5 marketing strategies that work even in uncertain times

The views expressed by the contributing Entrepreneurs are their own.

The startup world is in disarray as I write this and the financial outlook is not good. Many companies are making mass layoffs, scaling back initiatives, and rethinking their entire approach to sales and marketing. It won’t always be that way — it’s a cycle — but that doesn’t make it much easier as you go through it. The big question every marketer seems to have is, “What can we do?”

Get started with these five startup marketing moves. They’re a great foundation for any marketing strategy, even at the best of times, but they’re especially wise at the worst. Implement them, and when the cycle turns again, you may find yourself head and shoulders above your competitors.

Related: 5 Marketing Mistakes Startups Must Avoid To Survive

1. Talk to your customers!

When in doubt, talk to your customers. What are they going through, what do they need and what do they foresee happening in the next three, six, 12 months? What concerns them may be news to you, and what bothers you may not concern them at all. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  • How are things now compared to this time a year ago?

  • Are you looking to spend more, less or about the same in this area?

  • What is the biggest challenge right now?

  • What do you think will be the biggest challenge in six months? 12?

  • What would make you buy this thing or upgrade your account?

  • What will stop you from spending money on it?

  • What do we do that you particularly like? That you don’t?

Use these customer interviews to shape your marketing.

2. Create frictionless shopping experiences

The best customer experiences remove anything that prevents a customer from making a purchase. “Frictionless” is always a good goal, but uncertain times like these are when you have to look for extravagant ways to remove friction.

Some ideas to turn your gears:

  • Create a migration tool that allows customers to switch their data from competitors to you.

  • Offer something incredible for free or at a huge discount to get people in the door – your lowest plan, onboarding, shipping, managed service, etc. Hubspot did incredibly well during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Show product or pricing and put control in the buyer’s hands.

  • Do the work for clients — create templates, packages, widgets, or the like that they would normally have to invest time and energy into.

Through this, you can turn an ugly landscape into a great opportunity for both you and your customers.

Related: 7 Free Steps to Promote Your Bootstrapped Startup

3. Communicate clearly and consistently

The groups that are present are the ones that are remembered. This is especially true in times of uncertainty, instability and crisis. The caveat is that you can’t just repeat what everyone else is saying. You have to lead.

Take a position on an issue, flesh out your position and messaging, and communicate it. If there is so much volatility that you don’t yet know where you stand or don’t have the data to make a decision, share it. Bring people into the circle. Be the brand or thought leader. Getting all eyes on you creates significant leverage for your sales and marketing.

4. Bet bigger where you can

A knee-jerk reaction in uncertain times is to cut back, but think about it: All your competitors are cutting back. This is the perfect time to double down on what works. You can increase the gap between you and your competitors. Then, whenever the circle itself gets right, you’ll be so far ahead with so much momentum, no one will be able to catch you.

You still need to be responsible with your resources. If you can invest real dollars into projects and channels that are already working or that you know your customers need, that’s great. If you don’t have money, invest your time.

Options that require more time than money include:

  • Building your social media presence and brand

  • Create content for your blog and other channels

  • PR and earned media — find ways and means to tell your story

  • Refreshing your existing content, website and workflows

  • Search Engine Optimization

  • Strengthen your community of customers or followers

Note: If you are under pressure to increase revenue yesterday, account upgrades and repeat purchases are likely your lowest earners. Otherwise, invest in creating a bigger gap between you and your competitors.

Related: 7 Paid Marketing Steps to Fuel Your Startup Growth

5. Check your functions

Features tend to fall into the “we’ll worry about that later” bin. You usually have enough fires to put out trying to generate and capture demand, among other tasks, that operations get pushed to the side. But those times when everyone pauses and reevaluates are perfect opportunities to review your operations and metrics, such as:

  • Cost of customer acquisition

  • Customer retention and repeat purchases

  • Annual policy value or annual expense

  • Workflows

  • Automations

  • Customer personas and purchase journeys (see section 1)

  • Quarterly targets and KPIs

“What gets measured gets improved.” Review your operations and other metrics to determine how good or bad you really are, where you can improve, and where you can afford to bet bigger (see section 4). Use this data to inform your marketing strategy.

Don’t react too quickly

All things come in cycles. No matter how dire the current situation is, sunny days are coming when your business can thrive. Be careful not to make such hasty decisions – you don’t want to suffer long-term in exchange for temporary relief. Track your metrics, take care of your customers, communicate clearly and consistently, and make some big bets. You may be surprised at how well things can turn out for you.

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