In the past two weeks, I have digested more “content” than is healthy. I’ve deleted more email spam and voicemails than I did ALL of last year. I have spoken to clients, prospects, and partners about their current state and future assessments. Prior to COVID-19, I have marketed through the Internet Gold Rush, Y2K, the dot-com bust, 9/11, The Great 2008 Recession, and any number of other “irrational” rushes. During these times, there is a common negative climate of fear, helplessness, panic, greed, and FOMO in firms. There is also a positive ethos of concern and a sincere desire to be helpful. Both need to be managed. Now more than ever, marketers must offer strategic counsel to partners and provide the backbone that seizes the opportunity but also protects a firm’s reputation. Partners need to listen. Follow these guidelines and you will achieve those goals.
READ: The Purpose of a Leader
6 Marketing Guidelines for Professional Services Firms During the COVID-19 Pandemic
1. Be calm. Panic serves no one. Clients turn to professional services firms for guidance and reassurance—better described as “comfort.” You cannot give something you do not possess. Before solving other’s problems, get your own house in order. Cash is king. Get all employees on the same page. Reschedule, cancel, adapt your planned activities, but don’t start killing things until you have clarity. None of us has much clarity right now. As the great John Wooden said, “Be quick but don’t hurry.”
2. Be helpful. Banal communication like “We are here for our clients.” is worthless and just adds to the noise. Whether you’re communicating en masse or one-to-one, give the recipient something of value to THEM. That means deep listening and a servant mindset–not delivering platitudes or selfishly/opportunistically selling something.
3. Be purposeful or don’t communicate. Chaos and panic may dominate a firm’s actions. Partners will project a sense of urgency to do something to serve their clients at this desperate time. Do not fall prey to this mindset. Partners AND marketers must work together to scrutinize opportunities and answer these key questions before starting a campaign or pressing send on a communication:
- What problem are we solving for the recipient?
- How do we know that this is a priority for the recipient?
- Why should this communication come from us?
- Are we in a position to deliver on the promise or solution we are offering?
- What do we want the recipient to know AND do after receiving the communication?
4. Stay in the lane where your brand is relevant. Many firms see opportunities where opportunities do NOT exist. Marketing agencies don’t need to be talking about cash-flow, CARE or FMLA. Accounting firms don’t need to be offering advice on client retention or hand-washing. Play where your firm has brand relevance, the core capabilities, and an opportunity to add VALUE now. Jason Mlicki, my Rattle and Pedal co-host, and Bob Buday, thought leadership guru, offer solid advice on how to choose your opportunities.
5. Be specific. Send the right message to the right person at the right time. “Send All” are not words that should ever be used in Marketing during regular situations. They are even more of a pariah in a crisis. SEGMENT your lists AND your messages–demographically, psychographically, and behaviorally. You CANNOT be relevant or specific without segmentation. If you do not have the process or technology to do it, then, don’t send anything now. You’re spamming people. Your next task is to develop this baseline marketing capability.
6. Monitor all communication. If ever there was a time to look at and discuss key metrics like open rates and click-throughs, now is the time. You need immediate feedback to assess the market’s receptivity to your message. You will know immediately if you have understood your markets’ needs, offered a solution, and have the brand relevance that gives you permission to help.
Panics and threats cause people and firms to revert to their true personalities. Your “lizard brain” shifts into either fight or flight mode. Neither will serve you well at this time. Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, which recounts his time in a German concentration camp during WWII, tells us that there is a space between the moment an action hits us and the time we react to it. Those that survive and thrive in a given situation recognize that moment and space and act in a way that is consistent with the reason they exist.