Like it not, your business is probably in some sort of transition. Or it will be very soon. In today’s landscape, that’s just how it is.
And everyone in the company is looking at you—the marketing department—to not only manage the communication efforts but cheerlead the way through the storm.
While every company is a unique and special snowflake, let’s remember that even snowflakes have some things in common. Each is composed of water, has six sides, and can only form under certain conditions related to temperature and humidity.
Similarly, every business in transition shares certain characteristics. And each can start by asking some common questions to prep for whatever is coming.
What’s the forecast?
Take a good look at the radar map and wrap your head around the changes that are coming (or may already be upon you) and determine the key areas your team will be responsible for. It could be brand positioning, messaging, communication, education, and/or public relations. Decide if you can handle it internally or if you’ll need outside resources. Make sure the blade is secure on your marketing automation plow and the drivers are ready to roll.
When is it coming?
You might be prepping for a quick-hit storm, or something more long term. Either way, know what you’re up against. Plot your start and end dates and any key milestones along the way. Break it up in to stages or workflows and organize your thinking around those.
How many sides does your snowflake have?
Think about each audience as a separate entity: Customers, vendors, employees, shareholders, other stakeholders. Each will need different pieces of information from you depending on your relationship with them and how the change will affect them.
What are the atmospheric conditions?
Review your brand in its current state and decide if it can handle the transition. It may need a few tweaks or enhancements, or maybe a complete overhaul. Whatever the case, your brand should be the beacon in the storm, standing strong and offering light when you’re not sure which way to go.
cat&tonic recently experienced a big transition of our own (a new company name after 22 years!) and we’ve guided many of our clients through change. Here are some things we’ve learned about some of the more common business shake-ups and tips for handling them:
When you merge with or acquire a new another company, you and your leadership team will need to decide how things will come together. Maybe one becomes a separate brand or maybe it’s folded into the company as a new product line. Or maybe a new company is created altogether.
Whichever route you take, customer communications are critical to avoid the loss of your most important asset. You know it’s more expensive to find new customers or employees than it is to keep the ones you have. So, give them a front-row seat to your plans. Tell them how the merger will affect their relationships, service, or accounts, and how it will add value for them. The merger isn’t their choice, and they might be apprehensive to stick around if they don’t see the benefits. And you can bet your competitors will be ready to pounce on those who feel disgruntled.
Even if the merging companies are complementary, the customer base for each will differ as each has become accustomed to the way things are done. Map out your communications plan in a chronological sequence and define the key points you want to get across to each audience. Don’t be stingy with your messages. Overcommunicating is rarely a problem. Try something like this:
- Pre-merger heads-up (-60, -30, -10 days)
- First day of the merger
- Post-merger changes (+10, +30, +60 days)
Here’s how SunTrust and BB&T used direct mail to communicate their merger.
Check out this McKinsey article for a more detailed strategic merger communications roadmap.
Product or service launch
While exciting, the launch of a new product or service can mess with your brand if you don’t consider all the implications. If it’s a large-scale change to the way you’re currently doing business, you’ll want to survey your customers, stakeholders, and employees to see if there’s an accurate understanding of your full business offerings. If you find there’s a gap, you’ll need to create a communication strategy to bring everyone up to speed. This includes reviewing and updating your brand and website to represent the whole picture of the new and improved you.
Here’s how Cook Compression found their new voice and launched a new product.
CEO and CMO tenures are on the decline as leaders are hungry for new challenges and opportunities. If you’ve got new leadership due to a dramatic shakeup or a less-than-dramatic retirement, change is inevitable. Employees especially will want to know how they’ll be affected, and they want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth. Ideally, communications should be written by the new leader in their own voice. A new head honcho can also mean visible changes from the outside. Like every other example here, the key is communications. Microsoft’s newish CEO talks about his approach to culture shift in this interesting article.
This is perhaps one of the biggest transitions a company can make. It affects almost everything. The moment somebody at the top says “We need to change our name” the marketing team should be brought in. First, to lead the name change process (here are some ideas for crafting a new one) and second to develop a full-blown communications plan that hits each target audience.
Even short disruptions in your business-as-usual patterns can wreak havoc. Make sure you’re ready with alternate communication plans to bridge the gap. Proactive customer communications allow you to control the messaging and keep people engaged. Without it, your competitors will have the perfect opportunity to sow a seed of doubt about you and lure away the customers you worked so hard to get. While an extreme example, the 2022 Southwest Airlines fiasco has everyone thinking about how they can be better prepared for unforeseen disruptions in their business.
Transitions in business often require the need to hire new staff. To appeal to the best-fit candidates, make sure your culture and values are well-defined on your website. Now more than ever, employees are demanding to work for companies whose beliefs and ethics align with theirs. Cleary communicating your culture by laying out your position on important issues like environment, social justice, innovation, and others is the best way to connect with and attract the right people. Netflix is doing it right.
Some transitions cause a shift in budgets, and marketing is often first in line at the chopping block. Be ready to make your case for keeping (or even increasing) your marketing budget by proving its value. Present data to the higher-ups in terms of leads and sales that support your plan for the coming months. Remind them that your brand can be a major competitive differentiator and have real impact on revenue. Check this out if you need more ammo for making your case.
Change is scary…but good
Transitions can be overwhelming and scary. But they also present an exciting opportunity to rethink things. Change can inspire a fresh brand for your company, new value propositions, and more relevant messaging for keeping customers happy and attracting valuable prospects and employees.
The key to your future success is building relevant relationships by speaking to your audiences in their language and following through on your brand promises. It’s not simple, but it’s worth the effort.