Americans live in a constant cycle of crisis. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep across the globe, each day brings new developments that fill people with feelings of fear, sadness, anger, and anxiety, which creates a challenging marketing climate.
In an ideal world, companies and customers would be communicating in good spirits. Today's buyers, however, have a case of the bad news blues. They are bombarded with upsetting stories and images every day. In turn, many sellers are experiencing immense economic strain and uncertainty.
Brand trust was already low before the pandemic. Now, marketers must work even harder to craft engaging and effective campaigns that both encourage trust and free their target audiences from the doldrums.
Navigating the Crisis Climate
Some businesses have responded to the coronavirus crisis by going dark. According to a March 2020 survey, nearly 25% of CMOs said they postponed their paid marketing efforts because they didn't want to be accused of leveraging a crisis for corporate gain.
Most companies have continued to market their products and services through coronavirus-specific campaigns. Those companies share similar goals—to create messaging and offerings that instill feelings of comfort, reassurance, hope, and safety—but their results have varied. Some initiatives come across as genuine attempts to help customers navigate the crisis; others ring hollow as nothing more than lip service.
For instance, AT&T responded to the pandemic by extending discounts to companies that continued operating. Businesses that wanted to purchase AT&T World Connect Advantage could, for a limited time, do so at half off the original rate; meanwhile, companies operating with a remote workforce could use Cisco Webex Meetings through the carrier and forward calls to employees' cellphones and landlines via AT&T IP Flexible Reach.
In the era of bad news, the margin for error is slim. Companies can easily see through campaigns that attempt to create a false sense of security. Businesses must be authentic when reaching out to their audiences, and they must follow through on their promises.
Confronting Crisis Fatigue
When steering campaigns during a crisis, marketers must recognize that different demographics experience different realities. For example, recent Forrester research suggests that Generation Z is significantly less worried about the coronavirus pandemic than Baby Boomers. Moreover, people living in virus hot spots feel more pessimistic about the future than people who live in less blighted areas. B2B marketers might find a cross section of those two demographics within their target audience and alter campaigns accordingly.
Today, business and society are jam-packed with a variety of polarized opinions and emotions, making it especially tricky for brands to craft marketing messages with mass appeal. Rather than attempting to unify and inspire audiences through generic "we're all in this together" rallying cries, marketers should focus campaigns on how their brands are uniquely positioned to help businesses overcome the long-term consequences of the pandemic.
The following three tips will help marketing teams create successful campaigns that combat crisis fatigue.
1. Embrace agile marketing
A rapidly changing environment calls for Agile Marketing. Teams that typically spend several months conceiving and launching campaigns must drastically reduce their timelines. Short sprint campaigns will help businesses ensure their marketing initiatives remain relevant and effective over time.
Agile also helps brands better prepare for the future. Marketers can create and queue up a series of micro-campaigns that launch as the pandemic evolves and milestones are reached.
For example, a team could proactively draft messaging that addresses the eventual lifting of social distancing guidelines. It could also prepare for a worst-case scenario: a campaign that addresses a second wave of coronavirus that causes additional shelter-in-place orders.
Remaining flexible gives marketers the freedom to read the room and adjust their approaches.
2. Forget about perfection
Agile Marketing is all about continuous learning and improvement. Teams that strive for perfection must therefore shift their mindsets. The goal should be to launch a campaign quickly, monitor its performance, identify any problems, and then incorporate insights into the next campaign.
That test-and-learn method allows brands to use real-life audience feedback to steer their campaigns and develop messages that make a cross-demographic impact.
3. Adjust tactics, not strategies
It is important to distinguish between "marketing strategies" and "marketing tactics."
Strategy—company identity, voice, and long-term goals and plans—should remain consistent throughout crises. Tactics—the channels, mediums, and messages marketers use during a marketing campaign—should shift over time as new information is available.
Business customers are looking for steady, consistent leadership during the coronavirus crisis. They do not want their favorite vendors to change strategies suddenly and stray from their core identities.
Moreover, a company can't be agile while adjusting its marketing strategy. It takes time to develop a new mission, vision, and goals—and companies do not have much time to spare now. Maintaining a consistent strategy allows marketing teams to pivot quickly as they continue exploring alternative tactics.
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Successful marketing during the coronavirus crisis depends on marketing teams' ability to adjust on the fly. America's emotional and economic climate is changing by the day—and so are buying habits.
This is an uncertain and challenging time for all of humanity. Companies are struggling to stay positive and productive while immersed in a perpetual cycle of bad news. Nevertheless, now is not the time for marketers to go mute. Instead, it's time to create authentic campaigns that make a real difference for business customers.
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