In times of crisis, it’s difficult for marketers to know how to proceed.
People’s priorities have changed drastically over the past six weeks. They may have been preparing for a summer vacation or looking at new cars. Now, they’re focused almost solely on protecting themselves against an invisible force that has disrupted practically everything.
Similarly, what felt like great lifestyle or business content when you planned it back in January now feels irrelevant, or worse, tone-deaf.
No one knows how long this will last or what a return to normal will look like. We’d bet that the physical distancing, the working from home, and coronavirus memes will not disappear anytime soon.
The good news is that the vast majority of consumers do not think brands need to stop marketing during the COVID-19 outbreak. A survey of more than 35,000 consumers found that 92% believe brands should continue to advertise. At the same time, 74% think that companies should not exploit the situation.
There’s a delicate balance between self-serving marketing and the reassuring, positive perspective that brands need to offer. There is no exact playbook, but to help you out we’ve identified some essential dos and don’ts of marketing through the coronavirus pandemic.
This tweet says it all:
The public’s patience for marketing fluff is low at the best of times, but now it’s positively toxic. People are interested in policy or service changes, possibly even discounts or charitable drives. They especially want to know that you’re taking care of your staff.
However, COVID-19 is not a “trend” that can be exploited by marketers––not without a significant amount of backlash.
The Toronto-based mobile food ordering app Ritual experienced this first-hand when it sent out a promotional email recommending the use of its service as a way to combat the coronavirus.
Many of the recipients of the email took to Twitter to express their displeasure with the tone. Their grievance was that the company tried to capitalize on a global pandemic that has altered the very fabric of our existence.
While Ritual swiftly apologized and clarified its intentions, its experience highlights that in no circumstance should you try to take advantage of the crisis for your brand.
There were mixed reactions to the tidal wave of automated emails from every single company you’ve ever bought anything from in the history of your life.
The “We’re all in this together” drum-circle vibe is difficult to pull off without feeling like your brand is doing little more than cluttering someone’s email inbox. It also depends on what line of business your brand is in. It might sound more natural coming from a meditation app like Headspace than a cat food company.
However, you do have a duty to keep users informed. You need to let customers know if you anticipate any challenges, what extra support you can offer, and how your service may change in the coming weeks and months.
In the absence of this information, people will feel anxious and forgotten, particularly if they rely heavily on your service.
One of the best ways to alert users of valuable information is by using a banner above or below your website’s main navigation bar. This is even more important if you’re in an industry that has been significantly affected by the coronavirus. Take a look at this example from Whole Foods.
Weeks ago, it seemed like any company still happily flogging its wares must have been created by a marketing team working so remotely (Pluto?) that the news hadn’t reached them.
Now people are growing tired of every communication starting with “In these uncertain times…” or “In times of crisis…”.
So, how do you approach the delicate balance between business-as-usual marketing and coming across like you’ve buried your head in the sand?
Continuing to market as though nothing is happening isn’t just a poor strategy–it’s disingenuous, and it undermines your credibility as a company. However, it’s a moving target as the crisis evolves, and people grow tired of COVID-19 messaging.
If your products are just business-as-usual products, then maybe “normal marketing” is fine. If your products relate to the new challenges your customers are facing, then you have a new set of considerations.
Either way, there is no hard and fast rule here. The only fail-safe approach is to be extra tactful and empathetic. So, we’d lean towards acknowledging that it isn’t business as usual.
Assess how your company can help right now and then spread the word.
Back in March, global luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton began producing hand sanitizer at factories that typically produce perfume and cosmetics. The company’s actions highlight a core principle of marketing in a crisis: It’s not what you say in a crisis, it’s what you do in a crisis.
A lot of companies talk about having a social purpose and a set of values, or about how much they care for their employees and other stakeholders. Now is the time for them to make good on that commitment.
Consumers are looking for explicit evidence that brands are supporting their employees, the government, and the public. For example, 80% of people surveyed by Kantar believe employee wellbeing should be a key priority for companies.
With your website and business, consider what you can give away for free. Anything you can do to help people out is appreciated, especially during this difficult time. You’ll also find that it will drive you more visitors, which is a nice indirect benefit.
Here’s a good example from Insurance company Geico:
Not every company can shift to producing hand sanitizer or can afford to give away freebies. However, you can focus on product marketing to help customers get the most out of your product. For example, Zoom has an entire content hub on its website dedicated to helping people familiarise themselves with the video conferencing tool.
Many companies are pulling ad campaigns, reviewing ad budgets, and reducing their sales and marketing teams.
The impact on sales and market share––in the long run–may be irreversible. Data from BrandZ also shows that after the 2008/09 financial crash, stronger brands recovered up to nine times faster in terms of stock market value than others.
Instead, change your messaging to ensure that you educate, inform, and generally make someone’s life easier or brighter. If it’s difficult for you to do this because of your product or service, then focus on helping small businesses or employees who are struggling.
Marketers of every stripe are suddenly faced with making difficult judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no single right approach, but figuring out what your stakeholders need is a good starting point.