You would have to be living in a hole at the bottom of a well in a deserted monastery not to have heard anything about the actual, potential and imagined woes of Brexit, whether it be a No Deal, May’s Deal, Norway+++ or Siberia—! The ongoing negotiations have brought economic volatility, leaving many business owners shrouded in a cloud of apprehension about what the future holds for their enterprise, holding their breath, paralysed into inaction. Whatever the outcome of the ongoing negotiations, or the stalemate in Parliament, British businesses need to take some immediate practical steps to ensure that they survive Brexit and beyond. Nick Evans, Chairman of ExtraMile Communications Ltd, the international digital marketing agency, tells businesses what he feels they need to do to be “Brexilient”:
There are worrying statistics for us to consider as business owners from the Sage/YouGov survey, which says that “although 66% of UK companies say Brexit will impact them, only 21% of small businesses have started adapting their business processes to prepare.” Moreover, “40% of UK businesses aren’t sure when they’ll begin preparing and 34% aren’t sure how long they will need to prepare for Brexit.”
As if all this is not sufficiently worrying, the impact of Brexit is already being felt, even though it has not yet been enacted: “45% of UK businesses say Brexit is impacting their confidence—and is therefore impacting their business.” Given that business is a web of interactions between product creators, service providers, suppliers and customers, it’s a certain fact that what impacts one of us will surely knock on to the rest, either directly or indirectly.
It’s under this cloud of uncertainty that businesses, large and small, across the UK are trying to do their work with some semblance of normality. But, it’s a strain. So, how should businesses approach this maelstrom of conflicting opinions, pulled by “leave and remain forces”, jostled by the damaging winds of currency and stock market fluctuations? Here are some thoughts on common issues raised by beleaguered business owners surrounding Brexit:
It’s the end of the world and we’re all going to go out of business.
It’s probably true to say that, unless your business is already holed below the waterline, it will probably survive, regardless of the outcome of the Government’s activities. The certainty is, though, that if you don’t address Brexit and its ramifications proactively, it could damage you.
Continuing as you are and hoping for the best is probably not the wisest approach – you need a strategy. And a large part of that strategy should be marketing (can’t advise on other parts of your business since they’re mostly down to you).
Where’s your evidence?
Still skeptical, huh? Just as it was during the last recession (and, indeed, the one before it), the companies that survived and even prospered were the ones that stepped up to the challenge and didn’t sit with their heads in the sand.
It’s true that companies should always be proactive with their business development, marketing and product innovation. Sometimes though it seems that those things take a back seat to actually making the business run. It’s easy to lose sight of the primary objective when your hands are full with staffing and recruitment, client management, project timescales, production processes, supply chain issues, delivery targets and so on.
From time to time, particularly when it’s realised that a fresh injection of new business is needed, a strategy is formed and sales initiatives are developed with marketing and PR plans to support them. That’s a response to an internal need and, with the uncertainty of Brexit, it’s necessary to respond to an external threat by developing those strategies, building those budgets and making a difference with great marketing.
I’m not going to spend any money until I know what the outcome of Brexit will be.
And who can blame you? You want to know that the cash you spend will have a direct impact on the marketplace and will build new sales revenue – right? But that implies that you have all those metrics and know that for certain in your current activity … but realistically can you be sure about the likely impact of your marketing spend? So, here’s the thing, if you think you know when the Brexit crisis will be over, you’re in for a long wait. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to be very pleased, whatever the result. And the effects will be far-reaching, lasting many years, however this all works out.
This is why acting now, taking charge of your own destiny, plotting a course through the troubled times ahead, is absolutely essential. It will need investment of money and time and the commitment of resources to make a difference to your business’s position. And bear in mind, your competitors are probably doing this, right now.
So, I just stick to my original strategy and hope for the best?
No. You tailor a new, dynamic strategy that makes the most of technology, innovation, the skills you have in-house, the skills you can gain through working in partnership with great suppliers and your unerring understanding of your core market.
So, with those considerations let’s take a look at 8 ways that strategic marketing initiatives could help your business survive Brexit as food for thought:
(1) Make the most of your data. The recent EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was seen by many companies as a threat, destroying their valuable databases. However, the truth is that GDPR has done us all a favour. It’s allowed you to focus on the people who actually gave you permission to talk to them – you’ve heard of “permission marketing”? – and those people are gold dust. They want to hear from you and all of your marketing activity that is focused at them will reap better open and click rates with stronger sell-through than any dead and dying contacts in dusty old databases could do.
So cultivate your data, pay attention to it, build it organically and extend each record with new information that you glean from all of your sales and marketing activity. What do they buy, what interests them, where are their markets, what do they need? And aim to tailor your marketing to address those areas so that what you send to them speaks directly to the things they are thinking about. There are technology tools that can help you do exactly this.
(2) Develop a coherent campaign strategy that addresses individual needs. Following on from the previous point, the more you can personalise your message to your subscribers, clients and prospects, the more they will believe that you understand them (because, actually, you do understand them, when you have built good datasets). Create marketing campaigns that address people individually, speaking to their needs and aspirations. This sort of activity is now much easier, where campaigns can be built that use conditional content to personalise email newsletters and even the content of web pages as known visitors arrive on them.
(3) Leverage existing materials, case studies and video. Those pieces of information that were developed by you a while ago in order to demonstrate the wonders of your products, services and solutions – they’re no use lying in the back of someone’s computer storage. Dust them off, update them, focus them and make them work for you. You paid for them back then – now squeeze some more juice out of them.
Consider also commissioning some new materials. How can you best demonstrate what your products or services do? Are there new ways of pressing “buy buttons” on people that you were not aware of a year or so back? Speak to your sales team and see what they need. See how they would do this – and then use that knowledge with a trusted supplier to build new materials and content.
(4) Develop content quality and focus on new and existing markets. Content is king – that’s been said so often, but it bears saying again. Get your website content to a position where it helps your ranking on search engines. You need to invest in a programme of SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – to make sure that your potential clients are visiting your site and not that of your competitors. Get advice on how to do this from experts, then target that content towards the people you most want to see it, using techniques such as PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising, social media advertising, remarketing and more.
(5) Look at your markets. Is it time to look for new opportunities, new places to sell your products and services? Have you been comfortable with the same group of clients in the same market sector for many years? They produce a reliable source of income and they’re safe. Are they? How will Brexit affect your clients – do you know? Do they know? Perhaps consider where you could sell to next – similar markets in another area, new markets in your existing area. Can your products or services be adapted or combined to create something new that will appeal to a whole new group of companies?
(6) Think internationally, if you are not already doing so. Just because Brexit seems to be about closing the doors to our traditional market partners doesn’t mean that you will not be able to trade there. Consider also that the “rest of the world” marketplace is open for business. How would you sell to China, for example? To Australia? To Canada? If you’ve not thought of going international, now’s a great time to do so – speak with your local advisers from the Department for International Trade, or to companies that assist others with getting their message beyond the borders of the UK and understand opportunities for growth outside of domestic markets.
(7) Embrace new technology opportunities. There’s a world of change going on out there in the form of digital transformation. Investigate what this means for your business: how you win business, do business, make products, optimise staff efficiency and develop your market. Every aspect of your business can be and is being affected by the fourth industrial revolution.
In terms of marketing and sales tools, take advice on how you can attract customers more effectively with new digital techniques, utilising AI tools that make more of your existing data and help you to target your marketing more precisely. Learn how investment in digital tools can make your sales team more efficient and can coordinate your project management more cost-effectively.
(8) Be open to new ideas. And this really is the main one, since it embraces all the others. Consider recruiting bright young minds who will break what you do now and rebuild it in a whole new way. It sounds scary, but no one ever built a business by doing the same old thing, year after year.
But I still don’t feel very confident.
Then, you’re doomed. Your existing customers will be looking to you to be a figurehead of leadership, a voice of authority in the chaos. Surely, you’re not going to disappoint them? Throughout all that you do, it’s important to maintain a confident narrative that positions you as the fount of all knowledge in your particular sphere. Your company is the best, because it’s led by the best and employs the best, using the best techniques to build the best end product or service.
It’s time to face the storm, put on your glittering Cloak of Confidence and show the world that your company will not only survive Brexit – it will grow and be a market leader in your region, in the country, internationally. The world’s at your feet.
I get it. What should I do next?
Plan. Get a strategy together. Innovate. Go in a direction you’d not thought of previously. Make waves. Invest and be damned … and be Brexilient.