All Brands Need a Marketing Shift in a Crisis
We have been talking about digital transformation in the past decade and to this point, COVID-19 has been beyond doubt the most important catalyst in driving it. Marketing departments needed to follow suit just as much as any other areas had to.
The most prepared companies prepared their business continuity plans and that also included the shifting of marketing initiatives — from budget cuts to complete restructuring — but even those less advanced had to realise that the initial plans won’t stand the test of the pandemic.
The economic consequences of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, are not looking too bright and when it comes to replanning 2020 just after the first quarter, the first victims will be non-essential cost elements. Marketing has started to become essential for most companies by now, but reason demands a major shift in spending the initially allocated marketing budget.
However, as stopping all marketing related costs might cause more harm than promising short term budget savings, it is important to think about strategies on how to survive and thrive even under the pandemic.
Whether you are in charge of the brand of an international mammoth company or a tiny local shop, there are still areas where marketing can and should play a major role.
The digital transformation when it comes to marketing can be summed up by getting the right message to the right people at the right time. Eventually, it boils down to knowing where your customers are, what they think and send them messages they care about — linking into your own offers and messages.
In these uncertain times, it is nothing but content in the right context — just as in any other time. But now the content and the context changes, for the needs of the customers have changed and shifted.
Progressive brands are just like human beings — they are the best at adapting to new circumstances, thriving under adversity and finding their way out even when there seems to be none.
You need to look at this time — regardless of your area of operation — as if your brand had a seasonality to it and now it is off-season.
Branding and marketing, even for seasonal products such as ice cream or winter tires, is neverending. Even your product or offer is currently not in demand or it is less in demand, you still need to take care of your brand — only with different priorities and messages.
The off-season is a great time to get prepared for the peak season, it is perfect to deliver messages about your values and to try and test some ideas that you wouldn’t have time or resources for when you are in season.
Customer experience happens 60–90% invisibly. It means that your customers are in contact with your brand long before you first know about it. They are searching, they are getting informed, they are forming opinions — in complete radio silence. The decision-making starts a lot earlier than brands realise and once it’s done it is a lot more difficult to turn it around.
I collected the potential areas to where brands can shift their focus while the new business as usual sets in. Because you don’t have the luxury of losing potential customers — especially not in tough times.
Our global connectedness allows us to learn about everything that is happening all around the globe and we learn about the negatives just as much as the positives. No one is immune to the news these days — even if you switch it off for a few hours or days, your natural curiosity will eventually drive you back to it. Being informed is crucial, but it also means that we are hungry for good news and displays of positivity.
Brands can contribute to an overall positivity in multiple ways. It doesn’t need to be an extra-human effort from your brand to help. You can have a charity initiative even if you don’t match Microsoft’s or Facebook’s huge charity contribution. You can contribute even if you can’t rearrange your production lines to produce ventilators as Seat did or produce visors as Lego reported. Coca-Cola announced to cancel all advertising activities to be able to keep their workers. A lot of training companies are offering free training sessions. Telco companies are offering free mobile data to facilitate remote working. There are myriad ways of talking about your contribution.
It is possible that even the media will pick it up, but tweeting or posting about it to your followers means that you are getting the message through to your customers.
Talk About Your Values Rather Than Your Offers
The point in CSR and in positive tone marketing initiatives is that it’s time to talk about your values rather than your offers. Take it as an off-peak for a seasonal product. You need to be present and visible, but you cannot be too pushy about trying to get people to buy your products and services.
Understanding the budget constraints of people, understanding how they are cutting non-essential expenses, will get you further in the long run if you manage to state your values consistently and support them any way you can in these tough times.
This is the time to walk the talk and show your values. If you keep talking about transparency, this is a time to admit that you are afraid too. If your core value is innovation, show it by trying to come up with an innovative solution to the current situation. If you brag about customer care, this is the time to care about your customers and show them that they matter even if they don’t buy.
The effort that you invest now won’t be forgotten, but you need to stay in their minds — in a non-intrusive, supportive way.
Mastering Online Presence
Time to get the house in order. The basics are the first things that get forgotten when it is business as usual. When you are jumping from one campaign to the other, it’s hard to find the time to deal with seemingly trite things.
While you were busy measuring your results from your campaigns, you might have forgotten to adjust your website and content to search engine optimisation. You might have updated your search engine marketing campaigns way too long ago because they worked okay. And besides, you didn’t have the time. Now you have time.
You can use it to review your own media surfaces and do the necessary fine-tuning to optimise them.
Content. Content. Content.
You should already have a great content strategy in place, but if you were putting off creating or implementing it, there won’t be a better time to start than now.
People tend to read more and they spend more time online. If you have valuable messages to share then you can become their go-to place during these times — with the promise that they might stick with you when life gets back to normal.
Even if your brand is a very non-digital, non-essential brand it is possible to find an aspect that will speak to your customers. Caring about them, understanding them, supporting them in their daily struggles can go a long way.
Offering online courses, webinars or virtual summits can be a great way to make yourself visible even these days, even if it’s not your core business.
Content requires creativity and if you don’t have the right resources in-house, you will find freelancers for any area that you could need — thousands of content strategists, content writers, designers and social media experts are eager to work for you to secure their financial status.
While you are not running campaigns, you also have the time to set up your online campaigns — to target your customers directly. It starts with having a database with good quality data — in case you have dirty data, you won’t get a better time to clean it up, filter it, tag it.
Setting up newsletters, email marketing campaigns, defining triggers and the appropriate responses usually take time.
Now you have but time, so you can plan it properly, try it and test it and adjust it.
Remember, it is off-season now — your goal is to remain visible and get ready to launch your initiatives again when life gets back to seemingly normal.
Until then, just stay top of mind of your customers and keep them informed about your values.
Stay Positive and Stay at Home
As responsible brands, it is very important to stay credible and calm. You need to stay away from conspiracy theories and negativity — trust me, your customers will find those from other sources. While it might be tempting to ride the viral waves of some new information, make sure that you remain an authentic source of information.
Also, stay positive. The negative news is all around; we are all sick of it — yet it’s like an addiction; we still come back for more. It is a breath of fresh air to hear positive voices and share positive stories.
And just as everyone should, you should stay at home and encourage your customers to stay at home, too. Home delivery, online solutions, innovative responses will be remembered.
This is your biggest opportunity to go digital and stay digital — transforming your whole marketing to meet the current circumstances.
And when it’s over, you can look back on this time as an opportunity, not a loss.