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Embracing Digital Marketing in Times of Pandemic: Six Questions with Lucy Fisher

Lucy Fisher analyses the importance of embracing digital marketing and facing the challenge of the pandemic, especially for small organisations and charities.

Lucy Fisher is a freelance marketing consultant, with a solid background and vast experience in marketing, communications, and event production. She has spent more than ten years working with a variety of clients in the healthcare space, from small businesses to international companies, and has lately developed a strong focus on charity. Through her knowledge and carefully-crafted strategies she has been able to help her clients to thrive and turn their ideas and intentions into action and results.

The incredibly difficult and challenging context of the pandemic has provided a unique opportunity for her to pay particular attention to those who may need assistance the most, but may not have the tools. She is intent on aiding small local businesses and charity organisations to rise to the challenge and face this difficult situation with a set of solid techniques and strategies, to be able to reach their objectives.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in marketing?

I am a freelance marketing consultant with a science degree in pharmacology who works primarily in the healthcare space, assisting companies and charities with digital marketing. When I was in university I was involved in a lot of event organising and also marketing for the Edinburgh University Snow Sports Club. When I graduated I worked in London organising conferences and award ceremonies for the
pharmaceutical and healthcare industry.

There was a lot of marketing involved in that, which I really enjoyed, so from there I moved towards using the skills I had learnt from the corporate world into things I personally cared about, which was healthcare charities. I have been working with local and overseas charities for four years, helping my clients with their digital marketing strategy, event marketing and fundraising. I feel that as a consultant I have the flexibility to help different companies, and this way I can have an overview of the marketing industry and use my experience to help multiple companies and work on multiple projects, which is what I really enjoy.

What is the top marketing channel that you think a company should use and why?

It is very hard to pick one marketing channel, because marketing is all about the experience as a whole, combining marketing messages through different channels; but if I had to pick one, I would pick email marketing. It gives you a really good communication channel directly to your customers, and it really enables you to personalise the way you are talking to your customers. I would recommend that companies, regardless of size and industry, whether commercial or non-profit, to start building up an email database. Especially during the pandemic, it has become an essential communication tool for many businesses.

And the one thing I would stress about using email is to be very careful how you use it. What you need to do is build trust, and doing email marketing the wrong way can be really harmful to that trust. You want to work hard on understanding your audience, to be able to send the right quality and quantity of emails, which can be quite different depending on the case.

Communicate really well to meet the needs of your customer and demonstrate that you know the quality of your product or the work you are doing as a charity. Personalisation is paramount: you build up knowledge of who your customers are, and then you can start sending segmented messages, tailor-made for that customer, so that you can engage with them on a more personal level.

How has the pandemic affected your clients and the work you do with them?

They have been affected very drastically. Charities obviously rely on their fundraising events as a big source of income, and they have all been cancelled; and charities deliver services to their users, which were mostly in person. Everything has been challenged, and every point of view and strategy has been revised and often changed. The obvious switch has been from face to face to online, turning meetings and events into webinars and streaming. There has definitely been an increased uptake of digital services from a business and a digital marketing /point of view. My clients have had to decide which technology or software to go for, and then get trained on it and train all their volunteers to use that software and provider services, and it has been a big period of change for all.

I think there is huge potential to grow; businesses and organisations need to embrace the challenge and face the inevitable move to the digital world as an opportunity, and use it to maximise their results. Things are changing very fast, and being able to adapt is the key determinant.

How have they adapted to cope with these challenges?

They adapted by trying to understand the challenge, by learning, and changing. It is all about learning how to face a challenge and change things accordingly; a good deal of flexibility and agility is required as well. Making decisions and putting things into practise to effectively change has been really key, and those changes needed in many cases to be revised and changed again. The companies and charities that have been most successful have been the ones that have been able to change and adapt continuously, not just initially.

Of course, the switch to digital has been massive. Many charities have switched to doing online virtual fundraisers and using webinar software to train their volunteers, so that they can help out, because actually there is another interesting change that charities have faced: the number of people who are interested in volunteering has gone up during the pandemic. Some people are now having more free time, and are also able to recognise that this situation has struck hard on those who needed help, and they are willing to volunteer. This is a great opportunity charities can capitalise on if they act effectively.

A survey that was conducted last year showed that about 50% of charities still do not have a digital strategy in place. There is a lot of room for improvement for these organisations, they need to quickly instrument digital strategies.

What advice would you give to companies who are looking to embrace digital marketing?

Find the right people to get to the right people. Work with someone who can help you get to the proper customer, and make sure you are giving them what they want or need. You can hire an experienced consultant or agency, or simply utilise the skills of some of your trustees if you are a charity on a small budget. It depends a lot on where you are starting from. Then find out who and where your customers are, and design a plan to get to them.

Learn who they are, what they want and need, and give it to them. Build a relationship they can cherish. Create a plan that allows you to be in control, take them by the hand on a user journey, personalise your content for them, build trust, make them want to bring new customers on board. This is where email can excel as a communication channel, of course in conjunction with social networks and the rest of the digital options available. Direct your customers to the channels that are best for your strategy. Use social media advertising if necessary. Google provides a free ad grant. It is for charities specifically, and you can get up to USD 10,000 a month of free advertising.

Finally, I suggest incorporating some degree of automation: as your database grows you will find this can be a game changer.

You have mentioned webinars; do you have any advice for a marketing team that wants to run a successful webinar?

It has just become really important for companies to be able to stand out within that market, it has become very competitive to get people to sign up to webinars, because there is a clear overload. But at the same time, they are a great marketing and communication opportunity, both because people are compelled to meet online and because you have more tools available, you can prepare material and create an experience that really serves your customers.

Although they were originally used for teaching —seminars via web— they have now extended into an endless array of possibilities, from training to Q&A to marketing and more. Just as I mentioned with emails, I think that it is key to design activities that add value, that allow the customer to feel their time have been well spent. This has certainly become a challenge, as more and more webinars are being organised, which calls for more careful planning and design, which in turn can bring great results. In the case of charities, in particular, it can be a great way to get to donors and volunteers, and enable them to help you grow.

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Now is the time to embrace digital marketing, to find the professional help you need, to reach out to your customers, to understand who they are and what they need, and make sure you are efficient in providing for them. The digital world has made it easier —and more important— than ever to understand your clients and offer personalised content. There might be, in this particularly hard time, a great opportunity to change, to learn, to adapt, to become better, both as individuals and as organisations.

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