By Hannah Shain

As we kick off our marketing plans for the new year, entering what to me feels a bit like an unknown abyss, it’s hard to make any sort of predictions. Given all that we learned in 2020, it’s hard to say what we can expect in terms of changing buyer behavior, trade shows happening virtually or in-person (or both), or even how organic traffic will be impacted in the coming year with all the new campaigns we’ve run. 2020 threw us (by us, I mean “the collective marketing leaders of the world,” us) a freaking curveball that we’re all still feeling a bit crippled by. 

This isn’t yet another end-of-year prediction piece, but rather an opinion piece. Here’s my opinion on what we should plan for as we face some of the biggest shifts in marketing strategy our industry has ever seen, specifically related to customer advocacy. Before I forget, my colleague Alejandra Melara recently covered the first topic of this series, on account-based marketing, that’s well worth a read. 

Shift in Buyer Behavior: Conduct Persona Interviews

No doubt, the biggest shift we have seen, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, is in buyer behavior. The obvious direct-to-consumer industries were forced to reevaluate customer experience when it comes to convenience and safety. Other industries completely shifted their model, some pivoting so quickly that they went to market with completely new minimum viable products, just to stay relevant. 

If your business has weathered this storm and you have the bandwidth and resources to invest in customer marketing and advocacy, I urge you to make it a Q1 priority to conduct buyer persona interviews

Build from Scratch or Refresh Existing Personas

You might be thinking, “We have all our personas built out.” But have you iterated on those personas since the pandemic? Do you know what (new) problems your clients are facing, and how your products and services are helping them? 

It’s paramount that your frontline marketer—the marketer who owns the relationship with your top champions and advocates—(re)establish an understanding of your customer profile. This goes deeper than maintaining a healthy relationship with your advocates that’s rooted in empathy or running a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, but rather serves as internal enablement, coaching everyone from account managers to the C-suite on the current landscape of your clientele. 

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Here are a few questions (and then few more questions) I suggest asking, while you conduct post-pandemic persona interviews:

  • What changes has your executive team/company made to shift with the changing economy?
  • How has your response to COVID-19 had an impact on your customer?
  • How has your decision-making process evolved through the pandemic? 
  • Have there been any changes to how you conduct research or evaluate new tools?

Shift in Events: Prepare for Always-Digital or Always-Hybrid

For so many years, my annual marketing plan for lead generation has always been anchored on field marketing, events, and tradeshows. These events were hugely influential in how we hit our number. 

When building our marketing plan for the coming year, this is still the biggest gray area for us, and where I’m still holding onto hope that we get to gather in large conference halls and wait in line to get into sponsored parties. However, I know that no matter where 2021 leads us, we need to prepare for an always-digital or always-both (digital and in-person) hybrid event model.

For customer advocacy, there are a couple of primary event models that come into play: customer advisory board (CAB) meetings and user groups. 

Customer Advisory Board Meeting Strategy

Go fully digital with your CAB meetings in 2021, and beyond. The worst thing you can do is cancel the CAB meetings or postpone them until a later, unknown date, with the hope to meet in person someday soon. 

Your advisory board is your elite group of customers who shape your messaging, go-to-market strategy, and product roadmap. In light of this pandemic, you need their feedback to carry on, now more than ever. Going always-digital for CAB meetings is, quite honestly, the absolute best way to fit into everyone’s busy schedule, pandemic or not. 

Here are a few tips to make the most out of your CAB meetings:

  • Treat the CAB like your bank account. You need to make some deposits before you can make a withdrawal. What value are you providing to your elite customers? Is there more in it for them than there is for you?
  • Send out a well-prepared agenda and objective before the call.
  • Conduct 1:1 recorded persona or testimonial interviews just after the call. I find this is always the best timing, because your customers are in the right state of mind to speak highly of your organization. They’ll likely have more open and transparent responses to your interview questions after being around other CAB members. 
  • Keep the meeting to seven participants (plus or minus two), and use facilitation tools to go round-robin and get everyone participating in the meeting.

User Group Strategy 

Go hybrid for your regional user groups. It’s my opinion that marketing events will slowly be reintroduced back to our way of working, and I’m hopeful this will start at the small, local level. Connecting with your regional user groups will be a great way to start small. 

That said, if you’re personally hosting the regional events (or perhaps you have a network of local champions running them for you), equip the event organizers with A/V equipment to livestream the event. 

Here are some ideas for making the most out of a hybrid user group:

  • Offer something exclusive to digital viewers, for instance, you could go live on social (e.g., LinkedIn Live) for a pre-show interview with a guest speaker.
  • If your format for the user group is a presentation plus happy hour, try to livestream the presentation. 
  • Raffle out $5-$15 gift cards for GrubHub/Drizzly to people who attend virtually, so they can “join the happy hour.”
  • Ask customers who are joining virtually to submit questions via video ahead of time, so you can play their question to the audience during the event. 

Shift in Customer Experience (CX): Prepare for Instant Gratification & Hyper-Personalization

I think it’s fair to say that there has definitely been a shift in consumer expectation toward instant gratification. In the future, I’m sure we’ll coin this term as the “Amazon Prime'' effect, or something like that. Thank you, Bezos. 

Adrian Swinscoe’s Forbes article summarized consumer needs for instant gratification like so: “In e-commerce ... Will packages arrive when promised? Can they receive text updates on the progress of shipments? Were items they purchased actually out of stock?”

Synchronizing Client Services and Marketing

The fun comes in when marketing executives start to collaborate with product and client services teams to think through how they can provide that “instant gratification” in their customer journey. What does this look like for B2B companies, services organizations, healthcare, manufacturing, and others? 

Personally, I would love to see more customer marketing campaigns where we play with customer data. I don’t want to wait for our account manager to give me a QBR presentation to see how we’re trending or how well our team is using your product. I want that data now, and I want it presented to me in a creative, compelling, personal way. 

Here are two examples to paint this picture for you:

  1. MailChimp released a 2020 Annual Report, rolling up all of their user data into a really neat experience. This leans more toward great customer experience than personalization, but it’s still a fantastic example of how to use customer data in marketing campaigns. 
  2. SmartBug produced holiday videos for customers. OK, so this was my own marketing campaign, but it’s worth talking about. We wanted to end the year with a personalized video to all of our customers, highlighting three key milestones they achieved by partnering with us. Each customer of ours received a unique, animated video. Here’s the roll-up video, with more generalized stats: 

 

Personalization Animated Videos - ABM Example

Personalization is not just a function of how advanced your MarTech tools and technology are, but rather a display of how you care deeply about your customers. You’re on a good track toward instant gratification as you lean into blending customer empathy with digital personalization. 

So, that’s it for me. Consumer expectations and buying behaviors have certainly changed, and we marketers are still left scrambling for creative ways to ramp up lead generation, maintain loyalty, and build relationships in a remote-digital landscape. I’m hoping some ideas I have shared here will be actionable for you in the year to come. 

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Hannah Shain

About the author

Hannah Shain is Smartbug's Marketing Director. She leads all things demand generation, brand, marketing automation and more. She is an energetic, ambitious, witty, and driven leader with over 12 years of professional experience in marketing. She leads all marketing initiatives driving pipeline, increasing lead velocity, and building a lovable brand. On any given day, Hannah will dip her toes in digital marketing; advertising; PR; creative; brand; content; customer advocacy programs; client relations; account-based campaigns; user conferences; community management; public relations; & market research. Hannah has a creative heart and a strategic mind. Read more articles by Hannah Shain.

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