpected disruptions occur.
How to turn disruptions into opportunities without losing your sanity
Regardless of the particular crisis or disruption you may be currently experiencing, following these eight steps can help you continue to drive growth and move your business forward during a time of uncertainty:
1. Create a transition plan.
Develop a 30-60-90-day transition plan that outlines and prioritizes immediate needs, including your change management strategy and internal and external communication plans. Start by reviewing your existing marketing plan to determine where you’ll actually need to concentrate or pivot your efforts over the next several months. Invest most of your efforts in areas that can effectively help you still generate high returns during the transition period.
Don’t forget about your people! When you’re experiencing a significant disruption, work with human resources to develop an effective communication strategy and plan. If not, people will start flailing — not only in their own roles, but in the marketing materials and messages you’re still putting out. And that uncertainty can be even more disruptive to your business than the actual disruption itself. When people feel that they fully understand their roles and responsibilities during a very disruptive time, they’re going to be more productive, do better work, and meet your plans more effectively.
Questions to ask:
- What are your immediate needs to support the transition?
- Where should you concentrate your efforts over the next several months?
2. Focus in on key areas of your business strategy.
Work with your leadership and sales teams to determine if, and how, you’ll need to update your go-to-market strategies and positioning. You may also need to reset and identify who your key audiences are. Yes, a million things are happening all at once. No one said change management is easy, but it’s extremely important to ensure alignment between marketing, sales, and customer success on these key areas — not only for your business and clients, but also for your own sanity!
Questions to ask:
- What will your updated go-to-market strategy and positioning look like compared to how you are currently positioned in the market?
- Has your Ideal Customer Profile changed? How?
- What about your key decision-makers?
- Will you need to tailor your messaging differently?
3. Review your goals.
Your goals may have changed (and likely have). Determine whether or not you are moving forward as before with the same goals to drive growth. As with your business strategy, the importance of alignment across the organization cannot be overstated. Marketing’s goals must align with overarching business goals and those of sales and customer success. Review and decide which goals make sense, according to your 30-60-90-day plan and first-year transitional period.
Questions to ask:
- Have your marketing goals changed?
- Have business, sales, and customer success goals changed as a result of the disruption?
- Are all goals still in alignment with one another in the new reality?
4. Develop a short-term and long-term rebranding strategy.
Taking two different corporate identities and merging them together isn’t like flipping a switch. Most likely, both organizations have built up some serious brand equity over the years, so it will take thoughtful planning and communications to bring those who already know you along for the ride. You’ll need a short-term strategy to inform existing clients and prospects about the change (as well as what to expect and when) and determine any branding changes you’ll need to make in the interim. When we announced our merger with BDO Digital, we placed a fixed hero banner (so you can’t miss it) on DemandGen’s home page with a link to the press release:
We also updated existing display ads and other marketing assets with rebranding elements and messaging. Then, you’ll need to develop a long-term strategy for how to eventually rebrand into a single corporate identity. Start by familiarizing yourself with your new brand guidelines — from typography and colors to graphics and tone of voice.
Questions to ask:
- What is your short-term rebranding strategy during this period of disruption?
- What is your long-term rebranding strategy once the dust settles?
5. Conduct an inventory audit of your existing assets.
If this isn’t something you’ve already been doing, take a full inventory of your assets — print and digital. That includes your social media channels, email and landing page templates, current lead nurturing programs, and internal web properties. Note what needs to be updated, whether it’s simply adding a logo and transitional tagline or a more extensive rebranding, and then prioritize (you cannot do it all at once). Depending on how long your company has been around, you may have a daunting number of assets that need to be rebranded. Some may actually need a content refresh as well. If you have 1,000 assets, identify the higher-priority ones that are driving leads into your pipeline and tackle those first. Some of the lower-priority assets you identify may be ready for end of life, so there’s no point in rebranding them. Remember: prioritization is key to driving business growth during a time of disruption.
Questions to ask:
- Which assets are generating the most qualified leads for your organization?
- Which assets require a content refresh vs. just a rebrand? Which can be retired?
6. Take a fresh look at your budget.
Even if your current budget hasn’t changed, how you should allocate it likely will. In the short term, review what you’ve allocated to spend immediately and make sure that budget still makes sense over the following quarter. Given any changes to your strategy or focus, you may need to reallocate some of your marketing spend from one channel to another. In the long term, reevaluate your budget for the year. Just as when you reviewed and updated your marketing strategies and goals, does your budget still make sense or do you need to make some adjustments?
Questions to ask:
- How should you adjust your budget over the next quarter as a result of this disruption?
- How should you adjust your budget over the next year?
7. Assess your infrastructure with a fine-toothed comb.
This one is tough, but absolutely necessary. When you integrate into another organization, you’ll both already have your own sets of tools and technologies that you’ve been relying on for some time. From your marketing automation platform and CRM to your internal communications tools and external apps, it’s inevitable that there is going to be some overlap. Just as we counsel our clients to evaluate and optimize their MarTech stack, it’s important to review both organizations’ infrastructure so you can identify areas of overlap and opportunities for process improvements. It’s critical that you work together to determine which tools you’ll continue to use (or not) moving forward, and what the timeframe looks like for consolidation or retirement — not to mention documentation, end-user trainings, and rollouts. Identify and evaluate each and every system you use. Then, come up with prioritized migration and transition plans for your infrastructure. Doing this discovery work is a critical part of any marketing integration, and will require extensive conversations (and negotiations).
Questions to ask:
- Which tools do you have in place? Which tools overlap or are no longer needed?
- Which tools need to transition right away?
- Which tools need additional field mapping right away to ensure successful data integrations (e.g., Microsoft Dynamics to Salesforce)?
8. Review and adjust your data management strategies and policies.
Data management is a key component of any well-maintained infrastructure. Don’t do this in a vacuum. Work with all stakeholders to review current data strategies across the organization and determine what they will look like moving forward. With that said, make sure your data is up to the task before integrating any tools. If you don’t do sufficient quality assurance and data cleanup beforehand, your dirty data will be that much more difficult to get under control in its new environment.
Questions to ask:
- What does successful data management look like moving forward?
- What types of data integrations will you need?
- What data cleanup is needed before integrations move forward?
- Will you need to apply new data standards and security policies?
An opportunity in disguise
Whether it takes the form of an acquisition, a change in leadership, or, yes, a global pandemic, not all disruptions are threats to your business. In fact, they can be great opportunities for your business to do things differently and grow.
Of course, this is a lot of ground to cover while staying on top of your day-to-day marketing efforts. The work you put in now will literally pay dividends later. Sometimes, though, it just makes sense to bring on a partner who’s been there, done that to guide you. Our consultants have helped dozens of clients not only weather, but also take advantage of significant disruption to their business — and helped them look good in the process. Let us know how we can help your marketing team turn uncertainty into a competitive advantage.
As Marketing Operations Manager, Sabrina Killian manages DemandGen’s demand funnel, marketing technology stack, demand center, enablement, and more to drive demand, meet key business objectives, measure marketing’s efficiency and effectiveness, optimize conversions, and increase lead acquisition and customer lifetime value.