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3 recession-defeating marketing strategies

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3 recession-defeating marketing strategies

At least thrice a week, somebody asks me if our agency business has declined because of economic uncertainty. My answer: No. Enterprise companies have not slowed down or pulled back. If anything, they are accelerating.

Consider this: 17% of companies are planning RFPs this year, according to the 2023 State of the ESP RFP. You might not think that sounds like a large number, but it is if you scale that number to industries. So, that doesn’t sound like a pullback to me.

Among the clients for whom we manage RFPs, we see more requests for technology platforms that help marketers execute and innovate faster. They ask, “What can I do to insulate myself from the coming economic apocalypse if it happens by being innovative and agile?”

Below are smart decisions to improve your business, whether the economy goes sour or not.

1. Rethink that RFP

Before you replace or add technology, ask yourself whether you maxed out your current functionality. Whenever anybody asks me to start an RFP, my first question is, “Are you using everything the platform gives you right now?”

Dig deeper: Economic uncertainty means marketers will re-evaluate ad buys more frequently in 2023

A rule of thumb holds that marketers use only about 20% to 30% of what a tech platform offers. Maybe they didn’t have time to learn how to use the really cool stuff. Or the vendor didn’t offer training. Or they couldn’t get the platform to integrate with external data sources. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how innovative the platform is. It has so many other deficits that you still need to switch.

Today’s vendor marketplace makes the RFP process much more challenging if you don’t have someone to do the work. Look at what you’re paying for now but not using before beginning the time-consuming and potentially disruptive process of finding something new.

2. Develop a plan to shift your marketing priorities

Remember when, at the height of COVID, email saved ecommerce? That’s not an exaggeration. Many companies rediscovered how well email drives sales and revenue and builds customer relationships, especially during a crisis.

Your CEO might remember that. If the CEO asks how the company could change its marketing approach, what would you say?

If your email program became your company’s hero this past few years, it’s even more likely that your CEO will seek your input now. But even if it just kept on keepin’ on, you should still have a plan for the next few months that lays out your options and how you could use them for marketing against a downturn.

What to put in your plan

It shouldn’t begin and end with “Send more email.” If your customers don’t have the money to buy more often or to fill larger carts, sending more offers won’t move the revenue needle.

Look at your targeting. Consider your segmentation program. Review your price structure on promotions. What should it look like to stimulate more sales?

Dig deeper: 5 tips to get more value from your tech stack

Identify segments that can be more lucrative to target, such as regular buyers, people who buy at full price instead of waiting for sales and shoppers who send you clear purchase or upgrade intent signals. 

Look for propensity to purchase. Consider developing a next-logical-purchase plan that moves beyond cross-selling or upselling.

If your CEO asks for your advice, that’s as much of a blue-sky question as you’ll ever get. So be ready to jump. Don’t stop to think about the process. Be able to respond quickly with a plan. 

It could go like this: “We need to structure campaigns around our best customers’ propensity to buy in these lines. Here’s what those email campaigns would look like.”

Develop your plan now, and have it ready to go when the CEO or another high-ranking executive comes calling. But even if that call never comes, if the recession doesn’t happen, or if your customers keep buying, why not execute your plan anyway instead of doing business as usual? This is an excellent opportunity to think strategically without getting bogged down or distracted by tactics.

If you’re unsure where to start, begin with an email audit. This can help you find gaps and other weaknesses in your messaging strategy. (Get background information and details in this earlier MarTech column: 10 questions to ask when auditing your email program.)

3. Educate yourself and reach out to your community

Think about all the advice — in columns like this on MarTech, during webinars, in white papers and guides — that poured out as the business world shifted gears during the pandemic. Expect the same if the economy stutters.

Besides these thought leadership sources, you can call on your email communities for advice and ideas. These communities thrive because the members feed off each other for support and advice. 

Watch the news every day. Raise your sights and educate yourself about what’s happening in the broader economy beyond your vertical. Maybe you weren’t directly affected by the mass layoffs that have rolled through the tech industry, but the repercussions could affect your company or industry.

Spend at least an hour a week reading up on everything that’s happening in email, social media and mobile marketing, in privacy legislation and customer expectations. Add to this cauldron of content news about changes in consumer behavior, the unemployment rate and the economic impact they could have.

Be informed so that when your CEO asks for your advice, you can report what’s happening in your immediate market. CEOs can call on higher-level business forecasts, but you will be the expert on your market conditions.

Wrapping up

Use these suggestions to jumpstart your own thinking. If you want to tap into the added functionalities a new vendor can provide so you can increase your business, then go for it. Suppose implementing propensity is the right strategy to improve your marketing results; get it done. 

The one thing that marks a potential recession is what we saw during COVID: fast-reaction pivots that scale to a new market condition. A recession doesn’t have to be scary. But now is not the time to rely on the adage that email is recession-proof. 

Keep your eye on the future. Think back to November 2019. How would you have prepared if you had known that the world would shut down three months later? You have that time now. What’s your plan?


Get MarTech! Daily. Free. In your inbox.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

How long has it been since your marketing team got restructured? 

Wearing our magic mind-reading hat, we’d guess it was within the last two years. 

Impressed by the guess? Don’t be.  

Research from Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds that almost half of marketing teams restructured in the last 12 months. (And the other half probably did it the previous year.) 

Why do marketing teams restructure so often? Is this a new thing? Is it just something that comes with marketing? What does it all mean for now and the future? 

CMI chief strategy advisor Robert Rose offers his take in this video and the summary below. 

Marketing means frequent change 

Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds 46.5% of marketing teams restructured in the last year — a 5-percentage point increase over 2023 when 41.4% of teams changed their structure. 

But that’s markedly less than the 56.5% of marketing teams that restructured in 2022, which most likely reflected the impact of remote work, the fallout of the pandemic, and other digital marketing trends. 

Maybe the real story isn’t, “Holy smokes, 46% of businesses restructured their marketing last year.” The real story may be, “Holy smokes, only 46% of businesses restructured their marketing.” 

Put simply, marketing teams are now in the business of changing frequently. 

It raises two questions.  

First, why does marketing experience this change? You don’t see this happening in other parts of the business. Accounting teams rarely get restructured (usually only if something dramatic happens in the organization). The same goes for legal or operations. Does marketing change too frequently? Or do other functions in business not change enough? 

Second, you may ask, “Wait a minute, we haven’t reorganized our marketing teams in some time. Are we behind? Are we missing out? What are they organizing into? Or you may fall at the other end of the spectrum and ask, “Are we changing too fast? Do companies that don’t change so often do better? 

OK, that’s more than one question, but the second question boils down to this: Should you restructure your marketing organization? 

Reorganizing marketing 

Centralization emerged as the theme coming out of the pandemic. Gartner reports (registration required) a distinct move to a fully centralized model for marketing over the last few years: “(R)esponsibilities across the marketing organization have shifted. Marketing’s sole responsibilities for marketing operations, marketing strategy, and marketing-led innovation have increased.”  

According to a Gartner study, marketing assuming sole responsibility for marketing operations, marketing innovation, brand management, and digital rose by double-digit percentage points in 2022 compared to the previous year.  

What does all that mean for today in plainer language? 

Because teams are siloed, it’s increasingly tougher to create a collaborative environment. And marketing and content creation processes are complex (there are lots of people doing more small parts to creative, content, channel management, and measurement). So it’s a lot harder these days to get stuff done if you’re not working as one big, joined-up team. 

Honestly, it comes down to this question: How do you better communicate and coordinate your content? That’s innovation in modern marketing — an idea and content factory operating in a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative way. 

Let me give you an example. All 25 companies we worked with last year experienced restructuring fatigue. They were not eager creative, operations, analytics, media, and digital tech teams champing at the bit for more new roles, responsibilities, and operational changes. They were still trying to settle into the last restructuring.  

What worked was fine-tuning a mostly centralized model into a fully centralized operational model. It wasn’t a full restructuring, just a nudge to keep going. 

In most of those situations, the Gartner data rang true. Marketing has shifted to get a tighter and closer set of disparate teams working together to collaborate, produce, and measure more efficiently and effectively.  

As Gartner said in true Gartner-speak fashion: “Marginal losses of sole responsibility (in favor of shared and collaborative) were also reported across capabilities essential for digitally oriented growth, including digital media, digital commerce, and CX.” 

Companies gave up the idea of marketing owning one part of the customer experience, content type, or channel. Instead, they moved into more collaborative sharing of the customer experience, content type, or channel.  

Rethinking the marketing reorg 

This evolution can be productive. 

Almost 10 years ago, Carla Johnson and I wrote about this in our book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. We talked about the idea of building to change: 

“Tomorrow’s marketing and communications teams succeed by learning to adapt — and by deploying systems of engagement that facilitate adaptation. By constantly building to change, the marketing department builds to succeed.” 

We surmised the marketing team of the future wouldn’t be asking what it was changing into but why it was changing. Marketing today is at the tipping point of that. 

The fact that half of all marketing teams restructure and change every two years might not be a reaction to shifting markets. It may just be how you should think of marketingas something fluid that you build and change into whatever it needs to be tomorrow, not something you must tear down and restructure every few years.  

The strength in that view comes not in knowing you need to change or what you will change into. The strength comes from the ability and capacity to do whatever marketing should. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

One of the most important parts of having a website is making sure your audience can find your site (and find what they’re looking for).

The good news is that Google Search Essentials, formerly called Google Webmaster Guidelines, simplifies the process of optimizing your site for search performance.

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