Taking action now can keep your agency afloat during the challenging times ahead.
COVID-19 is a human tragedy, above all else. It is impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and threatens to continue doing so until a vaccine is available.
For hundreds of millions of people around the world, it is also an economic calamity. As home isolation quickly becomes the norm throughout the developed world, businesses in every industry are having to make difficult decisions.
As of April, 10 million jobs have vanished throughout the United States, and 6.6 million people have applied for unemployment benefits.
Digital agency owners, in particular, are going to find their clients increasingly hesitant to invest in digital marketing assets like new websites and customized WordPress applications. But that does not necessarily mean that agencies need to hunker down and wait it out.
The most optimistic experts say that a Coronavirus vaccine may be available within 12-18 months of the initial outbreak. Agency owners need a plan that ensures they can make it through a timeframe of that length – perhaps even longer.
Your Agency Has Two Choices: Freeze Marketing or Heat It Up
Most agencies are going to respond to the new economic climate in one of two ways:
- Freeze Your Marketing Budget. This is the path of least resistance. Instead of fighting to expand during this delicate time, you hunker down and prepare to wait it out. If you can keep your customer contracts going, that’s great, but you won’t actively be searching for new ones.
- Heat Marketing Up. This is the harder (but potentially far more rewarding) path. Although expanding during an economic crisis is risky, you can leverage the innate advantages of digital marketing to make your business grow considerably over the next year.
The temptation to freeze your marketing efforts and wait until a better business climate comes along will be strong. But business owners with a gift for strategic thinking are not going to give in so quickly.
While small-scale, tactical questions are sure to induce panic, (i.e. “How do I retain xyz company as my client if they froze their marketing budget?”) the big, strategic questions that agency owners should ask themselves have far more optimistic answers.
Examples of the kinds of big-picture questions agency owners should be asking include:
- Does nationwide at-home isolation mean that people will stop buying things?
- Will the Coronavirus outbreak eliminate the demand for non-essential goods and services?
- Will international and domestic travel bans mean that people stop communicating with one another?
- Is my industry more or less competitive now than it was a year ago?
- How can I reconceptualize my business to accommodate this new environment?
Answering these questions should give you the motivation you need to develop a plan for expanding your operations and building a bigger, stronger, and more resilient web agency in the coming months.
How Post-COVID Web Agencies Need to Work
Adapting to the new business environment and positioning yourself for success in a world dominated by Coronavirus fears is going to be challenging. You are going to have to restructure some of the fundamental aspects of the way your business works.
Fortunately, digital marketing agencies will find themselves more resilient to the worst economic knock-on effects of nationwide at-home isolation. Web developers, designers, and marketers are far better prepared to work at home than many other types of employees.
Automotive engineers and hospitality workers, for example, are being furloughed at every level of their respective industries. But looking at those industries can give digital marketers an important perspective on how to move forward. Remember the big-picture, strategic questions:
- “Are people still going to need cars and car repair services?” They certainly will. Wuhan is home to the world’s biggest car manufacturers, and supply-side shortages are going to force people to get more mileage out of their current vehicles than ever before.
- “Are people still going to go on vacation?” They might not go to Milan or Barcelona, but they will go somewhere. Off-the-beaten-path destinations and camping trips are going to take precedence overcrowded tourist-trap cities.
These are just two examples. Human ingenuity is going to find a path forward in every industry, and the people responsible will rely on people like you to get the word out, once they do.
The marketing world is going to need to adapt in more ways than simply telling employees to work at home. Some of the most important things that agencies will need to do starting today include:
Take Decisive Action Towards Your Employees and Clients
The first thing every agency needs to do is prioritize human health. That means putting your co-workers, clients, and vendors first when it comes to longstanding agency policies. It might mean re-assessing your tech stack to enable long-term remote collaboration between yourself, your team, and your clients and vendors.
It will also mean engaging and communicating more often – with everyone. Many agencies are going silent during the crisis, and our opinion is that this is a bad move. Even if you can’t do something right now, engaging your community is an incredibly important step towards navigating this new territory.
If you don’t know where to start, begin by asking questions. Find out what your co-worker’s pain points are. Find out what your clients and vendors are dealing with. Consider taking this time to conduct in-depth customer development interviews to find out how you can position your agency to help.
Address Near-term Cash Management Resilience
Resolving the immediate challenges of your agency’s transition to the realities of the new digital marketing industry is going to require resilience. It is likely you will have to make investments in technologies, products, and services that you did not expect to acquire. Maintaining your cash management resilience has to take center-stage until the economic situation is consolidated.
In many cases, this requires freezing or reducing costs throughout the organization. Gartner recommends focusing on costs that you can truly reduce or eliminate from your cost base. Freezing out costs for the current period simply means putting them off until later, and that’s a dangerous move.
Reposition to Add Value to Your Industry Niche
Few experts would support the claim that the Coronavirus outbreak is going to destroy entire industries. It could, if left unchecked, generate catastrophic structural damage to the economy, but even that does not necessarily mean it’s game-over for digital agencies.
History is full of examples of successful commercial repositioning leading to success during trying times. Both soap manufacturer Procter and Gamble and Martin Guitars supercharged their marketing efforts and repositioned themselves to great success during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The former relied on sponsoring daily radio broadcast serials aimed at stay-at-home mothers, their core market. We owe the term soap opera to Procter and Gamble using melodramatic serial entertainment to sell cleaning products.
The latter moved from making gut-stringed orchestra-style guitars used in the country and jazz ensembles to the steel-stringed “Dreadnought” style guitar favored by bluesmen. Traveling the country with a 20-person orchestra became impractical, while venue owners flocked to the smaller, less expensive competitors that consisted of three to five members.
The better and more streamlined your branding efforts are, the more you will be able to benefit from them over time. This is even true if the products and services you market are not COVID-friendly.
Create Pent-up Demand for Non-essential Goods and Services
Let’s say that your niche market is something that simply will not sell in the throes of a public health crisis. It’s a fair assessment and one that you should be prepared for if that happens to be the case.
If the demand for your products or services has disappeared or gotten entangled in the crisis to the point where it has become impossible to deliver. You still stand to benefit by creating content and broadcasting it to your clients and their customers. That demand is going to come back, and you want to be sure you are standing at the forefront of your market when it does.
The 2007-2008 Hollywood writer’s strike offers a poignant example. Neil Patrick Harris, Joss Whedon, and several other high-profile actors, writers, and producers collaborated to create the self-financed Internet absurdist superhero comedy Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, which took advantage of the vacuum of new televised content and pushed its stars to the forefront of the entertainment industry.
You can do this without having to break the bank. Use webinars to educate your existing or prospective clients. Develop content that speaks to their needs. Offer discounts or credit vouchers to keep them interested in developing their marketing plans. In short, don’t give up, and don’t let your clients give up either!
Look for a Pivot Point
Take some time to look at what other agencies are doing. This can inform your strategy for finding a pivot point that will guide you towards a new way of doing business.
It’s clear that business-as-usual is not going to be sustainable right now. But many industries are thriving right now, and with the right digital marketing approach, you can help them expand. Finding a way to pivot your niche experience and offering into a successful industry (or a niche that is dependent on one) can become a game-changing advantage:
Some of the industries that experts predict will do well in this environment include:
- Health supplement manufacturers
- IT Support and managed service vendors
- Online businesses and e-commerce
- Streaming and digital entertainment
- Grocery stores and specialty markets
- Remote-equipped tech businesses
Not all of these are “essential” businesses, either. Liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries that support home delivery have seen tremendous growth in the past month. The video game and streaming industries have seen a predictable spike in sales, as well.
Accessing these industries might require changing some of your tried-and-true methods and processes. That’s the nature of adapting to new conditions. In many cases, offering smaller product packages, or productized services can help keep digital agencies afloat during this type of crisis.
Take Advantage of Your Time and Resources Now
This period of time is of particular importance for web agencies trying to get on stable footing for the challenges ahead. Your staff may have extra time on their hands at the moment, and you can use that time to turn inwards, fix the broken parts of your business structure, improve your products’ user experience, and expand the depth of your understanding of your target market.
But most importantly, make sure that you continue to show your customers, partners, and vendors what you are working on. Having an active messaging campaign running now is fundamentally more valuable than it was a year ago, or than it will be in another year. Make sure your community knows that your agency is committed to delivering on its promises even during challenging times.