Marketing during COVID-19 seems at best trivial, and at worst unseemly. Should businesses stop marketing altogether right now? I have been wrestling with that a lot for the past two weeks, with regards to our own business. The initial direction I gave to our team at Demand Spring in mid-March was that our marketing should not attempt to capitalize on this pandemic in any way. While my thinking remains consistent, I have since changed my mind on our approach to communicating with clients and prospects. Let me tell you why.
First, I want to acknowledge how incredibly fast we have all regressed to the basic needs level in Maslow’s hierarchy. Even going to the grocery store is a harrowing experience. I usually stay very calm in most situations, so I was shocked at how agitated I was when a woman stood right next to me at the banana stand on the weekend. Several thoughts went through my mind as I gathered myself after the fact. Was she misinformed about the proper social distancing guidelines? A rebel without a cause (or concern)? Is she a cord cutter who doesn’t own a computer or smartphone? Should I consider bringing a tape measure with me next time?
At any rate, my heart goes out to the people of Italy, Spain, New York, in senior care residences (and their families), and everyone else who is deeply affected and suffering from this pandemic. I’m not sure how to express how deeply grateful I am for our healthcare professionals and those working in grocery stores and other essential services who are putting themselves in harm’s way for us. You are all angels who are earning your wings in spades at this time.
Reconsidering the True Spirit of Business
If we think about businesses as a means of helping each other (rather than of wealth creation), I believe business to business communication (as well as B2C) is important right now.
Engaging your audience with communication that helps them should not be seen as improper, as long as the spirit is in the right place. That doesn’t mean that everything you provide right now should be free. Keeping our global society as healthy as possible (both now and in the coming months) means keeping our businesses as healthy as possible. A global depression following this pandemic is in nobody’s best interest.
Execution is everything in a situation like this one. What you say. To whom you say it. And measuring how it is being received are the critical things to get right. Done properly, communication at this time can provide a welcome helping hand and build affinity as we move to recovery phases. Done poorly and the consequences for your organization could be dire.
Here are six essential actions that organizations must take now when recalibrating their marketing during COVID-19.
1. Be Data-Driven
Using analytics to understand what, and to whom, you should communicate is of utmost importance now. Efficiency is imperative with your marketing spend. Now is not a time for gut instinct alone. Triangulate the data in your web analytics, marketing automation platform, and CRM to refine your content, messages, products, and services your audience finds most helpful now.
2. Prepare Multiple Budget Scenarios
Your marketing budget may have already been cut. Given the fluidity of this situation and its impact on spending and the economy, it would be smart to use multiple tabs in your budget spreadsheet to model what your marketing spend allocation looks like at 75% and 50% of what it is today.
3. Coordinate Your Actions
This is no time to be a lone wolf. Your Marketing messages and actions MUST be in strong alignment with your overall business strategy and the messages coming from your C-Suite. Marketing and Sales must work together to drive a highly coordinated communication and engagement strategy. If you haven’t already, Marketing should be equipping Sales with revised enablement materials that reflect the key communication points at this time. (See action #1.)
4. Adjust Your Targeting
Who you sold to last month (e.g., the hospitality industry) may be entirely different from who may benefit from your products and services right now. That doesn’t mean you should stop communicating with those industries, but it does mean you should adjust your messaging from selling to a 100% focus on helping. Other industries (e.g., medical equipment, virtual conferencing solutions, consumer staples) may now have an increased need for your products or services. One word of advice here — consider sub-segments of your key industries rather than completely new industries to pivot towards. For example, if you traditionally target the retail industry, consider sub-segments right now such as grocery, skincare, pharma, and delivery.
Empathy, a focus on how you can help, and a refinement of the products or services that are best suited to the current situation should be the focal point of your messaging. As Matt Roberts wrote about last week, empathy doesn’t mean writing a “boiler-plate” COVID-19 letter from the CEO because everyone else is doing it. Also, you don’t need to go on about how people are feeling. Overdoing it can be just as damaging for people who are short-staffed and also for whom work is an escape from the situation.
6. Focus Your Execution
Reduced budgets, layoffs, and working from home while managing children are all elements that may be impacting your ability to execute now. Going back to our first recommended action, use metrics to get laser-focused on what you will execute. One technology that could be especially helpful right now is Intent Platforms from vendors like 6Sense and Bombora. If you have this technology but aren’t fully leveraging it, now would be a good time. Per action three above, aligning your marketing team to focus on a limited number of high-value strategies and tactics right now is imperative.
I hope this helps you gain further clarity into the approach you will take with your marketing during COVID-19. If there is one thing to remember, it’s to speak from your heart at this time. If your marketing and communication right now come from a place of helping others it should be well-received in the market. Be well, everyone!
To hear me speak on GLOBE Series’ webinar on “How to Navigate Your Business Through a Crisis,” click here.
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