Snap, crackle, pop.
Every American knows what those sounds mean, but we might not if Kellogg’s took the same approach to marketing as Post at the beginning of the Great Depression – a lesson that is especially relevant today.
(Although that’s important, too!)
On Oct. 24, 1929, the Kellogg Company’s managers likely reacted to the collapse of the country’s stock market prices like most people did: with disbelief and horror. One of the largest and most successful cereal companies in the country moved from normal business to knee-deep in an all-consuming crisis with seemingly no exit.
Sleeves were rolled up, teeth gritted, spines set. The dominant cereal company at the time, C.W. Post, reacted to the Great Depression as many did: they slashed their costs, cut way back on their advertising, and prepared to wait the bad times out.
Instead, they tried something different. They invested heavily in a new product that had debuted a couple of years before, throwing marketing muscle and advertising behind an unassuming concoction of rice paste that was formed into tiny little grains.
And when you added milk to their new cereal, something interesting happened. It popped!
Rice Krispies were affordable for families whose food budgets had all but been wiped out by the depression. Kids enjoyed the taste and the sound the cereal made as it reacted with milk. Kellogg’s profited heavily during a time when most businesses were just trying to survive, and eventually outpaced their competitors at Post. Nowadays, Kellogg’s continues to dominate the breakfast cereal market even to today, decades later.
During the recession of 1990-1991, McDonalds slashed their advertising. Again, it was a move that seemed to make sense during hard times ... and also provided an opportunity for their competitors Taco Bel and Pizza Hut, who continued to advertise and grew their sales while McDonalds' declined.
Make no mistake: Like our current times, the Great Depression and the Great Recession were a challenge for businesses … but also an opportunity for businesses ready and willing to roll with the punches. It’s a matter of retaining clients, taking advantage of an audience spending more time than ever online and avoiding ways of thinking that can blind you to opportunities.
Call it the great pivot.
"It’s a matter of retaining clients, taking advantage of an audience spending more time than ever online and avoiding ways of thinking that can blind you to opportunities. Call it the great pivot."
Client Retention: Communication is Key
“I think what’s important about any communication at this time is that it’s not business as usual. I almost laugh when I see emails coming in that are just completely tone deaf,” says Sean Parnell, President of B2B marketing firm Innovaxis and a long-term content partner of Payroll Tax Management. “I think there needs to be acknowledgement that life has changed, and so too has what your customers and prospects need.”
In a recent blog post on their website, Innovaxis laid out three strategies companies can take to effectively communicate with their client bases. The first part of their strategy? Keeping clients informed about your firm’s status and operations.
That’s evergreen advice for any company, but in a time of unprecedented job insecurity it’s especially true for the payroll industry. Parnell’s history with PTM and writing for its audience has given him some valuable insights into what payroll providers need to do for their clients during the ongoing crisis.
“I think it’s going to be choppy waters, especially for the next three to six months,” Parnell cautions. “The last thing you want to worry about as an employer is your payroll provider dropping the ball. Because then you’re exposed to payroll tax liabilities.”
Listening and asking questions are valuable and proactive things payroll providers can do now, Parnell advises. Even asking simple questions can help firm up relationships and reassure skittish clients.
“You need your ear close to the ground right now. Be a partner, not a vendor. Listening to what they have to say is fertile ground for innovation – talk to five of your customers and you might come up with 10-20 new ideas that can help you grow,” he says. “Otherwise, you can get blindsided by your competitors that do. Being reactive increases your risk of losing clients and also failing to capitalize on the rebound if things really ramp up quickly and you’re not ready.
“Likewise, talk to your partners. Tell them what you’re experiencing, listen to their advice and ask how they can help.”
PTM’s Vice President of Marketing, Jeanne Rogers, agrees – especially from a marketing perspective. “The best thing a marketer can do right now is focus on their current client base,” says Rogers. “That’s the best advice I could give anyone.”
For the employers relying on PTM’s critical services, that means helping her clients make sense of a regulatory landscape that dramatically changed in 2020.
“What employers want to know right now is how they navigate the new landscape, like issues related to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the CARES Act,” says Rogers. “Or what’s the strategy for a depleted workforce? Employers need help, starting from whatever COVID is for them, and they need to be communicated to.”
Email’s an obvious choice for a line of communication with clients. And we may be in a time where it’s at its peak effectiveness.
Capitalizing on Increased Engagement – Email and Social Media
Business consultants McKinsey & Company found email marketing is nearly 40 times more effective at finding new customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. The overwhelming number of Americans who regularly use email (91 percent, according to McKinsey) and the low material cost (no postage!) make email a potent tool for a company looking to cut back on costs during a crisis.
Moreover, email marketing seems to be genuinely thriving during the COVID-19 crisis. Marketing firm LiveIntent says emails have enjoyed greater engagement in recent weeks, particularly newsletters, with email marketers seeing a 5 percent increase in email opens.
That engagement trend is further backed up by marketing technology provider HubSpot. In their weekly COVID-19 benchmark report, HubSpot is finding buyers are looking for and engaging with businesses with a greater frequency than they were a month ago – along with a 13% increase in website traffic.
However, Parnell warns effective emails have to be driven with solid planning and messaging even in a time of higher engagement. “It’s pretty common, I think, to get higher response rates than normal,” Parnell says. “We’ve seen prospect engagement rates much higher than before, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to become a lead, especially if you have a tone-deaf email. Getting them to open your email is only half the battle.”
Emails are another area where close communication with clients pays off. “If you want something out there that really maps to what your audience might need today, the only way you’re going to get an understanding of that is to talk to as many people as you can and speak directly to what they want. Everyone wants to cut unnecessary costs and find new opportunities – so help them see how you can do that for them,” states Parnell.
Greater empathy is also important, Parnell advises. “You want to turn that into a more empathetic message, that you understand what’s going on, that you’re in the same boat.”
If you’re new to email marketing – or perhaps aren’t making full use of it – it’s never too late to start. An important first step is building a database based on your current clients, even if you’re not using an email platform.
“This is foundational,” says Rogers. “Get your database, get your email addresses and contact names compiled in a reachable place, so when you do go to an email platform, you have it. And if you have extra time on your hands, start building that infrastructure and get a baseline platform,” Rogers says. Even if you cannot afford a robust marketing automation platform like HubSpot, Pardot or Marketo, “there’s tons of entry-level platforms available, like Constant Contact and MailChimp.”
Increase Your Social Profile
Like email, social media is also enjoying something of a renaissance during the crisis.
More than ever, social networks such as Twitter are where users are turning for news, information and connection. Scrolling through a Twitter feed can offer a quick primer on what people are talking and concerned about … and what it might mean for your business.
"More than ever, social networks such as Twitter are where users are turning for news, information and connection. Scrolling through a Twitter feed can offer a quick primer on what people are talking and concerned about … and what it might mean for your business."
Take Facebook: Facing a declining user base not long ago along with intense criticism over data and privacy concerns, the long-standing social network has seen its profile rise considerably in 2020. A recent internal report found messaging increased by over 50 percent in countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Setting up a personal profile on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels is a simple yet effective act, advises Rogers. “If they don’t have a social profile, they should start one. If they already have a profile, they should make sure they’re following all their clients, trade associations, and partners and start to engage.”
Joining LinkedIn groups is especially helpful; it’s an easy way to keep tuned to what’s happening in your industry. “On all your social media profiles, make sure you like, comment and share posts of your audience as you are an extension of your company,” Rogers advises.
Social selling is critical. But like email, it’s also an area where tone and content matter. “Be a resource and don’t just sell, help” says Rogers. Here’s an example: If you come across and article from somewhere in your industry, just share it – curated content from a well-known and established author or publisher might just be what your audience needs to support them.
PTM has discovered that social time equals time well spent. “At PTM, we do plan our content out weeks in advance, but in this environment, we feel we have to be ready to pounce on news and updates to keep our audiences informed,” says Rogers. This is a pivot if you’ve never considered the effectiveness of social media to your business.
Adopting the Right Mindset and Moving with the Times
For business owners, it’s important to remember that hardship can bring opportunities, too. The Harvard Business Review offers a three-step process in which owners examine their business model, consider the connections between the various parts of their model and then map out objectives for their business – both during and after the crisis.
Avoiding snap decisions is crucial, especially for businesses contemplating layoffs. Parnell cautions his clients against cutting staff. “You’re nothing without your people,” he says, urging business owners to retain as much as their staff as they can. Not only is investing in your own people a smart move, advises Parnell, it’s also part of looking forward to when the current crisis inevitably ends. “Otherwise, your key people could go work for your competition (or become your competition) and there could be a rush on talent before you know it,” he says.
For a business that can pivot and adapt, there are opportunities out there. Having the right mindset is key, says Parnell. “The hardest thing to break out of is the scarcity mentality. Especially in a pandemic when people are talking about a depression,” says Parnell.
Adopting an abundance mentality can make all the difference. “Having the confidence to know that, even though times are as bad as they are, you can grow on the other side of it if you innovate new and keep/add talent,” Parnell says. “And know that in every crisis there’s a lot of opportunity out there – right now. If you ask questions and listen, you will find it and you might find even something that’s so big it’s like drinking from a firehose.”
People who rise to that challenge tend to succeed, says Parnell. “They look for opportunity, they innovative and they come out of it stronger. Now is a time for agility.”
“We plan on coming out of this stronger than ever before – with all of our people,” states Parnell.
You're Not Alone
Payroll taxes weren’t exactly simple before the pandemic, and they’ve gotten more complex now. Payroll Tax Management is here to support you as a resource and keep you updated with the swift changes we all are experiencing.