What 2020 Taught Me, Viewed Through a ‘Youthful Marketer’ Mindset

Our chairman and CEO has compared the necessary mindset of our company to that of a teenager. As teenagers, we are full of life and hope, dreaming of all the possibilities ahead. Life is perceived as a smorgasbord of opportunities to be approached fearlessly, unafraid to try new things – even with the risk of failure. 

youthful marketing

As we mature into adulthood, we may become complacent in our success and resistant to change. We must resist this mindset. If we hope to forge ahead and do great things, we must stay young, curious, and bold, trying new things so we continue to learn and grow. 

I feel the same way about marketing. 

An organization’s marketing efforts need to evolve and grow, else you risk wasting precious resources and limiting your true potential as a business. Growth does not happen without making mistakes – and that’s just as true in marketing as it is in life. 

No matter where your business stands in terms of your marketing strategy, there is no better time to reevaluate your commitment. You decide: Do you want to be an “aging marketer” who is set in their ways, stagnated and no longer dreaming? Or do you want to be young at heart, inquisitive, and willing to learn new techniques and tools in a constantly changing industry? 

Let’s fully acknowledge the impact the pandemic had on all of our businesses. Uncertain times may be cause for some to lay low and play it safe, but I feel there can be many positive results, if we invest wisely in ourselves and our businesses by being bold. Take a page from the book “They Ask. You Answer.” by Marcus Sheridan. In 2008, he was the owner of River Pools and Spas. As a small business owner with employees, a mortgage and a family, the economic crisis was terrifying and forced him to pivot his sales and marketing strategies. He leaned into inbound marketing and became obsessed with earning his customers’ trust by answering every question they asked through the content he published on his website. It saved his company. 

Sheridan isn’t the only expert to believe in the power of investing in marketing during a downturn. In a recent Forbes article, Nathan Hall states, “This crisis is the worst time to cut back on your marketing efforts.” The article continues to note that a positive side effect of other companies decreasing their online advertising is that the prices on Google have decreased. Couple that with double-digit digital commerce growth in 2020, making now the perfect time to invest in an online strategy. 

Historic proof that businesses can experience success when they make the decision to forge ahead is one thing; experiencing it firsthand is another. These last 11 months have presented a number of opportunities and as an organization we chose to forge ahead. The lessons learned and the successes earned speak for themselves. 

Lessons learned

The digital consumer is already here 

Buyers (consumer and B2B alike) have turned to the digital world this past year more than ever. Buyers were already going online to research the answers to their questions. If they were 70% complete with the buying process before we knew they existed prior to COVID-19, it stands to reason our buyers are only further along in their research process by the time they reach out to one of our sales reps today. We have to be the ones providing the helpful content they find. We establish trust by educating and being more transparent. We spent most of the year reworking our website and writing new content to be as helpful as possible to our solution providers. We had already created content around topics we traditionally had shied away from, like pricing and best providers. 

Our video content and video training for sales was put to good use too, since today’s digital buyer enjoys consuming video content more than ever. According to Wyzowl’s State of Video Marketing Survey, 91% of marketers feel the pandemic has made video more important for brands. In 2020, we were able to use our website as a resource for customers and prospects and build on that content. 

What is your content strategy for the coming year? Is your website still an online brochure? If yes, take this time to evaluate what you can do to ensure you have content that answers common questions about your solutions. Are you using video to help your buyers easily consume the information they are seeking? If you haven’t already, read “They Ask. You Answer.” and use it as a guide to produce the content that will have the most impact on your buyer’s journey and your sales teams’ success. 

Virtual events can help us connect 

While certainly a distant second in many ways to meeting your customers and prospects in person, virtual events have proven a worthy investment for us. And while “Zoom Fatigue” became a thing, the webinars and virtual trade shows will continue to be a viable avenue to connect and educate; we just need to keep learning and improving to figure out how to really engage our prospects and customers. I also learned that our customers still like to learn from their peers. So anything we can do to help facilitate that will continue in 2021 and beyond. 

Have you tried hosting a webinar featuring successful customers who can share best practices with your prospects and customers? Crafting a video of one of your customers sharing their experience or journey is still a viable approach – just use video conferencing software and hit “record.” 

Customer-centric mindset eclipses all 

Office technology providers have traditionally been highly focused on the needs of their customers, and we strive to be as well. This year, the needs of our customers seemingly changed on a dime. Any content we had planned going into spring 2020 suddenly became irrelevant. We scrapped what we had in the works and were able to pivot to help our customers with content that was relevant in the moment. Our marketing team leaned into our sales team for real-time feedback on what the needs were. I personally called customers and heard firsthand what was working and what their current challenges were. We pushed out a quick survey or two and our analytics showed that our marketing content resonated. This level of customer understanding is only increasing in importance in 2021 and beyond. 

Are you in tune with your customer needs? I mean really in tune with them. Use all the resources at your disposal to understand their needs, challenges and opportunities. Your sales and marketing efforts will rise with your level of customer understanding. 

Improved communication with sales Is possible no matter where we work

Despite most of us working from home and being socially distanced from one another, our marketing and sales teams worked closer together in 2020 than ever before. As previously mentioned, we knew we had to pivot our content to address the most relevant customer concerns. To do this effectively, we had to be purposeful in reaching out to sales and sales leadership to thoroughly understand our customers. We held more video calls with individuals on our sales team, more focus group discussions, more sales leader meetings, and more time preparing to present or ask for feedback at sales meetings than ever before. This work continues. If we are going to be true “teenagers of marketing” we will need to always be curious and ask good questions of our sales team and our customers. We will need to push ourselves to attain even closer sales and marketing alignment so that we can dream and try new tactics in order to take our sales and marketing to new levels. This ultimately helps our customers achieve their goals; a true win win.

There’s hope for the CRM data issue 

For many years, we’ve been trying to chip away at our customer relationship management software data clean up. We’ve known that to reach our current prospects and customers effectively and share our helpful content with them, we need clean data in our CRM. 2020 gave us the perfect incentive to spend some time with our sales team working on our data cleanup. The sudden shift to “all things digital” was a wake-up call for all of us and everyone was aligned in wanting to be better at reaching the right contacts when we needed. We started much differently this time. Instead of the call out to “please clean up your lists” and seeing the glossy-eyed stare of an overwhelmed sales rep, we focused our requests on specific market segments with very specific deadlines. This approach worked better than any other approach we had attempted before and while we have more work to do, we are making good progress with momentum going into 2021.

Data driven decisions make a big difference 

The most amazing thing about digital marketing and inbound marketing is that you have the ability to track and measure your efforts. Our analytics through HubSpot and Google provided us with the indicators of what was working and what was not. We were able to learn and adapt quickly. If an email did not have a very good open rate, we could experiment with the subject line next time. If the blog did not have very high traffic, we could focus our content topics on areas that were received better. At the risk of revealing my inner marketing geek, the more you review these metrics, the more curious you become. It can be pretty addictive!

Aging has its benefits. There is wisdom that comes with age. However, no matter how old our companies or our marketing approaches become, it’s important we keep the mindset of a teenager. Like our youth, we should always be eager to learn and excited to try new things to become better. In the times we face today, there is no room for complacency. It’s time to reflect on what we are doing, being curious and bold enough to understand how we can learn and improve. Our sales and marketing teams should be pushing each other outside our comfort zones in order to evolve and remain relevant to the markets we serve. What are your lessons learned in marketing this year? How can your organization use this downturn to focus on your customer, try new things and come out stronger on the other side of this? 

is director, strategic marketing for the Office Equipment Group at GreatAmerica Financial Services. Using over 20 years of marketing experience, she helps guide the strategic marketing direction of the Office Equipment Group, and is responsible for the marketing and public relations planning and execution for the business unit.