Marketers have always had to be adaptable to meet customers where they are. Often, strategies get scrapped or campaigns have to pivot, and sometimes it can feel like the goalposts are always moving. The past few years have especially hammered home the old adage that the only constant is change.
“I started my role at Adverity towards the end of 2019, and ever since then, there hasn't really been what I would call a control year,” says, Harriet Durnford-Smith, CMO at Adverity.
“We're all trying to navigate a complex environment,” agrees Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement at the LinkedIn B2B Institute think tank, “Between the pandemic economic environment and various world and social conditions, it's been nonstop.” Advertisers are constantly having to pivot and change their strategies to keep up with changing customer behaviors.
To help marketers navigate the new challenges they face, we’ve brought together six marketing thought-leaders from across Adverity and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions to discuss what marketers need to be doing now, next, and in the future to secure a sustainable pipeline of customers.
Over the course of three episodes, the Now, Next, Future series tackles the key action points that marketers need to be taking now and initiatives that they need to put on their roadmap to stretch budgets further without hampering the long-term success of their business. Check out a review of the first episode below, or download the full ebook with all three episodes here!
Marketing strategies with a contrarian mindset will thrive
During periods of change, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of short-term trends, however, the B2B institute recommends looking at a more long-term approach over simply following the crowd.
“The question marketers want to know is, ‘What's everyone else doing?’” explains Ty. “But we think a better question to ask is, ‘What is no one else doing?’”
The Institute uses a mental model called the Contrarian Matrix, which works on the logic that you can be right or wrong, in consensus with the crowd, or contrarian against the crowd. “When you are consensus and right, there's no value because value gets competed away. So simply put, what you want to do, is do what no one else is doing and be right about it,” explains Ty.
For the past five years, the LinkedIn think tank has been working to identify 30 trends that offer long-term value for marketing teams. There are three key trends that the LinkedIn think tank advises marketers to invest in that fit the brief of being contrarian and right in the contrarian matrix, and these are where Ty says the most value can be created.
Trend 1 - The war on brand: Investing in the long-term
“We believe that people are actually under-invested in brand,” explains Ty, “We call it the war on brand.”
During an economic downturn, it might seem counterintuitive to double down on your brand, versus putting your budget towards more immediate and short-term tactics. However, consensus short-term thinking has left a golden opportunity for those brave enough to take the contrarian mindset.
As Peter Field, the consultant and well-respected expert in advertising effectiveness says, “brand advertising is not about profiting in a recession, it's about capitalizing on recovery.” The actions you take now can have outsized impacts on your future profitability, so this is an exciting time for marketers to lean into brand as a long-term play.
“95% of category buyers are out market at any given time,” explains Ty, ”which means they're not thinking about your brand. They don't have a buying intention.”
In a recession, this ratio becomes even more extreme as companies and consumers delay purchases, and the proportion of in-market buyers can shrink as low as 1%. This 99-1 reality means it's critical that marketers invest in strategies to prime future buyers. And that is the purpose of brand advertising. While it can be hard to make this case when sales pressures are mounting, fortunately, there are efficiency gains you can present to your finance team to maintain or secure a larger brand budget.
For those that can remain steadfast in a more long-term approach, downturns like this offer the opportunity to cement themselves in the minds of buyers who might not be in the market now but will be again later down the line.
“We need to shift our attention as marketers and start thinking long term because there's less latent demand to capture in the short term,” says Ty, “By investing in brand, we build memory structures so later on, we're the brands they think of.”
Having a strong brand also attracts high-quality talent and gives you pricing power — people spend more with brands that they are connected to and remember. A strong brand also gives you, category optionality, the ability to pivot into a new space if your category starts to shrink.
But often in an economic downturn, when spend isn’t demonstrating as much of a short-term revenue impact, getting the CFO onside for a long-term strategy can be tricky. Budgets for capturing near-term revenue get prioritized, and marketers are often advised to pull back on longer-term awareness-raising brand activity. To counter this, marketers can try reframing the situation in a few ways.
Tip 1: Create an all-weather marketing mindset
The first is a strategy called all-weather marketing, which comes from one of the most renowned investors of all time, Ray Dalio. Ray’s All Weather portfolio was designed to be up even when the S&P 500 was down.
Thinking about marketing from this strategic standpoint can help marketers reframe the downturn as an opportunity. “I think what we're facing as marketers is a disconnect on the value that marketing creates and specifically the real value of brand to help navigate through long-term challenges,” says Ty.
Tip 2: Flip the funnel
The second tip is to take a different view of the traditional mental model that marketers use — the funnel. Traditionally, potential customers work their way through several touchpoints as their intent increases until they convert.
Instead, Ty encourages marketers to flip the funnel on its side and think about a timeline on the x-axis. “We think about it as creating demand for the future and capturing demand in the present.”
Recognizing the majority of out of market customers allows for a much more customer-centric view, one that is aligned with the financial picture of current and future cash flow. This standpoint opens up the view of what the market looks like, and brings the shrinking ratio of in-market customers into the conversation, highlighting the importance of building the future pipeline from the 95% of out-of-market customers.
Similarly, Harriet recommends looking inside your existing customer base for new opportunities. “We’re now spending much more time working with our existing account teams because we can see much more value in helping to build customer relationships and expand existing accounts,” she says. “When you look at what the net new pipeline is costing us, it becomes a much more efficient way of working.”
Tip 3: Use data as the common denominator
“I think the final piece is that we need to learn to speak in more financial terms,” says Ty. Quoting Rory Sutherland, renowned behavioral scientist and marketer for Ogilvy, she adds, “If you're talking about brand to someone outside of marketing, you might as well be talking about the healing power of crystals.”
So, how do you then speak to a non-marketer with a very different way of looking at numbers, and describe what you're up to in financial terms? Firstly, Ty advises getting finance involved early on in your strategy. “Go to market with the other stakeholders within the business. Have finance pull up alongside you. Have them have skin in the game.”
Secondly, Harriet advises using data as a common language between teams. “If you're talking to a CFO or you're talking to the finance unit, you need to have integrity in your data. You need to be able to tell the right story with the numbers that you have in front of you.”
Citing a recent study, Harriet explains that a shocking 30% of CMOs in the survey said their teams are only checking their marketing data up to once a quarter. “If you're not paying attention to what your data is saying, I feel like you're already on the back foot in those conversations about long-term strategy with your CFO.”
The effects of investing in brand compound over time; it might take six months to start seeing the returns on investment for a brand. Being able to understand the short-term pipeline and adjust is important, but a deeper understanding of your data is a powerful tool to weigh up the benefits of longer-term branding activities, and bolster a strategy that carefully balances short-term demand with an investment in the long-term.
Trend 2 - Blockbuster creatives: Think like Disney
Marketers are always being asked to do more with less; efficiency is the name of the game, and positioning marketing as efficiency-driven can go a long way when it comes to negotiating a more long-term strategy. One quick win that Harriet and Ty recommend to reinforce this narrative is to reuse your creative.
“Good creative doesn’t wear out — it wears in. We don't need to continuously create new advertising creative when times are tough.” says Ty, “There's an opportunity for us to invest in creative that's already showing up, that people remember and are connected to.” By reusing and repurposing creatives, marketing teams can save time and money, so when the time comes to strategize with finance, you’ll be in a stronger position to prioritize distribution.
Ty urges marketers to think like Disney, focusing on big blockbuster bets on franchises that people come to connect with. Having distinctive assets and making sure that you're branding everything consistently will cement yourself in the minds of your prospective customers.
“There are a lot of underutilized principles for creative that work for big or small companies, things like using the colors, the logo, characters, music — things that build memory for people. You want to have those show up every single time.”
Trend 3 - The death of hyper-targeting: casting a wider net
Advances in the marketing landscape have made it easy to filter our audiences down to a few perfect buyer personas and target people based on an increasingly specific set of categorizations. While this has opened up some exciting opportunities, hyper-targeting can leave marketers with tunnel vision.
“What we fail to recognize when we target audiences is that we're making a lot of assumptions. When you layer on targeting facet after targeting facet, you're forgetting that buying groups change over time. There are a lot of things we don’t know that we don’t know,” says Ty.
For both B2B and B2C marketers, instead of searching for this perfect persona, marketers should shift their focus to category reach. By zeroing in on relevant reach within a category, marketing teams can target across the whole buying committee, reaching a range of different decision-makers, and maybe even people who aren't quite at decision-making capacity yet but will be a year from now.
“I think in times where there is a level of unpredictability, one of the things that we really double down on is our positioning,” explains Harriet. “Really understanding and going back to the basics of what our customers need and what makes our product essential.”
As budgets tighten, businesses and individuals are paying much more attention to what they spend their money on, so understanding and doubling down on what makes your product essential is more critical than ever. While some might react to this level of unpredictability with a knee-jerk tightening of budgets, Ty puts emphasis on the importance of defending the research budget, explaining, “We need to make sure that we're keeping our ear to the ground to understand what our customers are needing.”
Building resilience: Probabilistic versus deterministic thinking
In the world of marketing, resilience has emerged as an indispensable trait. It's a quality that isn't easily taught but is instead forged through experience—the ebb and flow of successes and challenges.
“When there is a certain level of unpredictability, it is very easy to explain everything away through external forces beyond our control,” says Harriet. “That’s always going to play a role. But I do still fundamentally think that there are things that we can do as marketers to impact change.”
As marketers, it’s impossible to predict and act on all these external forces. Between the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and inflation, strategies have had to become much more flexible. One mental model that is commonly used at LinkedIn’s B2B Institute to support this flexibility is probabilistic versus deterministic thinking. Ty explains, “Rather than acting as if planning is the answer to everything that's coming, which would be a deterministic model, we need to prepare for a world in which things are uncertain, we don't know the answer all the time.”
By replacing deterministic thinking with probabilistic thinking, marketing teams can become more anchored in the reality that we can't control external forces and start thinking about the variety of different ways these might change our course, planning for possible different outcomes. This offers a broader range of thinking about how strategies might need to change and allows room to prepare.
“Always stay two or three steps ahead,” says Harriet, “and have a strategy for all the different possible eventualities before you take any kind of action.”