It’s been a worrying time for Australian business, as they try to navigate the economic fallout from the COVID-19 lockdown.
We’ve had figures on Australia’s budget deficit that even the Treasurer described as “sobering”, and closer to home for the recruitment industry, the unemployment figures were also grim reading, with the figure rising to 6.2% from 5.2% a month earlier.
Given this flurry of negative data, it’s understandable that recruitment firms across the country are considering battening down the hatches, reducing their cost base even further to offset reduced revenues.
One of these costs in many businesses is marketing, which begs the question: Is now the right time to cut marketing from your cost base?
A good way of answering this question is to look at what went before. Although the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-09 occurred for very different reasons, the net outcome was similar – a sharp drop in economic activity. What followed varied from company to company, but the evidence suggests that those who invested in marketing and looked at innovative ways to approach their target market flourished when the market bounced back.
So how should recruiters approach marketing this time around to ensure they come out of the downturn in better shape than before?
A different message for different times
One thing I’ve read many times on researching this article is how the messaging is key when marketing in a downturn. When your clients’ businesses are struggling, the last thing they want to hear is how wonderful life is in your world, which is traditionally what most recruiters are good at describing. Empathy and help are what they really need right now, and your marketing message needs to reflect this.
As a recent blog post from Yamini Rangan – Chief Customer Officer of NYSE- listed marketing company Hubspot – stated: “During times of crisis, the stakes are raised, and customers feel the impact of their experience with a business more acutely than during normal times. They remember the companies they heard from too often — and those they didn’t hear from enough. They remember the interactions that felt empathetic — and those that didn’t. And they remember the actions that truly provided help when it was needed the most.” Wise words indeed, from a lady who also lists Dropbox as a former employer.
Look after the people who look after you
Another common theme for marketing in difficult business conditions is to focus your attention on current customers, rather than new customer acquisition. I’m sure most recruiters don’t need reminding how challenging it is to market to companies they don’t know well at the moment, so why not spend your time cultivating your existing clients?
There are only so many times you can call an existing client to see how they are going, so digital marketing is a great way to keep your brand and message in front of your favourite customers. As marketing expert Bryan Smith from digital marketing consultancy BlueTrain Inc (we can’t deal with global multinationals all the time!) describes in a recent post, “if your pool of customers has shrunk due to an economic downturn, you simply cannot afford to forgo communication with the customers that are still in your pool.”
The competition for “air-time” is reduced in a recession
In his recent blog, Bryan goes on to say that “your competitors will likely be reducing marketing, improving your chances of increasing YOUR market share.” It’s a good point, as most recruitment firms probably won’t be spending their budget on content marketing (yet!), so now is a great time to get ahead of the competition.
Although we stated earlier that the focus should be on existing customers, the beauty of interesting and helpful content is that it can be shared and viewed by anyone who is active in your market sector (and beyond), so you may even increase your brand awareness outside of your current client list!
Is there a return on investment?
As with any business, recruitment firms want to see a return on their investment in marketing, especially now, and this is often where old habits die hard. As recruiters we tend to want to quantify every interaction (“how much is this placement worth to me?”) and marketing is not as easily quantifiable a metric. Fortunately, there are ways of tracking your efforts out there, and getting to know Google Analytics or considering marketing tracking tools is a good idea if you want to maximise your return.
Interestingly, Hubspot recently (April 2020) surveyed their client database of 70,000 businesses currently using their software, and the found that “Buyers continue engaging with marketing content at levels equal to or higher than pre-COVID averages.” The survey goes on to describe how email marketing campaigns are experiencing “staggeringly high open rate that is 25% higher than pre-COVID levels, a record for the year.” The graphic below makes for interesting reading.
I imagine most recruiters digesting the above are thinking that opening an email is a long way from getting a new role to work on, and that’s true, but what this information does show is that people are at least listening. How you convert this interest into sales depends heavily on how you use the data, and the old age that “if you can’t track it, don’t do it” is certainly true in marketing circles too.
Navigating this market will require a new way of thinking, and recruiters who rise to this challenge are likely to come out of the post Covid-19 world flourishing. Marketing needs to be a serious consideration in that thinking, as what you do now may impact the growth of your business for years to come.
Finally, one of the best quotes I’ve read on downturns in general (and it’s an old one), came from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. When asked, “What do you think about a recession?” he responded, “I thought about it and decided not to participate.”
If we have a growth mindset through these crazy times, who knows where it could lead in the future?
About Kevan Sangster: An experienced Recruitment and Consulting professional, with over 20 years business to business sales experience across both the UK and Australian markets, Kevan has strong management and business development background in the recruitment industry. This year he opened content marketing firm KS Marketing, which offers content strategy, creation and reporting services to the recruitment and consulting industries, allowing them to supplement their outbound sales model with targeted in-bound sales strategies designed to increase client acquisition, and ultimately, revenue.