“Should we be marketing right now?”
That’s the question a client asked for the first time the day before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency by the federal government.
Since then, we’ve gotten the same question in some form by most clients and by every new business engagement at our agency.
In less than a week, we have reimagined a work environment that’s evolved over nearly two centuries, coffee spoon by coffee spoon, cubicle by cubicle, combo meal by combo meal.
Yet while it’s not business as usual, it’s still business and your customers still need your help.
Should we be marketing right now?
The answer is yes, and, if you think not, you may still be thinking about marketing all wrong.
Is Your Approach to Marketing Right?
In some instances, at the core of the question is an assumption that marketing is, by itself, invasive. And sometimes that’s true. Poorly planned buys that target the wrong audience, campaigns that haven’t been well-conceived that add noise to noise, awareness campaigns that do nothing but thump your customer against their forehead.
Remember first and foremost that marketing isn’t really about you. It’s about your customers.
It’s about what you can enable them to do. Your marketing should never be an unwelcome intrusion to talk about your company. It should always focus on customer enablement. If it’s an awareness campaign it should be authentic and meaningful, not merely an expensive version of a pop-up ad.
Of course, we may not recommend launching a new campaign in the teeth of a news cycle dominated by a global crisis. You can check Ad Age’s list of brands’ marketing response to see a few of the major brands who have delayed new campaigns. But even among the largest brands, the trend hasn’t been silence, but adaptation.
Why Continue Marketing?
Your Customers Need your Help. As much as we may like to think the reason to run a business is to create great marketing campaigns with an agency like Bluetext, ultimately businesses exist because you have a service you think can help other companies or individuals. And you’re right. Marketing may interest or make potential customers aware of a product, but the reason they buy isn’t the company, but the solution it offers. While customer needs may have changed, the fact that needs exist hasn’t changed.
It’s Now your Primary Contact Vehicle. Business-to-business and business-to-government sales are a high-touch sales market now in a no-touch world. Your digital marketing is now even important to maintain relationships. Webinars, email campaigns, video, and virtual events are now a critical way to maintain relationships when the days of hosted lunches and in-person meetings are temporarily in the past.
Even consumer brands like restaurants or sports lose their primary touch-point in the in-person experience. But that doesn’t mean they should surrender their place in the consumer’s mind.
Your Brand Journalists Know the Answers. The specialization of products and services has expanded massively at the same time traditional media has declined. Brand journalists have filled the gaps to be experts on their company’s offerings and their industries. Questions about VPN services or season ticket plans aren’t going to be answered by the media. Understanding how you can modify SD-WAN to best handle the surge in traffic for the shift to BOPIS at a retail level and telework on a corporate level won’t have its own segment on CNN. The answers aren’t coming from traditional media gatekeepers. They will come from your marketing teams. Brand journalists can provide expertise about the market.
Because Information Is Always Better Than Silence. Reacting to a story puts a brand in a weaker position than telling its own story and moving the narrative forward. Saying nothing puts a brand in a worse position. Customers and prospects want to see that you have an understanding of the situation and that you’ll be able to continue to provide service. Companies will be able to build goodwill for their brands by instilling confidence in their customers.
What Should You Do Differently?
While you should continue marketing during the COVID-19 crisis, that doesn’t mean you should act as though nothing has changed.
Think about your tone. Realize that no matter how big or small a company may be, they’re all made up of people, people who deal with the same challenges and same stresses the rest of us are dealing with. Kids have to be monitored, communication tasks are more complex than ever (be prepared to hear “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was on mute,” between six and six thousand times a day).
Change the way you speak just as you would in real life. Make sure your messaging guides include standards on tone and conversation and aren’t just the partial script of tag lines and message maps. We were already beyond a world of one-way communication in marketing and now it’s even more so.
Be sure your brand is empathetic and helpful above all else.
Rethink Customer Needs and Challenges. Pull your campaign strategy and brand guides off the shelf. Review the customer wants, needs and challenges. How have they changed? How has your ability to deliver them changed? How does it impact your overall approach? The key to great marketing is understanding your capabilities and your customer wants and finding the point of intersection.
Polish Your Digital Presence. Your website, your apps, your social, your display ads. Your digital marketing is now your front door. (Of course, we would argue this was true long ago.)
- Be sure your website is prominently conveying information most useful to your customers in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Be sure your website is communicating everything your customer needs to find, interact and communicate with you.
- Spend time thinking about SEO. Examine your meta summaries and the language that appears on results pages. Think about how search behaviors are changing.
- Take a closer look at your social properties. Are they relevant to your customers and employees? As the remote workforce finds new ways to foster two-way conversations, your social sites represent an increasingly important space to communicate internally and externally.
Be Smart About Tactics. If you have the budget to do it, display ads may never be more useful. With the world behind computer screens, there has never been a better chance to reach a larger audience, segmented by any number of demographic factors to reach the people you can help. Even social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, long a small impact for business-to-business at best, are a potential opportunity. In 2019, Pew Research estimates 62% of people got their news from social media. The drive for more news, faster, is likely growing the presence of your customers on those platforms.
If marketing budgets are already a challenge, get creative. Focus on earned media. Spend time working on your SEO. Think about the best ways you can demonstrate a commitment to your current customers in ways that are not just noise, but meaningful to them.
Take a Deep Breath. The situation we find ourselves in likely isn’t going to resolve anytime soon. And as the adage goes, while few people remember if you do it fast, everyone remembers if you do it right. Having the first word is never as important as having the right word.
Keep Connection Going. The COVID-19 crisis will shuffle the deck for businesses. It’s time to rethink customer needs and usage patterns across all industries. It’s time to think about the acceleration of business trends like the remote workforce of curbside pick-up for brick and mortar stores.
But it’s not time to stop helping customers. It’s not time to stop telling your story. It’s not time to stop marketing.
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC.org
- COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic | 211.org
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources | SBA.org
- Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 | OSHA.gov
- Government Response to Coronavirus, COVID-19 | usa.gov
- Virus Outbreak: The Latest News | Associated Press