For many organizations, COVID-19 has turned the 4Ps of marketing—product, place, price, and promotion—into 4Cs: confusion, calamity, chaos, and complexity.
The situation calls to mind Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto, which describes how, from operating rooms to aircraft cockpits, organizations use checklists for mitigating and managing complicated conditions. Though not a checklist per se, the 4Ps that provided many of us our first framework of marketing can also serve as simple but meaningful checkpoints for assessing and, if needed, adjusting marketing strategy when severe and unexpected disruptions surface.
First, though, let's agree on a common definition. Despite variations and nuances, at its core B2B marketing strategy is an organization's overall approach for reaching prospective buyers and converting them into customers of the services or products the business provides.
As the coronavirus pandemic has shown, many businesses are grappling with how to adjust their strategy, while others are exemplifying effective and decisive action.
Reassessing and Readjusting the 4Ps
Balancing short- and long-term needs is one of the most pressing challenges of product-related decisions compelled by disruptions of such significance.
The question for many is this: What product changes can we implement now to best serve our customers and communities without negatively impacting what we can contribute in the longer-term?
That has taken the form of temporarily narrowing selections to focus on "essential items" and reduce supply chain burdens, as well as allocating some portion of production resources to deliver crisis-related goods.
Sudden changes to user behavior will also compel adjustments in product road maps. In this regard, Facebook's pivots in the wake of COVID-19 provide an excellent example, as Bloomberg details. After first focusing on stopping coronavirus misinformation on the network, Facebook shifted resources away from in-person focus areas, such as Facebook Events and Facebook Marketplace, to provide more support, security, and functionality to areas such as Facebook Live, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, where user demand spiked significantly.
How buyers physically engage with businesses and receive products and services has also been dramatically affected.
The primary question for brands and businesses is this: How can we adjust employee and customer interactions to maximize safety and still deliver what customers want and need?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, considering the differences in respective businesses and their models, but here too some recurring approaches have surfaced:
- Implementation of chat where not present before, or expanded chat and phone support hours
- Virtual alternatives to previously in-person or sales-guided activities (e.g., self-guided demos, how-to videos)
- Expanded delivery and touchless options for product receipt and service implementation
- Increases in online educational content and FAQs to support ngagement and information gathering activity from afar
With economic uncertainty and adversity, buyers are understandably exercising more caution before saying yes to purchase decisions. Though price is sometimes paramount, expenditure timing and conditions are also crucial factors.
Businesses and brands need to ask themselves, What pricing adjustments, offers, or changes to buying terms can we extend to put prospects more at ease with procuring what they need?
As many would surmise, this is not simply a marketing question; rather, it will need input from multiple functional stakeholders, from Operations to Finance. Though companies continue to unveil creative approaches to enticing purchases, these are themes that have surfaced date:
- Removal of or changes to ancillary fees (e.g., shipping and handling) to encourage buying channel shifts
- Allowances for delayed payments and expanded financing options
- Extended free trials and broader cancellation condition options
- Lowered or bundled pricing to support higher average order volumes, even at lesser margins
Organizations need to assess not only the tactics or mediums they use to engage their audiences and deploy their marketing strategy but also the context of the messages they're transmitting via those channels.
That elicits two related questions:
- Will audiences seek out information related to my product or service in the same ways they always have?
- What do they need to hear from us in those messages?
We know, for example, that B2B who that have become accustomed to getting information via conferences and in-person exchanges are having to turn to digital channels even more.
Marketers will need to make obvious shifts in promotional spending, and some not as obvious ones, as well, by paying close attention to performance metrics that can signal where other changes need to be applied across the various tactics they use.
As for what messages are being promoted, B2B organizations should take care to blend commerce and compassion.
QuickBooks provides a good example. It reallocated previously planned media time and spend on an '80s-oriented campaign aimed at businesses that serve as "the backbone of our economy" with a "salute to their grit and determination." The commerce aspect was subtle, but QuickBooks made it clear that its "doors are open" and it's there to provide support.
Understanding and Adaptation
Marketing strategies were not conceived with disruptors like the coronavirus even remotely in mind. But responding to the business challenges the pandemic has wrought is something that marketers are well-suited to help address.
That’s because as marketers we're daily driven to understand and adjust to our customers' needs and pain points, find creative solutions to address their needs, and meet them where they are with messages that show "we know what you are going through and we are here to help."
The speed at which leaders and marketers are having to come to grips with the current climate and craft effective responses requires cutting through the 4Cs of chaos, calamity, confusion, and complexity. A deliberate review of the 4Ps of marketing in the context of this temporary new normal is a helpful construct to ensure your marketing strategy remains on the best possible course.