Written by: Alex Stulac
The title “industry disruptor” is a title many businesses and founders would love to see connected to their name. Previous disruptors, such as Microsoft and Bill Gates, Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg, and Amazon and Jeff Bezos, have changed the way our market and economy functions. Today, as I write this, a new industry disruptor, COVID-19 and the New Normal, has changed the rules once again.
What is the marketing landscape during the pandemic?
The pandemic, brought on by the virus known as COVID-19, has forced many businesses to innovate and find solvency online. Most businesses adopted some form of digital marketing before this pandemic broke. But, it is fair to say, some businesses were more active than others. Now, it is paramount that you and your business adapt.
This disruption has forced active online marketers to reposition their initiatives. The messaging and tactics you were using pre-pandemic needs an overhaul. People's lives have changed, and, since our products are designed with the intention of helping these people, we shift as well.
Those relaxed marketers, who survived pre-COVID without a digital strategy or plan, now know that digital marketing is methodical - which is true for a lot of things, actually.
It's okay, your business may not have needed an active online presence in the past. Your customers may not have been online, or they connected with you in other ways. I am a big advocate for knowing who your buyer is and going to where their eyes are.
We are all on a level playing field right now in the marketing arena. But be diligent because it won't be level for long.
What should our marketing message be?
Hubspot, a Customer Resource Management (CRM) platform developer and resource leader in the content marketing space, is pushing out as much data as they can.
In the marketing community, Hubspot is famous for its resourceful online blog. Shortly after the pandemic broke, Hubspot launched a free webinar series, Adapt 2020, to help us navigate these new waters. I sat in on Hubspot's Selling through Uncertainty webinar panel back on May 7th, 2020.
Here were a few key takeaways:
1.“Sales and marketing metrics are viewed weekly now vs. monthly”
2. “Add Empathy”
3. “Make human connection…”
As short and compressed as these key-takeaways are, we can conclude that things are changing fast, and people need support. Support from a person who understands their problems in real-time. It is a tough time period, and we need to be there for one another more than ever.
Diving even deeper, Kipp Bodnar, Hubspot, found that, as of May 14th, through an aggregated sample of Hubspot's customers, “..total advertising spend was 18% below pre-COVID levels the week of May 4, and has essentially been flat at that level since March 16. This trend held across all company sizes and most industries.”
“However, in that same time period, the volume of marketing emails has reached 33% above pre-COVID benchmarks, while engagement with those emails has exploded to 20% above pre-COVID averages.” - Kip Bodnar, Hubspot
When the pandemic broke, I was curious to see what everyone was doing on all levels of marketing. Remember, marketing is creative, but requires research.
“The key with pandemic-related marketing is to be humble and indirect.” Adam King, a Senior Level Marketing Director told me. “You want to provide helpful information focused on your target customers' needs and how your company/product/service can help them during this time.”.
This pandemic has affected every person in some way, so instead of your business taking a neutral ground, you need to embrace it. Consider how your business is helping to fight the good fight.
Your products/services are related to the COVID 19 survival effort, how?
We are far from the recovery stage. Your messaging needs to remain relatable to the current time. Be present. Be in the now.
Lowe’s Home Improvement did a great job at designing new commercials centered around the home. The "Home is What Unites Us” campaign is a series of TV spots made of photographs Lowe’s had laying around. The three TV spots broke down as follows:
“One ad describes Lowe’s workforce as the “home team.” Another focuses on how employees have helped their communities during other crises, such as natural disasters. And a third shows images of different kinds of homes, from an apartment in a city to a house in a suburban neighborhood, to emphasize the commonality that all Americans share at this moment: They’re stuck at home.” - Melissa Repko, CNBC.com
What was Lowe's approach?
According to Marty Swant, Forbes, Lowe’s began by auditing its current, and upcoming content. Lowe's wanted to assure that its marketing message aligned with the shift in the world. “Thalberg [Chief Brand and Marketing Officer, Lowe's] and her team then started rolling out relevant content first on social media”. The new TV spots soon followed. Lowe's strategy is an effective outline to follow for any marketer looking for a place to begin.
How do I approach marketing during a time of crisis?
We have seen the news, and consumer behavior has changed drastically during this pandemic. My biggest hope is that there is a cure in sight and that businesses can find some economic stability.
When trying to predict when the market will return to normal, if it will, during pandemics is very difficult. The Economic Times reviewed past pandemics and cited a source that said when it comes to understanding the end of a pandemic “[p]ublic health officials have a medical end in sight, but some members of the public see a social end.” Is it a race for a cure? Will this pandemic end when the public says “we’ve had enough?” Will other variables take this down a direction we never anticipated? The point is we don’t know, so be agile in your marketing, and market for the now.
Here are 3 steps to help you right now:
1. Build a Buyer Persona just for COVID-19. Spend the time and understand the specific problems your buyers face today. You will build genuine trust with your buyers. They're going through a lot, we all are. Be there for your customers by understanding who they are as an individual.
2: Review your marketing strategy, and plan.
When buyer’s habits change, you should reevaluate your marketing strategy. Your customers are buying for their needs and wants right now. They don't have the same needs and wants they had a few months ago.
Ask yourself “What do my customers need and want right now?” This question will take things wider. It will challenge you to understand your customers more than you ever have.
This does not go without saying, our eggs do not all go in one basket. Even though we need to be very focused on the present, don't forget that there needs to be a degree of forecasting. Make sure you prepare for our market's future (post-pandemic).
If you want to try something new, and cost-effective, consider adopting an inbound methodology. Why? Inbound principles are about helping people first, through informative and educational content.
Educational content is even more popular during the pandemic. The consumption of information online is up. “Course enrollments [ on udemy.com] during the pandemic have increased by more than 425% with an interesting mix of people upgrading tech skills and taking on passion projects.” Tom Vander Ark, Forbes, reported on May 7, 2020.
Using the information you hold as an expert in your industry, develop YouTube videos, blog posts, podcasts, online courses, and more. Once you understand your buyer, knowing how he/she consumes information online will determine which form your content should take.
3: Review your messaging and relatability.
This step is to help you and help our global economy.
Regardless of the size of your business, your messaging needs to explain how you are helping the pandemic.
Adam King begs the question to all us marketers "How does your product or service help improve the world during the COVID-19 pandemic? Honestly, you shouldn’t be concerned with anything else.”
Right now, we need to be transparent. Lay your cards on the table. “Did prices go up? Why? Because we are keeping our staff on - market that online” Adam cited as an example of transparency.
You can show how your business is helping the relief efforts. Is your business giving away free products/services to first responders?
If you own a restaurant, promote healthy food offerings to keep your guests’ immunity strong.
“[I]t is critical for our population to focus on their own health and use food as medicine to bolster their own health and thereby reduce the overall burden on your health care system” - Dr. Mark Hyman, The Cleveland Clinic
Side Note: Many of our businesses have been, and will continue to be, affected by this economic turn. Local restaurants, especially in my area, are hurt badly. Consider getting take-out once a week from a local restaurant with healthy food options.
My goal is to offer businesses, marketers, and other industry professionals a jumping-off point with this blog. The broad nature of this post is intended to challenge you, as the market challenges you, to be creative. A sense of direction is needed, but a step-by-step guide does not allow for the experiential learning that will set you up for success in the future.
Here is a chance for you and your business to try something new. This is the time to experiment, explore, and test new ways to market your business. In turn, you will also help your community. I guarantee if you are genuine in your approach people will thank you and remember it for years to come.
I wish you and your business the best of luck.
If you would like to connect and discuss ideas, please feel free to contact me for a virtual “coffee”.
We’re in this together.
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