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How to Make Sure Your Marketing Strategy Is Ready for the Crisis Around the Corner Five specific ways to engage the whole "hope for the best, prepare for the worst" trope.

By Mark W Lamplugh Jr Edited by Bill Schulz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

mdesigner125 | Getty Images

If 2020 has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected. This rings especially true for marketers, who even under normal circumstances, need to think on their feet to stay a step ahead of customers. While the challenges created by the pandemic have certainly kept marketers on their toes over the past few months, it's never too late to start preparing for the future. Here are five strategies to help you kick the new year off on the right foot.

Learn to do more with less

Though managers initially hoped that marketing spending would get back on track by mid-2021, the worsening financial crisis has cast further doubt upon any anticipated recovery. Gartner's 2020 annual CMO Spend Survey, a poll of almost 300 marketing leaders, revealed that the proportion of respondents expecting a budget cut of more than 5% stood at around 59%.

In a time where marketing budgets are crunched and you have less room for experimentation, it's time to refocus your investment on your top-performing channels. Spend some time understanding your marketing return on investment (ROI) from each channel, identify the ones that perform best and allocate your budget accordingly.

A large part of this exercise involves understanding how each channel performs. Instead of focusing on broader, top-of-the-funnel metrics such as Cost-Per-Click or Reach, it may be better to consider key performance indicators that impact bottom line, such as Cost-Per-Conversion, Contract Value, or Customer Lifetime Value.

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Finally, get creative with your organic marketing strategy. Try to piggyback on trends and topics that already garner attention so you can reduce your spending on creating brand awareness. Consider guerrilla marketing tactics which can be extremely effective when done right.

Revitalize your customer retention strategy

Now is a time when customers' loyalties are being tested. The financial burden of the past year has not only been shouldered by businesses, but individuals as well. When customers are under economic pressure, their choices may be dictated by more than just their preferences, which is why it's important to revitalize your customer retention strategy.

Research by Bain has shown that increasing your retention rate by just 5% can increase profits by as much as 95%. Keeping this in mind, it makes sense to focus more on nurturing your existing customers, instead of obsessing over new acquisitions.

This is not to say that you shouldn't try to acquire new clients as well. However, getting repeated business from your existing roster can be 5 times cheaper than trying to attract new ones, so consider allocating at least a portion of your budget towards retention as well.

Personalization plays a key role in increasing customer retention. Since existing customers expect you to know about their preferences, you'll need to create unique user experiences and customized marketing messages for each of your clients. The challenge is to stand out amidst the clutter of offers and promotions that inundate their inboxes, so try to engage with your people on a more personal level.

Take time to review your data

Data is hardly a new concept to marketers. However, thanks to the number of customers who moved online in 2020, you now probably have a new wealth of data at your disposal.

A recent survey by PYMNTS, leading payments industry website, reported that by June, close to 36% of U.S. consumers were buying retail goods online compared to 29% in April. The same survey found that 21% of consumers were ordering online from restaurants, up from 13% in mid-April, though a number of restaurants had begun to re-open. The survey results not only indicate that clients are more open than ever to digital channels, but also that this is a more pervasive trend.

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Data is the key to effectively driving digital transformation within your organization. Spend some time reviewing your first-party data; anything you gain from stores, websites, surveys and employee interviews. Use it to start planning your marketing strategy for 2021. It may also be worth investing in customer research to analyze any changes in attitudes and positioning yourself accordingly.

Review your marketing processes

The companies that were most successful in 2020 were the ones that were most flexible. Agile marketing may be the key to succeeding amidst future uncertainty. Not only does agile marketing enable you to respond faster and more effectively to customers, but it also can be done cost-effectively, which is particularly appealing at the moment.

Consider Netflix's creative Spoiler Billboard, a marketing campaign launched in March in support of the "Stay at Home" movement. By coming up with a funny, topical response to the unforeseen circumstances created by the pandemic, Netflix was able to garner massive interest on social media and generate conversations around their brand.

Marketers' mantra for 2021 should be – "Prepare to be unprepared". Restructure your marketing organization by shuffling functions, simplifying multi-stage approval processes and investing in active listening technologies to monitor customer responses in real-time. Your end goal should be to shift from reactive to proactive marketing.

However, for agile marketing to be successful, it needs to be adopted at every level of an organization. Embracing cross-functionality and focusing on short-term goals lets marketers deliver content in a more flexible manner, allowing them to capitalize on moments that matter to create deeper engagement with customers.

Prepare for digital maturity

While digital has been a priority for companies over the past years, digital transformation has accelerated at an unprecedented rate in 2020. In BCG's Global Digital Transformation Survey, 83% of companies indicated that they planned on fast-tracking their digital transformation efforts thanks to the pandemic. Even if you have been slow to the chase so far, now is the time to start making strides towards digital maturity.

This means relying less on third-party data and investing in the right digital infrastructure to learn more about your customers. Having access to dynamic customer data can paint a clearer picture of your audience and prepare for their changing needs. Taking it a step further, connecting your data to elements of your marketing funnel helps ensure that you are constantly benchmarking and optimizing your marketing efforts to deliver maximum results.

Related: Bring It On, 2021: Getting Ready For What Is Set To Be The Year Of Intention and Attention

Finally – becoming an expert on digital doesn't mean having to do all the grunt work yourself. Leaning into strategic partnerships with specialists is often a quicker way to reap the benefits of digital transformation, providing you with rich, actionable insights, while allowing you to focus on broader strategy.

Though not a comprehensive marketing strategy, these tips are a great place to start when considering your marketing plans for 2021. They are also important to help contextualize some of the longer-term digital trends that are expected over the coming year.

Mark W Lamplugh Jr

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Chief Executive Officer

Mark W. Lamplugh Jr. was recently appointed as CEO at Renewed Light, including Renewed Light of Marlton, Renewed Light of Mullica Hill and Changing Tides.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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