This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue
by The Team at Blip
Building a resilient company is a principle to which most business leaders would say they aspire. The shuttering of scores of businesses in 2020 emphasized the importance of focusing on a variety of stratagems that should be nurtured as core values, regardless of the current economic climate. In this piece we’ll share observations from several Blip team members across a spectrum of roles, each demonstrating that Blip’s values-based approach to its people, offerings, and DNA of adaptation helped it recover from, and continue to navigate, an economic downturn.
Marketing Through a Recession
Blip’s perspective arises from being a company dependent on advertising appetite to survive. Blip democratizes access to big billboard advertising for hundreds of thousands of small businesses across North America. When the crunch of an economic downturn decreases overall demand for common disposable-income dependent products and services, many advertisers make the mistake of cutting advertising spend broadly. Small and large brands alike make an even bigger mistake of cutting long term marketing initiatives completely. How does Blip thrive when its advertisers’ marketing budgets vanish?
Long-term focus is among Blip’s core company values. We purposely forego short-term reward to pursue optimal long-term gain, if the latter is mutually exclusive of the former. This organizational attitude manifests in our outward interactions with customers. As we embody high quality long term strategies, we ultimately help our clients do the same with components of their advertising strategies. We do not blindly encourage our customers to spend advertising dollars when they need to make essential cuts to survive. Instead, we advise them on how to build brand affinity among those who will become, or will continue to be, their customers in 6-12 months from now.
Blip’s Performance Marketing Manager, Austin Shong, shares a retrospective from the pandemic year: “We improved core aspects of our marketing approach that are fundamental to our business regardless of the economic climate. We doubled down on long term efforts such as growing and supporting an engaged community, retaining loyal customers, and investing in our brand presence. We employed lean-but-mean tactics that would bolster short and long-term value, such as SEO optimization, which helped increase month-over-month lead generation and revenue growth. Optimizing our energies by focusing efforts in the right place at the height of COVID’s impact provided strong validation of which tactics should continue to be staples in our marketing strategy.
It is not always possible to maintain certain budgets. If you absolutely must decrease your total advertising/marketing budget, start by trimming the budget for activities with the shortest time horizons between expense and payback first, as these activities are aimed at immediate transactions. By forgoing short-term rewards for long-term gains, you are able to create a comprehensive marketing strategy that will help your business survive during a recession.
Selling to a Depressed Market
Common business wisdom emphasizes the importance of appealing to customer emotion. So when the world shuts down and fear becomes the prevailing consumer emotion, how can businesses convey that some degree of spending on their offering is beneficial?
Blip’s Sales Manager, Jackie Adams, shares her approach: “Blip Customer Success and Sales teams are always experimenting with new offers as we learn which tactics work best for each client. 2020 saw us offer customized, unique discounts or packages to accommodate each challenging customer situation. We found practical ways to keep our advertisers building their brands when otherwise it would have been almost impossible for them to do so. Sharing insights and focusing on collaboration as one of our values also had a massively beneficial contribution to our success. Our advertising consultation interactions evolved as quickly as COVID spread because we made a point to share each team member’s success, challenges, and learnings every day. We broke down silos and rejoiced when a colleague got any kind of win, because everything had become a true team effort. Alongside individual contribution, we recognized team performance and made a fundamental point of learning from each customer challenge and celebrating each victory.”
Are we a product or sales company?
Blip CEO Brent Thomson reflects on a fundamental question. “Every company needs to decide whether it is a product company or a sales company. There is no shame or honor in picking one over the other, but a company will be more successful if its leadership acknowledges the nature of the organization and makes decisions accordingly. You shouldn't neglect sales or product, but every company is either a sales or a product company. It is impossible to be both for very long. Eventually, you will always have to choose between the conceptual integrity of the product and the next sale. That decision will dictate what kind of company you have, if you haven't consciously decided what you are already. 2020 validated our internal answer to that question when we saw the kind of positive impact we could have for our clients during challenging times. We validated the long term unique value of our market offering.”
Relationships over transactions
Entrenched in Blip’s DNA is the principle of valuing relationships over transactions. Listening actively, answering questions, providing options, and getting excited about opportunities to tackle new internal and customer challenges is contagious. Customer hesitation to transact ameliorates as confidence in the service provider grows. When a depressed economy eventually improves, consumers will look first to the brands and people who genuinely supported them at most practical, non-rhetorical level by valuing the relationship over the immediate transaction.
Engineering resilience - Performance over Ceremony
Allison Lew, Blip’s Head of People and Culture, shares that “Blip has always sought quiet disruptors, innovators, and challengers. It’s never been about punching hours or simply doing what you’re told. Our happiest and best performing people are comfortable with change and challenge.”
Lew continues: “Building resilient teams starts with the recruiting process. Paint an accurate picture of what working at a startup can look like. What you work on one day might not be relevant the next and you have to be okay with that. We don’t operate like a major corporation with a lot of structure and predictability. Our people are always improvising, learning, and pioneering. We are always asking questions, finding possible answers, and proposing. There is no book here on how to do things. We get to work, build it, hack it, and then look for help if we don’t get it.”
When team foundations are built on performance over ceremony, being scrappy while striving to succeed is applauded. Blip employees are entrepreneurs at heart, and many run their own businesses and side hustles. They know what it’s like to just make it work.
Blip’s VP of Marketing, Daniel Fleischer, comments on the DNA of adaptation: “Most of our people wear two or three functional hats, out of the five or six they could be wearing based on their high degree of competency alone. In swapping hats and trying on new ones, top talent eventually finds the most satisfying and value-producing role. The system inherently gets stronger and self-corrects. My role has changed several times since joining Blip, to the benefit of the organization and to my own growth. The best way to embrace nimble and thoughtful adaptation to economic conditions and changing consumer needs is to encourage adaptation at the level of the individual. Successful entrepreneurs adapt to stay ahead, so it is no surprise that our federation of side-hustling go-getters exhibits a tendency to evolve itself at the cellular level, optimizing our businesses and the Blip collective over time. We are entrepreneurs helping our entrepreneur clients in the advertising domain, mindful of their need to succeed and adapt, just as we are mindful of those same needs at Blip and our respective businesses.”
Incorporating a long term view on resilience as a fundamental principle within the organizational ethos should be as natural as how most individuals strive to become more resilient to life’s daily challenges. Encouraging adaptation as a core company value is key to building resilience.
Contributors: Brent Thomson, Daniel Fleischer, Allison Lew, Jackie Adams, Austin Shong, Colette Prusse, Mckayla Sargent
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*Read the latest issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine, Winter 2021