Practical Marketing Automation Strategies to Navigate Coronavirus Era

Practical Marketing Automation Strategies to Navigate Coronavirus Era


The era of social distancing brings entirely new challenges to businesses, yet it represents an opportunity for those willing to think outside the box, adapt modern technologies, and revamp current marketing operations. After all, it’s physical distancing and socially, we are probably closer than ever.

by Inga Romanoff

As the world slowed down, confined at home, companies sent volumes of communications to their prospects and customers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But do consumers want these messages? According to the March 18th survey conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, 43% of survey respondents said it was reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust, while 40% wanted to hear what brands were doing in response to the pandemic. Only 15% said they did not want to hear from brands at this time.

The largely positive consumer sentiment is encouraging; however, the crisis is evolving rapidly with no end in sight, we are sending more and more emails, and the full impact on economies is not yet fully understood. With this new perspective in mind, we looked at the marketing automation strategies and tactics that companies can employ to ensure their messaging strategies remain relevant and don’t backfire.

Triage Communications, Rethink Direct Mail, and Change Tone

Re-examine all emails and triage between essential vs nonessential communications. Evaluate tone and messaging, are they still relevant? If your company has not sent out COVID-19 email from the CEO by now, consider moving the message to a different channel, for example, a website notice or a featured twitter post. At this point, messaging should be concise and down to the point about any actions impacting customers, such as additional measures, canceling service, or modified shipping timelines. In any message, prioritize most critical updates and put them at the top.

If you have current or planned direct mail, it may be necessary to shift timelines or cancel the send until workforce can return to the offices. For B2C, consumer spending in the next month or so, is likely to be driven by necessities and availability of money. Promotions that may have worked in the past, may be useless or interpreted as insensitive. If you are still planning sending special offers, review and refine segmentations, perhaps suppressing geographic areas identified by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) as a designated major disaster area.

Employ Hyper-Segmentation and Launch Nurturing Streams

You may be revising and even putting some of the regular communications on hold. But one thing that is important, is developing multiple personalized nurturing streams, redesigning current content, or launching brand new messaging. Take the time to develop strategies to re-energize older audiences in lead database that did not engage in the past and launch an MVP version as soon as you can.

Segmenting an audience is not a novel approach in marketing automation; however, it is more than ever important to hyper-personalize messaging to stay relevant. Companies risk losing trust and attention from their audience by sending a one-size-fits-all message. Authentic tone, relevant messaging, and a thoughtful approach can give your company a chance to build strong relationships with your audiences.

Slow Down and Map Out Communications Strategy

It’s true, everyone is busy, and businesses grow fast, sometimes without having a chance to slow down and map out the strategy on how they connect with their prospects and customers. In marketing automation world, this can be further reduced to managing leads in different revenue stages within the lead lifecycle and “throwing them over the wall” to sales for a hopeful ‘Closed Won’ status. It is becoming increasingly imperative to build a communication strategy that is overarching and meaningful, relevant to each of the different audience segments. Perhaps, you won’t have a solid strategy for each of the many segments you are working on, but identifying your top opportunities and focusing on those is important.

We may be in frantic one-off emails mode for a couple of months but mapping out your segments and content allows for you to build nurture streams. For some companies, nurture is essential now, to maintain revenue streams or gain market share, and for others, it may be worth waiting for a month or two. Now and especially once we are on the other side of this pandemic, brands that took advantage of this opportunity will stand out among the competition.

What If I Buy Lists? (Don’t)

If you still practice list purchasing (hopefully, not), consider a complete halt on marketing to those leads and cancel all rent agreements until later time. You are not likely to get responses and may hurt your email client reputation but marketing to even colder, non-responsive segments.

Compared to business as usual, you may see more engagement and less engagement within segments, which may be peculiar to coronavirus era and temporary, but these times are also a unique opportunity to engage with your prospects and customers on an entirely new level. People are stuck at home and not distracted by long commutes and water cooler conversations (ok, they may be working to Baby Shark and Frozen 2), and many may be rethinking their lives. Authentic, empathetic, and thoughtful messaging can win your brand fans for life. Don’t underestimate the long-term impact of real conversations on your business.

Repurpose Event Giveaways and Delight Your Teams

We all are eventually going back to work but if your event materials are dated with 2020, consider repurposing them in the meantime. Once CDC’s guidelines are relaxed and physical mailers are deemed safe, you can reuse the swag for team events or to reward and delight employees. If you had not used Marketo to communicate with your employees – consider adding this capability now and perhaps adding an integration or two (PFL, internal HR systems, etc.) for the future, to make those conversations more meaningful.

Some of the tradeshow and conference giveaways can be used for onboarding or high-value customer appreciation later in the year. These strategies take a while to execute and now is the good time to plan this.

Drive Updates for Product and eCommerce Messaging

Marketing automation folks often configure transactional emails – what we call operational messaging in Marketo that connects to ecommerce, fulfillment, or product environment. While business rules are a topic for a different discussion, we can bring it up to our colleagues that this may be a good time to review messaging, potentially relax the rules or add leeway for your customers, and change the tone for some of the reminders that are already set up in the system. Government and private companies are working hard to deliver relief efforts to consumers and businesses – you can lead the research for those available resources and include them in your current operational emails.

Marketo Projects to Consider

Consider executing on these projects to accelerate adoption of marketing technologies withing your organization

  • Lead Nurturing: This is a good time to revise your existing audience segmentations, refine targeting, and launch lead nurturing programs – as many as you can. If you are still waiting for content like white papers or guides, launch the MVP version and add those later. Nurturing your leads with relevant messaging can help stay top of mind, maintain revenues, re-activate stale database, and develop deeper relationship with your customers and prospects.
  • Preference Center: There are many reasons to have a Preference Center in addition to the simple opt in / opt out option, but more than ever it is helpful to offer an option to temporarily pause marketing emails for 30 days. Everyone is feeling somewhat overwhelmed with uncertainty, radical change in working conditions and lifestyle and some might prefer to take a break. According to Nielsen, alcoholic beverage sales shot up 55% in the third week of March compared to the same time a year ago. People are struggling to keep up and this presents a unique opportunity to listen to your audience’s needs.
  • SSL Migration: Check the setting in Marketo Admin section and if you still have HTTP, reach out to your Account Manager to add Secure Pages to your product. With the Chrome 80 release in January’20, there are no more mixed messages. To improve users’ privacy, Google established that SSL is no longer optional and began blocking non-secure content. Here’s the link to Marketo instructions and we have a quick and simple flat-fee offering to orchestrate a seamless migration. Note that you have to update all links in the instance or externally that drive to landing pages (links to images will update automatically) and you can use relative reference and approve LPs upon modification instead of the two-step suggested in the article – the latter actually temporarily deems your instance vulnerable during cutover.
  • Lead Database cleanup and deduplication: In Marketo, duplicates cost you money directly – in subscription costs as well as missed opportunities (broken lead scoring, missed lead handoff to sales). A bit of a slowdown and a more focused work environment present an opportunity to run a one-time lead database cleanup as well as identify and fix systemic issues. Audit your integrations and flag any processes that create duplicates continuously
  • Marketing Attribution: Explore your options and implement a tool that allows you to measure impact of marketing activities (online and offline) on revenue and ROI. There is no out-of-the-box solution in Marketo to ensure accurate and reliable data. You may get some, but that leads to more confusion and may skew analysis than provide actionable insights.
  • Lead Lifecycle setup: If you don’t have a live Lead Scoring setup, now is a good time to build one or evaluate effectiveness of an older model (generally, it’s a good time to analyze every 3-6 months depending on how long the lead lifecycle is for your business model). It’s easier to connect with sales and get their inputs and it sets you up for success for when the economy restarts. Revenue Model is in the same category and is using lead scores to identify revenue stages of the leads in the system, but is a slightly higher investment of time and effort.

In closing, while some of these suggested measures are temporary, they are going to have an immediate as well as a long-term impact. True, while businesses are scrambling to meet their customers’ needs or to stay afloat, the upcoming few months will be challenging and transformative. This also represents an opportunity to grow sustainable revenue, attract new segments of customers or develop deeper relationships with the existing ones, and drive channel transformation. Businesses that take action and think radically differently now, take advantage of new ideas, will put themselves in a stronger position when the economy returns to normal.

(Image credits unknown.)