A fog bank just rolled in on our screaming-fast economy and clouded our vision. To freeze your marketing now is akin to slamming on the brakes on the freeway. Results are predictable—a pile-up with terrible outcomes.
It is human nature that in an emergency many people freeze—in this case, pause, cancel, or limit marketing spending in a time of crisis. They become overly cautious in an effort to avoid potential losses.
Though that's a common reaction, and it's understandable, it is not advisable. It won't help you mitigate damage, nor will it allow you to identify opportunities for your brand to emerge through this crisis even stronger.
We are living in a time of great market disruption, the kind that breaks paradigms and creates as much opportunity as loss. Though it may be easier for our minds to envision our losses than to spot new opportunities, those opportunities are there.
Consider that your competition just froze. What opportunity did that create for your brand?
The best outcomes in a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic will come from agility and presence of mind. Be ready to dodge the immediate obstacles and look for a way to better your position without losing momentum—certainly without slamming the breaks and getting run over from behind.
Year in and year out, corporations spend massive resources seeking ways to tilt the market to their advantage, to disrupt the status quo, to change the model and innovate. Now is the time for an agile and rapid response.
Here are four questions to ask of yourself and of others to fight the freeze reaction:
- How do I want to emerge from this crisis? As a market leader or a follower?
- Have I taken time to reach out to my clients with offers to help them find their own silver lining opportunities from this situation?
- What is the long-term value of brand preference, positive impressions, and market share that I may gain by investing when others have gone silent?
- Is an investment in image now, while competition is on the sidelines, going to be far more cost effective and impactful?
Don't be paralyzed by analysis. Some instinctive action in the short term is important. Take a human and compassionate tone at the onset of the situation while developing a longer-term business vision. Trust that you and your team have the skills to quickly adjust and cater to the new business environment. Global staffing firm ManpowerGroup, for example, moved quickly to develop a #WorkSmart content hub to help candidates navigate searches and remote work during the COVID-19 crisis.
Focus on these eight areas
The following focus areas will help and inspire you to lead your brand boldly through a time of crisis.
How long will this disruption last? Weeks, months… forever? Many think the marketplace will be forever altered by COVID-19. Perhaps so. If that's the case, this moment is critical. There is more than one possible outcome, and you should map out the likely scenarios.
Things have changed, which means it's time to revisit target audiences. How are they reacting now? How will they be reacting later? Have new segments been created, or should current segments be redefined? How have their needs, purchases, habits, and attitudes changed? What did you learn from studying those changes, and how can your brand reinforce the good?
3. Product assessment
How should the features of your product be changed to reflect the new awareness or new concerns. How can you draw attention to current features and benefits that previously were not stressed? Is it simply packaging and language? Is it product design? Are there new or different applications?
How should delivery or service be altered to better address new usage or buying behaviors? What virtual conferencing or training tools or localized options in delivery or shipping do you have at your disposal to make this process easier, faster, cheaper, and more comfortable than your competitors?
Does your brand positioning or messaging need to be modified? Can you inform your consumer of a need to purchase that they were not previously aware of? Are you sensitive to the emotional needs of your customer? Can you lead with comforting and helpful thought leadership? Is there a way that you can demonstrate good intent, good values, and ethical behaviors that will be appreciated in the short term and the long term?
Brands have value because of customer trust. Trust is created through the fulfillment of promises. Brand equity can be established and increased in a time of need by identifying with customers' emotional state—their concerns and needs—assuaging their fears, and reinforcing their egos. By making important promises and fulfilling them. Or by behaving now in ways that fulfill previous promises. That can only be done if you truly understand your customers and their state of mind.
The best way to show customers that high level of understanding is through interactive communication, such as through social media. At this time of change, social strategy and messaging cannot be stressed enough, and what customers are saying about your brand on social media should be monitored more closely than ever before.
7. Deep and indelible impressions
In any crisis point in your life, your memories are extremely vivid and long-lasting. This is true for your customers and prospects as well. The people, brands, and institutions that stand up for them in their time of need—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—will forever be remembered in a special way. This is a classic opportunity to do well by doing good. Find a way to contribute to the cause in some meaningful way.
8. Strengthening your employer brand
Now is the time to make a positive impression on your employees and prospective employees. They need compassion and care but also strong leadership. Show them your company has integrity now, when it matters. As a leader you feel the stresses, but there was never a more egalitarian crisis: We are clearly all in this together, and the more you share that sentiment, the more you are helping yourself. Think of this as the ultimate team-building exercise.