Coconut Software’s Jillian Wood: Insulate Your Marketing from Recession Panic

Marketers are pivoting their messaging to the economic downturn. While some defend the move as topical, others aren’t so sure.

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In the early days of the pandemic, LinkedIn exploded with remote work guides, advice, and hot takes. The problem was, a lot was written by people who’d never worked a day outside of the office.

Although we’ve hopefully moved past the pandemic, there’s a new crisis looming: recession.

Just like before, marketers are pivoting their messaging to the economic downturn. While some defend the move as topical, others aren’t so sure.

“What do I see as the main challenge to marketing teams?” says Jillian Wood, director of content marketing at Coconut Software. “Having everyone internally within their organization freaking out about the word recession and trying to pivot all their marketing plans.”

Jillian says it doesn’t make sense to tear up verified messaging and tested playbooks, especially if you plan to replace them with something untried, untested, and temporary.

I caught up with Jillian to discuss how marketing orgs should respond to crises and where to draw the line between topicality and panic.

Events like the pandemic and recessions touch every corner of society. How should businesses decide how to respond?

Take a breath and ask, “Are changes necessary in your industry?” Sometimes, all that is needed is to write a few topical, timely  blogs about the recession and crispen up your ROI story for the finance folks looking into cost-cutting measures. But, unless your field or industry is largely impacted by a recession, you may not need any bigger pivots.

And honestly, even blogging about recession topics may not be that helpful. Especially in B2B, where sales cycles are long (like months or years). You’re not going to see or feel that impact on the sales or acquisition cycle immediately.

It’s going to be tough to not let your salespeople drag you around. That’s the biggest challenge. Insulate your marketing from panic by asking: Does our core messaging or value props really need to change? Does this truly impact your business? If not, let’s not freak out.

Where do you draw the line between topical marketing and wholesale panic?

When I’m talking about panic, it’s a knee jerk change to messaging. Every other week, especially at smaller startups, you hear a new buzzword. People always want to shift their messaging and redo their sales deck.

Most startups are still trying to find their niche. They don’t give anything a chance to stick. They don't create strategic marketing. That's why I think the biggest challenge is going to be protecting your marketing plans from being derailed.

Are you going to trash your entire marketing plan and pivot to recession marketing? You were working on things you’d validated. Did the recession invalidate it all? For a lot of us, probably not.

It’s true what they say: Marketers love shiny things. Venture capital firm GGV once reported that only 40% of “AI startups” use AI in any meaningful way. Maybe recession is the new AI?

I’ve heard so many people ask, “How can we weave AI into our messaging?” I’m like, “How do you weave it into the product first?” It's a very real problem. 

I worked in the RFP space selling RFP software. Lots of RFPs started coming in asking, “What AI does your platform have?” Companies think they want that technology even though they don’t know what it will do for them. So vendors are scrambling to match the requirements.

Let's educate the market. It's not about AI. It's about your needs. If AI is going to serve them better than what you already have, that’s great. But half the time, the answer’s no. It's a weird market education challenge that no one's tackling. I still feel we’re a long ways off from most AI being useful or better than what exists today.

Coconut has some outstanding guides and eBooks, but they’re all ungated. Why are you giving away excellent content for free?

Part of our brand is that we want to make the banking experiences feel easy, breezy, and simple. Why would our marketing feel complicated and laden with forms just to get a top of funnel asset?

We want to build brand affinity and gates aren’t a good way to start a relationship. If you have a sophisticated demand gen engine with proper retargeting, you can present prospects with gates at the right time and for things that deserve to be gated. Or you can ask for their emails when they request a demo or pricing or a webinar. There are things worth gating gating, but you want people to see, absorb, and learn everything else.

In B2B software, one piece of content is often not going to revolutionize someone’s buying journey. There's a long path leading to a sale, and content plays a role at all stages of the funnel. When you're trying to introduce yourself to someone and become top of mind, I wouldn’t start with a gate.

Why is gated content still the default for marketing teams?

Previously, lead volume was the key way to measure success. You captured leads, ran basic lead scoring, and put people into nurture campaigns. It led to crazy demand gen targets. The problem is, 90% of B2B software TOFU leads are nowhere near ready to buy today. You don't need a sales team member to follow up with them because it's a distraction from warmer leads. Today, a lot more teams are working at the accounts-based level and thinking about brand building at the top of the funnel versus lead capture. 

Honestly, just think about how much folks missed out on growing their brand with all those gates just a few years ago…

Perspectives is a weekly series interviewing the best marketing leaders. Subscribe for interviews straight to your inbox.

David is a former craft beer journalist turned writer and digital strategist. He now helps ambitious technology brands tell narrative-driven stories.

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