COVID-19

Today, Tomorrow and the Future

Welcome back to part 2 of our series, 9 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed Sales and Marketing.

In our last installment, we touched on a shift to digital, an increased emphasis put on relationships, a move to remote selling and a switch to purely virtual events and conferences.

In part 2 of this series we’ll start to discover how COVID-19 is changing our lives today, and what impact that may have on tomorrow.

5. We’re Doing More with Less

Doing more with less isn’t uncommon, but lately we’ve all been stretched a bit more than usual, particularly the members of marketing and sales teams. With widespread layoffs and reduced staff becoming the norm (though that’s beginning to bounce back), we’ve been expected to pull double duty and cover responsibilities that may not have otherwise been delegated to us.

This means that we’re expected to cover multiple bases — like the development of new advertising, the shift to more digital-centric models, as well as maintaining current customer relationships — that would have previously been handled by a whole team. Enter marketing automation, wash and repeat processes, and the increased use of marketing technology.

6. Video Continues to Rise

Anyone who’s been watching what Zoom (ZM) has been doing knows that video continues to be crucial in helping businesses cope with the new realities of the pandemic — namely social distancing.

While we’ve touched on the idea of video in our previous installment, it’s hard to understate the importance of video capabilities in our new normal, particularly when it comes to sales.

This is a time to double down on your personalized marketing efforts, incorporating a video stand in for what might be a meeting or email. Sending a piece of direct mail, like a dimensional mailer with a video component, is a great way to use video to move forward as we deal with the effect of COVID-19 on our ability to meet face to face.

7. We’re Switching Focus to Omnichannel Marketing and Loyalty

In one of our recent pieces, we pointed out the strengths of an omnichannel, multitouch marketing strategy. This type of marketing is making more on an impact now than ever before, and will continue to thrive as new customers enter the market every day in search for new services.

However, this search for new and better services is a double-edged sword — while it brings with it the opportunity to attract new customers, it also puts us in a position to lose loyal customers as they open themselves to the idea of new services elsewhere.

But there’s a way to capitalize on both scenarios – focus on the opportunity to gain new customers with engaging omnichannel campaigns, while not losing sight of your loyal customers needs in the now.

8. We’re Looking for Alternative Ways to Gather Information and Make Connections

We’ve started to get better at finding new ways to make connections in the wake of COVID – mostly out of necessity. Being that so many people are looking for alternative solutions and forms of communication, we’re also beginning to streamline them in an effort to find what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve noticed this in the increased usage of things like chatbots as well as online scheduling and other self-service platforms, like stock tracing and order tracking. And, at the same time we’ve also seen it in the way we interact on social platforms — LinkedIn recently reported a 55% increase in engagement between connections.

9. E-commerce is Accelerating

We knew the average consumer was trending towards a preference, or at least acceptance, of largely digital interactions making up a significant chunk of their day to day purchases. That’s nothing new.

But COVID-19 threw gas all over that fire — with the temporary closing of most brick and mortars, we experienced a massive shift towards e-commerce by necessity.

And for an example, we need to look no further than what retail giant Amazon has been doing. Despite, the pandemic, Amazon has been thriving and is set to become the biggest US industrial distributor by 2021.

As you know, COVID-19 has done a lot of damage, plain and simple. But in light of that damage, the pandemic has instigated a shift towards net-positive trends in business and how we operate.

One thing is for absolute certain — now more than ever, we’re all looking towards the future.

Looking to see how Strata can help you evolve during and after COVID-19? Contact us to see how we can help you make smart happen every day.

Navigating a New Normal…LOL

Do we really need to begin an article with another paragraph about how COVID has changed how we do business?

Jokes aside, we actually do, because what’s happening now, will only tell what the future holds for many industries.

An often less explored element of our new “normal” has been COVID’s impact on marketing. To that end, we’ve created a two-part mini-series, 9 Ways Covid-19 Has Changed Sales and Marketing. This article will dive into the first four.

Let’s go.

1. Shifting to Digital Everything

Let’s start with the obvious — things are getting way digital. Where a personal touch was once valued, we’re now avoiding touching anything and will likely continue to avoid personal contact for the foreseeable future.

As a result, when it comes to both sales and marketing, companies are making the obvious move to invest heavily in digital resources for consumers, as well as digital interface between consumers and sales. As marketing gurus, we always knew tech was important, but COIVD has given us the opportunity to narrow down the digital tech deemed essential. Zoom, for example, was a platform many of us used sparingly on the 30-minute trial basis and probably took for granted – but not anymore. Instead, COVID has opened our eyes to the huge role tech plays in this industry and what’s really working and what was an undelivered tech promise. Much like the practicality of remote work, it’s unclear how much of this will remain after COVID is under control, but digital everything is part of our DNA now whether we like it or not.

2. Reinforcing the Importance of Relationships

Just because many businesses are focusing on an accelerated shift towards digital resources, it doesn’t mean that we want our customers interfacing with some robot workforce.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

When it comes to what we value during times like these, businesses lean into their relationships to get them through, and we know that customers do the same. Trusting the solutions/products they utilize is what they rely on most during touch-and-go times. This is where personalization, interactive content, and omnichannel campaigns can come in to save the day. It’s all about putting a heavy emphasis on relationships – even from afar.

3. Moving Towards Remote Selling

There’s no more perfect intersection of points one and two than a shift towards remote selling. Remote selling relies on digital to get the job done, while making sure we don’t lose sight of the personal connectedness that allows us to make the sale.

This will lead many of us to overhaul our idea of sales, focusing on an almost entirely digital platform, at least for the time being. This means a focus on hard and soft digital skills, as well as defining new standardized systems and protocols that can be scaled up for the long term. With pressures high, it’s important we all put our thinking caps on, put the client first, and not push our agendas on them. After all, you’re selling motive is to help clients to succeed.

4. Switching to Virtual Events and Conferences

Noting back to Zoom, at this point it’s almost impossible to say you haven’t participated in some sort of online meeting or conference. That has definitely become part of the new normal and may continue in the future as a more cost-effective alternative.

We’ve already seen well attended webinars, but this mass beta test we’re collectively participating in is unprecedented and will result in the accelerated adaptation of these types of events — and their scale — going forward.

Stay tuned for the second installment of this series dropping next week, where we get into five more ways in which COVID is changing the sales and marketing world as we know it. In the meantime, contact us to learn more or checkout StrataBytes for more great marketing content.

How COVID-19 Has Brought New Life to a Long-lost Tactic

We spend a lot of time thinking about the landscape of marketing, what the future holds and how we can be early adapters today. Perhaps one of the most interesting — and strangely divisive — ways our physical and digital worlds intersect is through the humble QR code.

The Creation of the QR code

A little history: QR (quick response) codes were invented by Japanese firm Densa Wave in the mid-nineties as a more functional alternative to barcodes. From there, the decision was made to make the technology public, recognizing their potential.

So, what happened?

The Flop

Initially, they were a victim of their time. Despite the obvious utility, the technology just wasn’t there when it came to the rudimentary smartphones of the 2010s (think about it – it wasn’t that long ago that we were terrified of accidently hitting the internet button on our phones). Slow mobile internet speeds and a lack of integrated software made their use difficult. So, like many other truly advanced technologies, QR codes went unappreciated (except in certain factory settings) and faded into obscurity despite all their potential.

A Pandemic and a Renewed Interest

Until recently, it seemed as if that’s where the story of the QR would end — a substitute for the barcode we use occasionally at Whole Foods. But as anyone who’s left their house in the last six months can confirm, something strange is happening to QR codes.

They’re suddenly everywhere.

From touchless payment to restaurant menus, the QR code (now with sufficient integrated technology in every smartphone to support it) has made a major resurgence in a time where we’re afraid to touch anything.

The Future of QR Codes

To paraphrase, a recent article from pymnts.com (you can read it here) aptly describes QR codes as “a solution in search of a problem” — and it’s probably safe to say that a pandemic certainly qualifies as a “problem”. But, just like the creator of the QR code all the way back in 1994, we’re finally seeing the full potential, particularly in the world of digital wallets and touchless payment.

One of the main ways QR codes will continue to be an integral part of our day-to-day going forward is through the “pay by app” model of business where many individual merchants and most major chains have their own apps allowing QR code-based payments.

If that’s not a glow-up for the QR code, we don’t know what is.

QR Codes in Marketing

The rebirth of the QR code comes with the promise of exciting new ways to continue using the technology. By now, most marketers recognize the renewed potential of QR codes, even in a post-COVID future.

For us at Strata, the use of QR codes is the continuation of a trend we’ve recognized for some time, only having been accelerated — not created — by the pandemic. We’ve been generating and incorporating QR codes into our marketing campaigns as we’ve kept a finger on the pulse of marketing technology. They’re a great way to merge print and digital, and we’ve used them in our direct and dimensional mailers, as well as other collateral like brochures and business cards. So, while it’s been a long-time coming, it’s finally safe to say that the possibilities for QR codes are truly endless.

Are you interested in working with a guiding hand that can help you incorporate QR codes into your marketing materials? Contact us to get started.

How We Helped a Client Think Outside of the Box to Reach their Perfect Prospects at Home

COVID-19 has thrown businesses for a loop, but there are still jobs to be done and innovations to be made.

Let’s talk about the spectrum of what we’ve been seeing.

At Strata, we’ve seen the success of certain marketing campaigns ebb as some business temporarily halt marketing operations. The explanation for that one is pretty obvious — if you’re not marketing, you get no return.

We’ve also seen some business remain stable for other customers, like those primarily marketing through digital channels. As we touched on here, email and digital marketing are remaining relatively consistent and in some cases, experiencing positive trends.

And then we’ve also seen some increase during the COVID crisis, like a recent B2B direct mail campaign, which might surprise you. With a B2C direct mail campaign, people are home and opening their mail, so it would make sense to experience an uptick in return in a B2C direct mail campaign response rate.

But with people out of office, could a B2B direct mail campaign really be experiencing success?

The answer is yes. Thanks to our adaptive strategies at Strata, that’s exactly what happened. In fact, one campaign that’s expected to performed better than both industry and personal benchmarks.

Here’s how.

An Idea and a Survey

Our team realized that with decision makers working remotely, B2B direct mail campaigns would fall short, likely reaching their intended recipients too late — or not at all.

To get around this, we pulled data from our B2B data base, identified the decision makers, then matched it against a mailing list used by B2C businesses. This matching revealed the personal addresses of the decision makers, allowing us to send them B2B communications as if it were a B2C direct mail interaction.

This presented an obvious question: if we were to send decision makers B2B marketing materials directly to their homes, would they take this initiative as an invasion of privacy?

We sent a survey to IT professionals and executives focused around that exact question. We found that the overwhelming majority would not mind business materials being sent to their home given the current crisis.

Implementation

Once we had this information, the next step was to implement the strategy.

Our campaign consisted of highly-personalized dimensional mail boxes sent via mail directly to the homes of top B2B decision makers. Of those that received the campaign mailer, we’ve seen very promising clickthrough rates and an upwards tick in scheduled appointments.

We plan to update this post once final results for this campaign are available.

The Takeaway

In the worst of times, successful businesses find ways to adapt and overcome.

Let the above serve as a real-life demonstration. It’s a reality we’ve been harping on since the beginning of this blog program (and certainly since the beginning of the COVID crisis) — the absolute importance of adaptive marketing.

Want to put Strata’s adaptive marketing solutions to work for you? Contact us to see how we can do to help your business thrive as we get through these difficult times.

Four Strategies for B2B Marketers to Consider

In our last post, we visited some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted marketing and which advertising channels are producing results in our strange new world (and which aren’t). 

We touched on some pretty simple concepts — customers are looking for greater value in their purchase, marketers need to lean into digital and direct mail in their omnichannel strategy, and COVID-19 is weird, but not the end of the world.

So how do we continue to get through it?

Here are four specific strategies B2B businesses can use to adapt in the current COVID climate.

1: Don’t Fade Away

Knee-jerk reactions are never good, particularly in the business world, and completely halting the presses may damage your brand visibility down the line.

If you need to take a break from promotional materials that simply don’t make sense during times of social distancing, by all means do so. Now might not be the time to buy a billboard or ad space at the airport.

That said, reinvesting some of those savings into techniques proven to be successful during the COVID crisis — like direct outreach via mailers, email campaigns or digital advertising — is paramount to coming out of this thing in a position of strength. 

2: Double Down on Customer Engagement

In times of crisis, your customers are looking for comfort and reassurance — on some level, we’re all looking for that right now.

Look at this as an opportunity to confirm what your customers already knew about your brand. Show them when the chips are down, your business values its customers above all else by engaging them via social media interactions, email or whichever way they reach out.

3: Approach Uncertainty with Confidence in Your Messaging

There are effective and ineffective approaches to crisis management. An ineffective way to manage a crisis is to project a specific outcome and bank on it, leaving you open to catastrophe if things don’t go as planned.

Kind of how we ended up here in the first place.

An effective approach is to focus less on specific outcomes, and more on the range of outcomes. This doesn’t mean giving doomsday predictions equal credence at more optimistic projections. Instead, it means acknowledging uncertainty in your messaging and reassuring customers that your business is prepared for both the good and the difficult.

4: Get Smarter with B2B Outreach

For B2B business, this strategy might be the most important.

You can’t just send your outreach to the office — with many employees working remotely, it could very easily be a waste of a direct mail campaign.

So how do you make sure your outreach lands where it needs to?

It’s been simple: we’ve been comparing our account information against available customer databases, finding where we have overlaps and sending B2B marketing materials to the homes of decision makers.

So, there you have it, four strategies for B2B businesses to consider going forward. These times are tough, but with a strong focus on adaptive marketing — particularly in messaging and outreach strategies — we’ll make it through.

For more on how Strata can help your business stay strong through COVID-19, contact us today.

What’s Working, What’s Not, and How to Adapt

COVID-19 has been impacting us all, and it’s true what they say — we’re all in this together.

To put it positively, it’s been “interesting” to see the impacts this has had on business and marketing.

COVID-19’s General Impact

First and foremost, COVID-19 has impacted the ways consumers purchase — for the time being, they’ve shifted to a recession mentality. On a macro level, this means consumers are temporarily passing on the premium brands in favor of brands offering greater value.

That’s not to say premium brands are doomed in a COVID-19 world.

Premium brands will get through this by aggressively defining their audience and adjusting the ways they engage that audience. As the average customer’s channel mix shifts, brands need to reach the “at home” individual — for the next few months, ditch your OOH efforts and focus on getting to the consumer at home.

Focus on direct mail, email and addressable geofenced digital ads as the primary players in your channel mix.

Making Direct Mail Work for You

There’s a reason direct mail is a marketing standby — it’s effective. It’s also what many brands will lean on in the months ahead. Let’s look at two scenarios in which COVID-19 impacts this high-value channel — B2C and B2B campaigns

In a B2C campaign, COVID-19’s impact on direct mail is actually a boost in visibility. With limited distractions and an audience spending more time at home than ever, direct mail is front and center.

In a B2B campaign, the way COVID-19 impacts direct mail is a bit more complicated — with no one at the office, a standard B2B campaign can fail. Fortunately, with a little extra data prep, they don’t have to. You can contact decision makers directly at home by working with a data source to match your business dataset against a consumer database and send business communications to personal addresses.

And if you’re worried about reaching people at home, don’t be. People want business to continue — in fact, in a recent survey that we conducted, 90% of consumers said that they’d be comfortable receiving B2B solicitations at home.

Finally, a parting thought on direct mail: use it as an anchor in line with other cost-effective strategies, like digital and email marketing. While effective as a standalone, the performance of direct mail is exponentially increased by including it in your omnichannel strategy.

Utilizing Digital Ads and Email Marketing

Speaking of omnichannel strategy, another place where advertising is thriving is within the digital realm. Things like ad space on social media, commercial spots with streaming services, etc. continue to burn hot. The reason for this is pretty obvious — more people are relying exclusively on screens for news and entertainment.

Digital advertisers are also looking at this crisis as an opportunity to assess effectiveness, clean house and reflect on their digital brands. In short, metrics are talking, underperforming strategies are going out the window, and most of the content smart businesses are putting out is routed in engagement and messaging, not new acquisition.

Email marketing, particularly in retail, is still a go despite COVID-19. In fact, some research points to negatives like unsubscribe rates going down while positives like click rates are going up or at least roughly maintaining pre-COVID levels. With that in mind, now is an excellent time to develop and execute your email marketing campaigns either in house of with a trusted vendor.

Tailoring Your Messaging

In the early days of the outbreak and subsequent lockdown, it seemed utterly bizarre to see the marketing world carrying on as usual, running commercials featuring large groups of friends out in public places, while viewers cringed at home, counting the times the actors touched their faces.

Then, almost all at once, there was a major shift.

Marketers began taking on tones similar to PSA’s, reminding people to wash their hands and stay at home while focusing on aspects of their products that aligned with sentiments like “togetherness” or “looking towards the future.” Messaging also began to focus on the ways that purchases helped support the economy and maintain jobs during a time of economic hardship.

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that people are bored, anxious and looking for comfort and your messaging, engagement and branding should align with that.

Let’s Face it, COVID-19 is Weird

A grocery store full of face masks is weird. Cleaning products being hoarded is weird. COVID-19 as a whole is weird.

It’s tough to navigate such a strange new landscape, particularly in the business world. Of course, we’ll make it through this — we always do — but it’s going to require adaptivity, confidence and reflection.

At Strata, we’re here to help you with that. If you’re looking for ways to put your brand’s best foot forward, whether that be with direct mail, digital outreach or anything in between, contact us to see what our solutions can do for you.