Brands and the marketing (and other) teams that shepherd them are wondering how to adapt and react during these extraordinary times. Just as all of us, as individuals, are doing.
The fluidity of the situation created by the current pandemic makes it tricky to navigate and to know how to best balance brands' most pressing, and often rapidly evolving needs, with short- and long-term business realities.
One thing is clear: It's more important than ever before for organizations to stay agile, relevant, and ready to adapt—if necessary, again and again.
While there's no one-size-fits-all solution to staying in the game, there are a few emerging best-practices to guide marketers through this trying time.
What follows is a thought on what not to do, along with three effective ways to rise to the challenge with sensitivity and an authentic commitment to the brands you represent as marketers.
Don't 'wait and see': It isn't the best approach
Right now, putting the brakes on campaigns can feel like a natural reaction, but it's important to consider the long-term effects of a decision like that.
Companies may not feel those effects immediately, but we all know that the marketing we do today changes business prospects in the future. Completely exiting the conversation during a moment like this can potentially cause tangible harm to a brand, especially if key competitors persist in meaningful and relevant ways.
Considering the uncertainty and gravity of the situation, simply restarting or waiting to pick up where you left off doesn't appear to be a viable strategy, either. Revenue, market share, and brand perception could all take serious hits if your brand isn't present when your audiences need value the most.
Instead, focus your marketing resources on finding ways to be present, appropriate, and nimble.
Here are a few thoughts on how to accomplish that.
1. Do stay connected through proven channels
In most cases, the customers and prospects you've worked so hard to nurture want to hear from you and to connect with contextually appropriate value propositions.
You now have an excellent opportunity to align your corporate behavior to your brand values. Find ways to highlight that you are in this with your customers and audiences, and that you are continuing to walk alongside them with compassion.
You might tell stories about how you're looking after your own people, encouraging them to practice social distancing and so enabling them to work from home. Such messages are also a subtle way to let your audience know that you are available to them.
Lean into those channels and tactics that are working, while also being open to new ones.
People are turning to the media even more than usual for information, entertainment, and connection. Nielsen data shows an increase in television viewers since a large part of the population started working from home or otherwise staying put. TV streaming time is up 12% in early reads, with much of the resulting ad inventory going unsold. Consumers say they're using more social media and looking for more information on their computers and mobile devices as a result of the crisis.
Those stats point to potential touchpoints. Here are some brands that are reacting well:
- State Farm quickly put together a commercial about the "New Normal."
- Little Caesars put out a new video that highlights its safety practices and no-touch pickup or delivery options.
- Chipotle has been highly engaged on Twitter, and used that channel to announce an open Zoom hangout for all of its followers.
Find ways to break down the barriers that have prevented you from this kind of relevance and agility in the past, and be present in these and other spaces with meaningful things to say.
This may just be the perfect time to try some of the new things that have been on your wish list for a while.
2. Do rely on data, and keep it safe
With so many people working from home, data security is a real concern.
New research shows, already, a spike in cybercrimes since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and suggests that working remotely—often via public Wi-Fi and personal computers—exposes data to security breaches. Though Zoom has been the darling of this pandemic, it has fallen victim to security issues.
Those who have integrated new technologies, such as AI and ML, know the power they have at their fingertips—and the responsibility it entails. The technologies collect and deliver to businesses massive amounts of consumer data. Now is the time to manage that data, ensure that it is securely stored and accessible, and use it to better understand and engage with clients' audiences.
Ensure, too, that trust-building is an integral component of marketing plans.
3. Do provide real value, without capitalizing on unfortunate circumstances
Increasingly, marketing is about value exchanges. At this moment, even more than at other times, consumers want utility. They are looking for practical ways to make this challenging situation work for them.
For instance, some restaurants are moving to free home delivery or drive-thru/pickup options, and home-fitness providers are offering extended free streaming trials.
Think about ways to support your audiences through your media and marketing that connect with your value proposition. Here are a few good examples of brands doing that well:
- Not only did Mint Mobile give subscribers free unlimited data, but owner Ryan Reynolds left all of them a light-hearted voicemail.
- Audible is offering free children's books as long as schools are closed.
- Joann Fabrics is giving away free facemask kits with an instructional video and encouraging customers to donate them to local hospitals.
A word of caution: avoid being transparently opportunistic. Any perception of taking advantage of the pandemic is just about the worst look possible for any brand.
Just be genuinely helpful, and do what's best for all of your stakeholders. That will most likely mean marketing and media strategies that are modified for the circumstances. Make sure that nothing comes across as capitalizing on the situation.
If selling is the only "value" in some of the marketing you're doing right now, consider shifting that and instead offering help and utility during this period.
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We don't know yet how people will react to the behavior changes associated with social distancing and working from home, but we do know that they are consuming more media, and we hope that they will remain receptive to marketing messages, using this time to research and make more informed purchase decisions.
Brands that fare the best will be those that are compassionate and ready to react as results and conditions dictate.