The do’s and don’ts of marketing during a pandemic

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So, let’s cut to the chase; how many working from home blogs have you written in the last month? How many emails have you sent assuring customers that you’re still operating? How many coronavirus discounts have you advertised? Chances are that these are questions that would have you counting through your fingers to answer. Fear not, you are not alone. Every marketeer in the world has been sending out communications touching upon one or combination of these over the recent bizarre and frightening few weeks. It’s created a lot of noise, and it’s a noise that fewer and fewer are appreciating.

In this piece, we seek to argue the case for continuing with marketing activity through the current storm but how to do so effectively, without screaming into the ether along with everyone else.

Desperate times call for dependable marketeers

It’s funny how everyone suddenly starts relying on the ‘colouring in department’ at the time of a crisis. “Where’s that team I keep buying cheap felt-tips for as an hilarious and original prank? We need them to get some comms out now!”

We get it, you make the jokes, we post the ROIs, and everyone goes home happy. But we’re in the middle of a life-threatening, economy-stalling pandemic now and the jokes don’t seem so funny (they never were). As marketeers, we have been presented with what will most likely be the greatest challenge we have ever encountered, and it is time to really show the value of our profession.

To aid you in demonstrating this value, we have compiled some top do’s and don’ts when marketing during a crisis…

Don’t let boredom turn to spam

The problem is, with so many people sat at home and coronageddon putting meaningful planning exercises on hold, some marketeers can find little else to do but create content. Be wary of this.

You need to keep in mind that though people are in quarantine, they have internet access. Therefore, more people are online and they’re staying online for longer. Whatever they’re doing on their devices; streaming boxsets, hosting video calls, going down YouTube conspiracy theory rabbit holes, perusing LinkedIn for further unwanted advice on home-schooling, they’re going to get pretty sick, pretty quickly of seeing you post your fourth blog of the day.

Instead of immediately turning your lightbulb moment into a 1,500-word guide, put some ideas down on paper and leave them. When the next idea comes along, do the same. After a few days, review those ideas and – guaranteed – there’ll be at least one you were glad never saw the light of day. For the couple of ideas that were actually good, spend the additional time crafting something really great.

Your audience will appreciate a properly thought-out and well-written pieces. They’ll also appreciate a few days respite between each one.

Don’t put all your energies into just comms – think about the full marketing mix 

We get it, you’re desperate for your audience to know you’re still here and functioning, albeit not exactly as normal. Once you’ve communicated this and followed up it up with the staple ‘Working from home’ blog series, there’s not much else you can really say, so don’t.

Rather than agitating about your next piece of content, look for ways you can continue to offer your product or service. Take Uber Eats as an example. The food delivery service wasted little time in making significant changes to its delivery procedures and software systems to not only keep the money rolling in during lockdown but also expediting the transfer of that money to its restaurant and takeaway partners.

As well as injecting millions into independent eateries with free promotional coupons, it has ditched many of the up-front costs associated with a new partner joining its network. Furthermore, Uber Eats has made considerable changes to its app with a new function that allows its hungry customers to request that deliveries be left on the doorstep rather than completing the usual physical transfer.

Whatever commodity your business deals in, invest your energies into considering the full marketing mix and devising innovative ways of servicing your customers that doesn’t just rely on discounts.

Do be generous with you time and energies

Use your time and expertise to provide free virtual sessions for the wider business community to engage with. Webinars, one-to-one consultancy, and multi-tenant roundtables are all popular and worthwhile activities. Not only do they deliver a welcome distraction from the outside world, such interventions provide opportunity for fellow professionals to keep their knowledge sharp whilst interacting with your brand. Something they won’t forget on the other side of all this. Remember, we’re playing a long ball game now.

As well as the provision of distractions, delivered as learning opportunities, a real commitment to helping people is the most admirable thing a brand can do right now.

Indeed, you may have noticed that, lately, beyond the likes of Amazon, various streaming services and the supermarkets, the brands making big and positive impacts are those that have been those engaging in efforts to fight the pandemic and support those on the frontline. BrewDog using their alcohol reserves to make free hand sanitiser, or Pret a Manger offering free hot drinks and discounted food to NHS staff, being a couple of examples amongst many.

In normal times, brand purpose might be a contentious topic, but it is anything but contentious to say that a meaningful commitment to helping the effort is the most commendable activity any brand can be pursuing right now.

Don’t mess around with your branding

In recent weeks, some of the biggest corporations have been adjusting their iconic logos to help spread the message of social distancing. McDonald’s separated their golden arches, Volkswagen pulled apart their V and W, Audi disconnected their four rings, and the man and woman sitting back-to-back on the Kappa logo were positioned with a more agreeable distance between them.

The reinvention of these logos, striking as they are, divided opinion. For every person beaming in wonderment at these multi-nationals using their platforms to press home an important message in such a way, another could be found brimming with cynicism. Unless your company is comparable in size to the likes of McDonald’s and Audi, cynicism is not a reaction you want to be inspiring within your audience.

Moreover, unless your brand is well-known, chances are many people won’t even notice you’ve altered your branding, making the initiative pointless as well as risky.

Do begin to think about the role your brand will play in the post-coronavirus world

Whilst confined to their homes, marketeers need to spend time thinking about the kind of a world we all wish to step back into, and the role their brands can play in helping restore confidence in society and rebuilding collective morale. Of course, it is ultimately the job of both central and devolved governments to define the atmosphere and architecture of our new reality, but the part brands can play should not be underestimated.

Particularly those brands which have invested significant time and money into building trust, should now be capitalising on this trust and harnessing it to develop ways of promoting social cohesion. Good examples are already emerging; the BBC have stepped up and are helping to educate a generation of children with no schools to go to and most supermarkets now protect select shopping hours for older and more vulnerable customers.

Strategic thinking though, must expand beyond the present and encompass the future. There is both hope and evidence that the COVID-19 crisis will ultimately bring out the best in us. However, worry persists that it could yet do the opposite. Marketeers need to be thinking right now about the ways in which they can safeguard and amplify the fact that humanity is fundamentally good, and that the vast majority of people care about their neighbours and their communities.

A good place to start would be for marketeers to consider the role their brands can play in the rehabilitation of those elements of civic society which bring people together and break down boundaries such as music, theatre, sport and the arts. After all, it is these pillars of society which provide balance in people’s lives and the experiences that are so crucial to maintaining happy, healthy, communal lives. In short, they are what keep us human.

At the time of writing this piece, no-one can be sure what the ‘new normal’ will look like. In the short-term, a certain degree of social distancing will most likely be necessary, but every measure must be taken to ensure that this distancing is only physical, and never emotional. If this experience causes us to lose what makes us human, we can consider ourselves defeated by it.

Within the marketing community of the world, we have the creative power, the reach and the will to connect meaningfully with consumers and help the world flourish in whatever the new normal looks set to be. You wield far more power than you perhaps realise.

Do wash your hands regularly and stay indoors

This one isn’t a tip, it’s an order.