Marketing during a crisis can be extremely challenging. There are people that believe marketing, as usual, should be stopped altogether. However, a survey by Kantar suggests that less than nine percent of people believe advertising should be retracted during a crisis. In saying this, it is paramount that you address the crisis with tact, empathy, and integrity and avoid being perceived as insensitive, ignorant and opportunistic. I have pulled together advice from market experts, business owners, and my own research to create tips relating to marketing during COVID-19.
When referring to COVID-19 it is absolutely paramount that you do not come across as opportunistic. Below are recommendations that will help you craft empathetic and tactful messaging.
It is important to remember that you are not responsible for advising your customers on everything COVID-19 related. Only inform your customers on relevant information, such as measures you are taking and possible store closures. In addition to taking an informative approach, don’t be afraid, to be honest and open about how you are being affected.
In addition to working with Vxt I am a co-founder of a start-up called New Zealand and Beyond. After over a year of preparation, we had to delay our launch to an uncertain date due to COVID-19. We took an open and honest approach when communicating this delay to our clients. We were overwhelmed with the amount of support and understanding we got in response. Our clients expressed gratitude that we were transparent about our situation, and it actually helped strengthen our relationships as it encouraged them to open up about how they have been affected.
Remember that people are scared, it is important to ensure you do not add to this through your marketing. Avoid language that is of an alarmist nature and if you are sharing an article ensure that it is from a credible source.
It is important that you rethink current plans and events and analyse how these could be pivoted to better suit the current environment. Obviously, events that involve large public gatherings are to be postponed or canceled, but there are opportunities to pivot your marketing in a way that aids your customers and helps build your brand reputation. There is a huge opportunity for brands to pivot towards trends that have been created during this period.
Right now, the demand for online training and education is increasing due to people in lockdown, quarantine, or facing unemployment having more time on their hands and wanting to use this time to their advantage. You should look to utilise this trend by providing an educational aspect to your marketing. I will use my own experience as an example, I was scrolling through Instagram last week when I came across a local Christchurch florist called Dried Flower & CO. who was advertising free tutorials on drying flowers and wreath making via her live Instagram stories. Jumping at the opportunity to learn a new skill during lockdown, I forwarded the advertisement to my group of friends and we all tuned in and followed her page.
Prior to her tutorials, I had never heard of this brand, now I follow all their social channels and am excited for the next tutorial. In her most recent tutorial, she announced that the popularity of her online tutorials has encouraged her to start her own Youtube channel. This example highlights how pivoting towards education can create greater brand awareness and give your marketing a wider reach. I have seen this same strategy being implemented by personal trainers doing live workouts, and marketers offering free online courses.
Your collateral should be evaluated with new consumer behaviour and attitudes in mind. Imagery can be powerful, and marketing with the best intent could still come across as ignorant. Here are the main things to look out for when it comes to imagery:
Avoid using visuals of crowds or people touching. This is something that was so normalised in imagery prior to COVID-19. However, now it can come across as ignorant and even put consumers off your brand as we are all avoiding this type of action. Prior to COVID-19 marketing language like “get close to your customer” would be completely fine but due to the present crisis, it is now inappropriate. Instead, this could be changed to “build your customer relationships”.
Indirect marketing is a strategy of engaging in marketing activity without being obviously promotional. It is the process of conveying your product, service and brand image by using useful information to engage your customers.
Indirect marketing is our best friend during times of crisis. When people are scared, hard-selling can come across as disrespectful and insensitive. Now more than ever it is important that your brand comes across as having integrity. The florist online tutorials mentioned earlier is a great example of how you can utilise indirect marketing. One thing our team has been doing a lot lately is implementing employee-generated content. Simple things like getting your employees to share their favorite book or movie is a great way of conveying a personal and approachable brand.
During COVID-19 paid ads have become cheaper, presenting a great opportunity for marketing. This is because big ad networks make money through an auction system. This system relies on small businesses to drive up cost per click. If you don’t have as many small businesses advertising (like we are experiencing now) there isn’t as much competition so cost per click decreases. In addition to this, internet usage has increased dramatically to the point where companies like Netflix have had to reduce their streaming quality so that they can handle the influx of users. Web traffic is at an all-time high and marketers are seeing a greater return on investment on paid ads than prior COVID-19. Neil Patel, a digital marketing consultant, says he has seen an average of 71% increase in return on investment for paid ads amongst his clients.
Empathy should be at the heart of every marketing decision during a crisis. As long as you address the crisis with tact, empathy, and integrity there is no reason why appropriate marketing activities cannot continue during this time.