Uncertainty. It’s a term with which we all—as marketers, professionals and humans—have become intimately acquainted with. Whether it’s the overload of the figurative “In these uncertain times” or the many very real unknowns in every aspect of daily life, uncertainty has been the theme of 2020. And the marketing industry has the unique challenge of figuring out how to and what to say about it to the wider world of businesses and customers. Recently, 90octane and our client partners at Oracle had the chance to speak at the virtual B2B Ignite USA conference and address those challenges directly.

Early on, it was uncertain whether marketing was even appropriate during a global pandemic. But what we did know for sure was that any message needed to be empathetic above all. Companies like Volkswagen, McDonalds & AUDI modified their logos to help reinforce the importance of social distancing: Volkswagen moved the V away from the W; McDonald’s separated their golden arches; and Audi spaced out their four rings with the tagline “Keep Distance, Stay Together”. Those logo treatments were soon replaced by messages highlighting company values. From “Here to help” (Buick & GMC) messages and ones reminding people to stay inside and “Explore the great indoors” (Jeep), to commercials reminding us that “We’ll get through this” (Mazda), brands were focused on empathy and wanted customers to know that their company values aligned with what mattered most at the moment.

While empathy is important, it’s not enough on its own. Investments made in marketing still need to be effective and drive results, especially during these times where marketing and sales teams are being asked to do more with less. Tried and true tactics like events and in-person sales meetings are off the table for the foreseeable future and most of us are in the position of having to rethink entire marketing strategies.

In the spirit of rethinking, 90octane has dedicated the last six months to helping our clients work around and through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those efforts have led to the creation of new program types and new ways of communicating with customers.

With one client partner, we’ve worked together to create what we believe to be a particularly strong approach. We’ve helped Oracle place its focus on three strategies that are both empathetic and effective:

  • Support, don’t sell.
  • Invest in Relationships.
  • Help clients frame the new normal.

“As we are mapping out these strategies, we needed to not only make sure they were effective, we also wanted to make empathy a living, breathing thing – where we’re not just saying it, we’re backing it up through action” Heike Neumann, VP of Marketing at Oracle.

Support, Don’t Sell

There is a big difference between clients who use tools like Oracle Eloqua for batch and blast emails and those who use platforms to create intricate and effective marketing programs. And as Heike Neumann, VP of Marketing at Oracle Marketing Cloud points out, “We have customers who have already invested in us. It’s our job to make sure they are using our technology to its full potential.” One way Oracle is doing this is through the creation of programs designed to make customers experts in their chosen platforms—so they become “super users” of Oracle technologies. “We believe that by creating super users, these customers become more effective in the technology they’ve invested in. And when they are more effective, and see a return on their investment with us, it reinforces that they made the right decision buying from Oracle and that they can trust us.”

To assist Oracle in accomplishing this, we helped create a two-pronged approach to developing educational content &assets (Figure A). The first frames customer education from a discipline standpoint (e.g. B2B Marketing Automation, Personalization at Scale, Data Management, etc.), and is called the “Ignite Series”. The second frames education from a topic standpoint (e.g. Targeting and Segmentation, Lead Management and Scoring, etc.), and is called the “Spark Series”. The goal of both is to create bite-sized content that is easy to consume and addresses topics aligned with problems facing our customers.

Invest in Relationships

“We are doubling down on relationships with technology partners, agencies, and influencers” explains Heike. “While our first strategy ‘Support, don’t sell’ is about enabling our customers, we believe partners play a key role in taking this a step further. Our partners help our customers expand beyond our products – and help them operate at a higher level.”

An example of Oracle investing in and fostering important relationships is its “On the Fly” program, where partners, customers, thought leaders and published authors can post quick, informative videos. The program is designed to be offered from marketer to marketer and Oracle has created a platform where its partners can tell their stories—without being sold to. One such story was Randy Frisch, Co-Founder of Uberflip’s explanation on how to accelerate the buyer’s journey. “Our partners can help our customers see new and different ways to use our products” Heike points out.

Research is another important investment being made by Oracle to strengthen relationships. “Research is important because it gives us a look out to the future. What can be. What could potentially be our next endeavor. When you have your ducks in a row (research), you can better react to the unexpected – like what we’re dealing with today. Research partners help our clients get perspective on where things are moving, while at the same time helping us shape the future of our products/solutions” explains Heike.

For Oracle, the objective of building stronger relationships is to bring more robust thinking and problem-solving to its customers as well as educating and enabling partners to act as an extension of the team.

Help Customers Frame the “New Normal”

If companies can help their customers emerge from the current global uncertainty better adjusted, better informed and better prepared, everyone wins. “In addition to adjusting to what the new normal looks like at Oracle, where Sales and Marketing will be even closer aligned due to things like in-person meetings and events being canceled, we are focused on playing an active role in helping our customers shape their new normal” Heike points out.

So then, where to start? With Oracle, we started by trying to identify which customers and/or industries were feeling the biggest impact. While almost every business is being impacted by the global pandemic, retail continues to struggle. Prior to the pandemic, many larger retailers had digital transformation roadmaps in place, but COVID-19 forced them to be abandoned or at least significantly altered. In addition to adding new tech milestones like contact-free checkout, the pandemic has also forced retailers to move up digital transformation timelines. Heike explains, “To help these companies shape their new normal, we combine our industry experience with solution stories that enable customers to see past today.”

Focusing on the market at large, Oracle has created a Retail Resource Center. This content hub includes a learning library for current and relevant topics like: managing distressed inventory in uncertain times, making location planning a north star for store reopening, and even a checklist for reopening retail locations. Also included is a “Connect with Oracle Retail” area that focuses more on future planning. This section of the website is comprised of webcasts that paint the picture of what a successful future for retail could look like.

For as much as we don’t know what the future holds, history has taught us that uncertainty can also equal opportunity. Now is the time for companies to demonstrate their commitment to their customers. Showing your customers that your goal is to help them identify and meet their new goals strengthens trust and reinforces that they’re not just buying products from you, they’re investing in a partnership.

“While empathy is important, it’s not enough on its own. Investments made in marketing still need to be effective and drive results, especially during these times where marketing and sales teams are being asked to do more with less.”