Marketing During a Crisis
by Emillie Kuo

Marketing in the Wake of COVID-19

In the name of global solidarity, COVID-19 has pushed us all into a collective agreement to ‘flatten the curve.’ While this consensus has been somewhat accepted on a granular level – individuals choosing to social distance, personal sacrifices to protect the “what if it were your grandparents?” notion, we look further and ask what role do companies and businesses play to not only help protect society at a macro level, but also help progress our world back into normalcy?

People are spending their “new normal” learning how to bake bread from scratch and scouring every online store for the last in-stock Nintendo Switch. It’s clear that these newfound hobbies have one thing in common – consumers’ behaviors are diverging from the norm, and firms must evolve by following these new consumption patterns.

While the sense of uncertainty increases, customers are turning to the Internet, corporations, small businesses, and brands for a solution and a sense of reassurance. In times of crisis, leaders must adapt their company’s response and strategy, wielding their most powerful weapon – marketing.

Go Virtual Wherever You Can

At some point in the last few months, we’ve all heard the words: “your event has been canceled.” Whether you are the Silicon Valley’s latest rising startup star or a music and film festival junkie, you are one of the 83 million people who had to change their plans because of COVID-19.

However, these 2 consumers, though vastly different in their spring plans, both ended up in the same place at the end of the day- the Internet. It’s the most powerful tool to permeate information and content, and proactive companies have found a way to adapt their physical event to something virtual. We saw Red Hat Summit Livestream panels and software training. We saw live virtual concerts from record companies every single weekend. This not only reduces costs, but it creates opportunities to hyper-personalize every attendee’s event experience- from advertising to event content to post-event follow-up.

Cheaper Cost Per Clicks (CPC)

As budgets get tighter, companies are looking for ways to cut costs as efficiently as possible, and many have done so in their advertising budgets. But with consumers moving online for almost every facet of their life, we are seeing an increase in searches for goods and services like cleaning products, food delivery services, telemedicine, and more. Pay-per-click (PPC) ads exist to provide a solution to those online search queries. On average, online traffic and Google searches for specific products are up, and CPC for online ads are down. With competition dissipating in the advertising realm, paid ads are becoming cheaper, producing a higher ROI.

Find Agility in Branding & Messaging

Staying factual and scientific is a blanket requirement for all messaging. But becoming agile and innovative in your messaging and branding will protect your image and prevent your company from sounding tone-deaf.

Companies should remember to remain customer-centric at all times. Be proactive and not predictive, adapt to the new needs of customers whose purchasing trends are changing as quickly as their behavioral trends. Nike immediately reimagined a world without sports with an ad showing athletes like Lebron James working out at home and that you can too. A local Seattle startup’s business model centered on pre-planned mystery date nights was not going to survive in the pandemic, so they reinvented their product to a night-in mystery box. Successful brands find ways to pivot their messaging or adapt their product to changing needs.

Communicate with Generosity

Krispy Kreme offered free donuts to healthcare workers and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $300 million for relief, both equally communicating empathy and responsibility. It’s important to remember the power you have as a business – being socially responsible is not just a buzzword, it’s an action you take to give back to a person or a community in crisis.

These actions, whether it’s as small as a $1 donut or as large as a $300 million donation, conveys authenticity and bolsters a positive brand reputation. A positive brand reputation means lasting customer loyalty.

Add Value to the Clutter

Beyond advertising, consumers are looking for targeted content to answer their questions through organic SEO. Thoughtful, functional, and up-to-date content not only provides immediate guidance to consumers, it creates long-term equity in your overall search rankings. Updating and optimizing your most popular content pieces will help preserve your brand image and remain top-of-mind during the Buyer’s Journey, especially during the Awareness and Consideration Stage. Users during the pandemic and a recession may be looking for information over a purchase for non-essential items.

Find synergy between your paid search and your organic search efforts, ensuring cohesion and support between the two so that you’re prepared to direct users to the right content and create the trust needed for long-term customer loyalty.

Prepare for Any Scenario

There are many unanswered questions left brewing underneath this pandemic. While few could’ve planned for COVID-19, marketers can plan for possible scenarios after the crisis.

Be prepared to have a plan for a possible return of the virus in the fall, the brewing unemployment boom, and the impending recession. Find where new demand and needs lie, focus on mitigating and triaging risks, foster customer loyalty, stay flexible, harness the digital world, and continue to remain top-of-mind with thoughtful marketing.

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