Marketing in the age of uncertainty: 5 strategies to reduce your risk
We live in uncertain times. Political unrest. Economic ups and downs. The coronavirus. Stability and calm seem like things of the distant past. As marketers, we all struggle with trying to make sense of it all and plan for tomorrow, never mind next month, next quarter, or next year.
Still, there are things you can do to give your firm as much of an advantage as possible in a highly dynamic business world. There are accounting firms that are successfully growing and thriving, even amid all this instability. At the Hinge Research Institute, we’ve been researching the most successful firms to gain insight into what enables them to safely navigate these turbulent business waters and we discovered five fundamental marketing strategies to mitigate uncertainty:
1. Embrace change: Like it or not, change is inevitable. You might as well embrace it and harness its power to help your firm get a leg up on the competition. For example, technological evolution is speeding up, and you can gain a serious competitive advantage if you position your firm to change with it. Take software, for instance. Newer, more flexible and powerful marketing applications and platforms are being introduced on a regular basis. Instead of committing your firm to purchasing a specific package that may be difficult to upgrade and might become a dinosaur in just a couple of years, opt for software-as-a-service (SaaS) and lease a cloud-based platform that doesn’t require a capital investment. It’s also easier to upgrade or replace, if necessary. This will enable you to respond quickly to changes in the market while your competitors become bogged down with increasingly inflexible and expensive legacy systems.
2. Accelerate planning: Change is speeding up and so should your planning. Your planning cycle needs to accelerate along with your marketing activities. That one-and-done annual planning and budgeting cycle now seems quaint in the face of real-time, online marketing opportunities that need immediate attention on a regular basis. A faster cycle of analysis and adjustment can help you cope with the faster pace of change.
Here’s what we’ve found works best for many of our clients:
- Annually: Develop a comprehensive, basic budget for marketing, business development, and new service development, based on past performance and reasonable assumptions. Many successful firms add a contingency cushion — typically 10 percent of the annual budget — to address any unforeseen needs and opportunities.
- Quarterly: Monitor and analyze your marketing response data to gage performance, then adjust your plans and budget accordingly. For example, if your firm historically holds monthly executive roundtables for clients and prospects, but you notice attendance slipping and costs increasing, consider testing an online webinar in the place of one of the roundtables and compare the results. If it looks promising, consider replacing the roundtables entirely. This kind of real-time, responsive marketing is more efficient and cost-effective than waiting an entire year for the annual review to make changes.
- Monthly: Review marketing results at the end of each month to judge effectiveness and make necessary adjustments to improve performance. Often these adjustments are minor, such as changing the timing of email blasts or increasing the number of blog posts, because you’re noticing minor flaws in your program before they become major issues.
3. Know the questions and the answers. The web has profoundly altered the marketing world. With a wealth of knowledge at everyone’s fingertips, clients and prospects now assume a level of understanding on the part of service providers that would not have been expected in the past.
According to our research, one of the top things that potential clients are trying to avoid is a service provider who doesn’t understand their industry. But it’s not enough to have just a basic understanding. To be competitive, you must educate clients and prospects on industry topics they should be concerned about, such as emerging trends, threats and opportunities. You need to be able to demonstrate a level of specialized expertise and insight that goes beyond knowing the right questions to ask, to already knowing the answers. This will add value to your services and provide them with an advantage over their competition.
4. Increase insight and reduce risk with research. It cannot be stressed enough how crucial research is to marketing success. The most valuable is primary research — what you do yourself or hire an outside firm to do for you. Done right, it’s original and valuable — ideal for sharing. In fact, it’s so valuable, our research has revealed that high-growth firms are three times more likely to conduct primary research than their slower-growing peers. Secondary research — that published by others — is useful for gaining awareness and building industry knowledge.
Research provides two major benefits:
- Insight into your target audience: When you have a better understanding of industry trends and concerns, you can better focus your own marketing messages to address them.
- Increases your brand value: Research can yield valuable industry information worth sharing with clients and prospects. This develops thought leadership for your firm to attract new business and close more new business.
5. Take small chances: Uncertain environments breed more uncertainty. It’s difficult to know for sure what will work when you’re unsure what’s coming down the road. But at some point, you have to take a chance and try something different to kick things loose and make some progress.
If you make small, reversible bets on, say, a new technology, marketing channel or service upgrade, you’re providing yourself with the ability to try something new while keeping the option to back off quickly if you see that it’s not working. You haven’t made a major commitment that could chew up resources and create more problems than it solves.
We are in a new world that requires new approaches to planning and executing marketing strategies. By balancing risk with reward and not being afraid to take some chances, you can face these uncertain times with confidence and chart a successful course to greater growth and profitability.