Cutting Through: My gallbladder and your 2021 marketing plan

Back in September, I went to the emergency room with a weird pain that the ER doc identified as gallstones. He told me I "fit the profile" and should go meet with a gastroenterologist and get my gall bladder removed. (BTW Doctor Google says the profile is The Four F's: Female, Forty, Fertile, and Fat... thanks, man.). Anyway.... I met with the gastro doctor who gave me a generic phone number for a surgeon and told me to "call this number and tell them you need your gall bladder removed." Well that was weird, but I did. I met with the surgeon and he scheduled a time for me to do the robotic Da Vinci surgery - basically a medical claw machine.

Surgery during COVID is weird enough. My husband dropped me off at the front of the hospital and came back a few hours later to pick me up, sans gall bladder. I was sent home with a booklet on what to eat over the next 24 hours and told to make a follow-up appointment in the next 3 weeks. The end.

Yes, the end.

No one called to check on me.

No one followed up about my well being.

No one consulted with me about my post-surgery diet.

No one made me feel cared about. (note: all doctors and nurses were AWESOME and I felt completely cared FOR... just not cared ABOUT. If that makes any sense...).

But I got the bills. Oh yes, I got the bills - on paper, in email, and via text.

I imagine that my medical scenario COULD have gone something like this:

ER doctor refers me to a Gastro doctor.

Gastro doc explains the whole process to me from start to finish so I understand what the real problem is, who I'll meet along the journey, and how I'll be different after.

Gastro doc tells me about this GREAT surgeon that she's referred people to many times and everyone in their office is AMAZING!

Surgeon reciprocates referral saying that Gastro doctor is one of the best in Central Texas and I should be relieved that I was sent to her because she rocks.

Gastro doctor could have introduced me to a nutritionist to help me plan for the surgery before and after.

Someone (anyone!) could have called to check on me. And maybe prep me for how many people would be billing me separately (hospital, surgeon, anesthesiologist, etc.).

Then the bills in the mail would have felt better.

So what does that have to do with your marketing plan?

The big question: How are you treating your customers?

When they come in with a problem to solve, do you give them just enough information to go Google around and find out more on their own? When they Google it, what do they find?

When they make it to a person, do you pass them off to another person or care for them with a warm handoff to the RIGHT person?

After they meet a person and start engaging, do you check in on them?

Does your prospect/customer feel CARED ABOUT throughout their experience?

How you can strategically think about it and tactically execute it in 2021

Think Strategically (plan for the year, not the quarter):

  • Plan for the year, not the quarter. This not only lets you plan your content, but begins to lay out a nice roadmap for your customers and sales team to know how to connect with you throughout the year. As you look at your 3rd party sponsorship investment plan for 2021, begin exploring which events are offering year-long programs that you can buy into, rather than moment-in-time events. Even if you can't get approval for anything past 2H right now, see what you can front-load into 1H that will begin generating leads and awareness early in the year.

  • What do you really need in 2021? Making sure your programs align with your objectives helps leadership teams know what was successful and helps the customers know where they should be on their journey with you. Are you optimizing for net new leads? (Then you should be doing more partner/industry/3rd party events). Are you trying to gain more share of wallet from current clients? (Then you should create experiences that drive loyalty and expand their knowledge of your capabilities). Are you focused on keeping your current customers happy? (Then you should focus on hospitality and relationship-building experiences).

  • Align your plans to the funnel. Doing this will save your internal teams a lot of churn because they'll know what the purpose of their content is from the beginning and where it can be reused throughout the year. It also helps your customers find the right content for where they are on their journey. Take a look at your buyer's journey and begin to map out which activities are for thought leadership/awareness/discovery phase, which ones are for Educate/Learn, where you want to catch those Try moment, and where Buy/Conversion opportunities exist. Then map in the Loyalty and Hospitality experiences.

  • Buy in bundles. You can't take a multi-vitamin in January and then check in on yourself in March to see if it worked. While this weird 2020 time is a great time to experiment and try new things, give yourself enough runway and enough instances to get everyone used to the program and learn from it and execute it better. For example, we run Spontaneous Think Tanks for clients which *we* know are awesome! But if it's the first time your team has participated in one, they will have a hard time describing it and explaining it to customers until they experience one, so while they will try, they'll try harder for the 2nd and 3rd one because they will "get it." So we recommend that companies invest in 3 of them. Same with your industry events - don't just pick ONE to do for the year. Plan for a few of them so your team knows what it takes to prepare content for it, how to promote your participation in it, and how to staff it and follow up with leads from it.

Think Tactically (plan to make the customer feel cared about):

  • Prep the sales team. When creating your marketing programs, don't just worry about educating the customers about it, you also have to educate your sales team. Offer a sales training session to arm them with the information they need about the upcoming programs, get them excited about inviting their customers and prospects to it, and give them the tools to make it easy to invite people. Beyond the email template, give them postcards (and stamps!), or give them access to other ways to communicate - maybe even video messaging tools like Bomb Bomb. If the sales team is excited about the event and backs the experience with their credibility, the customer will be excited to participate!

  • Plan the customer communication journey. If you've prepped the sales team to invite customers, you should also prep them on the experience they can have WITH the customer. Are they allowed to join their customer at the event (including the virtual ones?). If they are, can they easily find the customer at the event? If you are creating the experience virtually, is there a lobby or meet-up spot where your customers can gather in a smaller group to form a connection with their sales person and peers? If the sales rep can't join the customer, what information will they get about the customer's experience and interests? (For example, when we do a Spontaneous Think Tank, we offer an engagement report that can be shared with the sales team). The goal is to reassure your customer that they are in the right place and they are welcome there.

  • Plan to keep in regular contact. Just check in! Whether it's through occasional email communication or surprise and delight moments, make sure your customer feels like you remember them and care about them (even if it's a cheesy birthday email). If your customers have a human sales rep, get the reps to keep an eye on them on LinkedIn and share a birthday message or congrats notice when something happens (pro tip: don't private message them a Happy Birthday note because LinkedIn does not make it easy to respond to those - in fact it's really a pain in the butt to tell everyone thank you in private messages. Instead, post on your feed and tag them so other people can also see the birthday celebration and your customer can respond to all the well-wishes at once!). The objective is to make them feel cared about.

So as you head into your 2021 planning meetings and start creating those slides for your virtual events, digital marketing, and campaign strategy, take a quick step back to think through how they'll all play together for a better, more cohesive customer experience!

Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder and CEO of Haute Dokimazo, a "spontaneous think tank” company that creates shared experiences -anchored in conversation- that drive genuine connections. Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies anchored in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation.