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Marketing Out of a Crisis

Think long-term, recognize how people feel, don’t do it all at once

By Gathan Borden


In these unprecedented times…

How many times have we heard this line over the past few months? How many times have brands distributed video messages about “staying safe” and “we’ll be here for you when this is over”? You could basically take any of these videos, swap out the images and realize that all of these brands are saying and doing the same thing, which is a faux pas in the marketing world. But aside from that issue, what it does show is that all brands are feeling the impact of COVID-19 and are trying to empathize with consumers.

COVID-19 has caused the destruction of a lot of the global economy and left behind large swaths of our population who are either furloughed or no longer have employment. Businesses have had to make tough decisions, adjust their operations or simply shut down altogether. Individual states have been shut down for weeks and most of us have been confined to our houses, leaving only to get essential goods.

So yes, these really are unprecedented times.

As the country begins to reopen the economy, businesses are having discussions around the who, what, where, when, why and how of marketing their products and services again. How do you sell a product and/or service in the midst of a recession and a pandemic? Every business will have different standards to adhere to, but as we strive to get back to the new normal, there are four things you should take into account as you start to market your products and/or services again:

Humanize your brand

This pandemic has reinforced the concept of “6 degrees of separation” as no one is immune to the effects of COVID-19. Customers have always wanted to learn what makes a brand unique, but now they have shown more interest in a brand’s social initiatives and the people behind the brand—the employees. The worst thing a brand can do is be tone deaf and pretend that we are not living through the greatest recession in American history.

Many people have lost jobs, homes and loved ones while others aren’t able to pay bills or even know where their next meal is coming from. This will lead to longer lead times and longer purchasing cycles, as customers will need to weigh several financial options before making decisions. Be sensitive to the current environment and the needs of your customer, because your role as a brand is probably not as important to the customer as it once was.

Activate previous customers

It’s a known fact that people trust people more than organizations. Past customers have always been the low-hanging fruit for repeat business, and they will be even more crucial to the success of our economy as we work towards recovery. In recent years, we saw the rise of micro-influencers across various social media platforms who produced and published their own high-quality content to shed light on the small businesses in their communities. Now, there is a new opportunity to peel back one more layer and find ways to activate your previous customers while taking into account all of the post COVID-19 operating procedures for your business.

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You shouldn’t be the only one telling customers that your place of business is safe and clean. How can you get your previous customers back into your business or make another purchase? How can you arm your previous customers with the right messages to share with their friends and social networks? Content is still king, and distribution is still queen, but not all content has to be high-quality—rawness and humanity still sells.

Think short-term, mid-term and long-term

You are not going to be able to right the ship immediately. None of us have a crystal ball, so who knows what will happen next? If you start with the long-term in mind first and then work backwards, you can develop a sound plan for marketing your business’s recovery.

For example, if the long-term plan is to get your business to a certain level in one year, then your mid-term plan would be six months and then your short-term plan would be three months. Don’t try to do a year’s worth of recovery in four weeks. Avoid making knee-jerk reactions, and allow data to help guide your decisions along the way.

Be prepared for the next crisis

We know that this will not be the last time our country will face a global crisis; as a matter of fact, this might not even be the last time we deal with COVID-19, so now is as good a time as ever to prepare for the future. How can you make your operations more streamlined? How can you make your sales and marketing plans more nimble? How can you better structure staff to pivot when the next crisis hits? These and others are all critical questions you need to ask yourself.

We have all learned just how quick and devastating a global crisis is, and the long-lasting effects it leaves behind. As economies begin to open up, and we start this new normal, I challenge you to be more thoughtful of your customers, your employees and your marketing plans, as we still have some tough times ahead.

Assess your current visuals and messaging to make sure they fit the current climate. Be honest. Be transparent. Be strategic. Be prepared. In the words of our governor, we are going to get through this, we are going to get through this together. â– 

Gathan Borden is vice president of marketing for VisitLEX.