This crisis just tore up your marketing strategy. Where do data-driven marketers go from here?

As a result of the current crisis, not only have our lives changed almost beyond recognition, but so too have the business norms we’ve become accustomed to. Our carefully crafted dashboards have become red walls of negativity and workflows based on even well-tested hypotheses are no longer bearing the fruit they once did.

Most businesses are taking the time to focus on brand awareness, having seen sales dry up, while others have pivoted their entire business models; just think of the many restaurants who have turned to delivery services.

While some businesses have seen spikes in demand – think home office equipment, video conferencing, and entertainment – this can come with its own challenges. The shortages on supermarket shelves in the first few weeks were the most visible example. Elsewhere, digital services are working overtime to beef up security and ensure they have enough server capacity.

Whatever situation you currently find yourself in, the one thing we can all agree on is that it’s no longer business as usual. This is why it’s crucial to review our marketing strategies to ensure we focus our efforts where it matters most: meeting our customers’ needs.

It’s also becoming clear that we won’t be going back to “normal” for a long time yet, so a new strategy isn’t an expensive short-term exercise, it’s an essential part of planning for success in the year ahead.

Building a new data-driven strategy can be a daunting task at the best of times, so I’ve pulled together some pointers to get you started on your journey.

Defining the strategy

Probably the biggest challenge with building a strategy in a crisis is understanding what you’re solving for – your customer’s new needs – especially when the situation is as unparalleled as this one. But there is a wealth of information at our disposal, which often doesn’t get as much love as it probably should, but now’s the time to dust it off.

Site search data is an absolute gold mine and should be your first port of call. Your customers are literally telling you what they want from you. Look for anything out of the ordinary and consider how you could meet that need.

If you don’t have search functionality on your site, or it’s not getting a lot of action, customer surveys are a great alternative. Many sites use survey tools, like Usabilla or Qualaroo, and if you add email surveys to key audiences, such as previously regular customers who have gone quiet, you’ll have a really rich data set to play with.

The scale of Google Trends data can make it an invaluable resource for understanding changes in customer demand which may help inform prospecting activity, merchandising, and much more. You can read more about how we’re using Google Trends data to help with our clients’ strategy challenges here.

Measuring the strategy

Right, so you know what your customers need from you in their home-bound days and have created your plan for meeting those needs. Now you need a measurement plan to ensure you know whether the plan is working.

First up: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). When choosing your KPIs, make sure each one is directly related to business performance.

Ideally, less is more. For me, three is the limit; any more and you usually end up with repetition or conflict. If you’re in retail these might be revenue, transactions, and returns. Or, if you’re in services, they might be business won, Marketing Qualified Leads, and client churn.

Next up, we need to add some context metrics: data that can help explain the movements in our KPIs. Again, less is more as we don’t want to end up with a wall of numbers, so I try to stick to three per KPI.

For example, if revenue is the KPI, we’ll probably be most interested in average order value (AOV), units per transaction (UPT), and average selling price (ASP).

There’s a good chance that many of you will be focusing on more qualitative outcomes for a while; the same approach applies here, too. Take net promoter score (NPS), or similar, as your KPI then look at user behaviour metrics, such as bounce rate or basket abandonment, to lend context to where any frustrations may be stemming from.

Last but not least, what can we measure about the state of the market? Since this is a crisis strategy, we want to keep our eyes open for signs of recovery that may lead to us pivoting back to a more business as usual approach.

I’m going to recommend Google Trends again here – as it’s the most useful, free cross-industry tool – but there will be other data sources that are more industry-specific, such as market volatility for financial services. It’s also worth systematically revisiting the qualitative data sources explored earlier as the situation is more likely to evolve than resolve.

The businesses that succeed despite this crisis will most likely be those that react with positivity and purpose to the challenges facing their customers – it’s impossible to do that if you don’t know what these challenges are.

By following the steps above and creating a data-driven strategy, based on the current reality rather than past understanding, you’ll arm yourself with the tools to take action with confidence and put yourself in the best possible position for the recovery that will come. Because the internet loves a good quote, I’m going to leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Never confuse motion with action.”

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