CEO of Jargon PR, a leading small international agency, delivering world-class PR campaigns that drive business results.
Our current pandemic reality does not share too many obvious similarities with the book Love in the Time of Cholera, but you could say that marketing and love are at least partly connected.
After all, they both use communication to build a relationship. Granted, one is more intimate than the other, but for relationships to survive during a pandemic-inspired lockdown, they do need some attention.
Do You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All?
At the moment, many organizations will be thinking that their marketing during the pandemic should be either understated or virtually nonexistent. Companies and brands have a lot to think about currently — and so do their customers. On the other, without using appropriate marketing to bolster or encourage sales, how can companies expect to come out of the other side of this crisis intact?
Without a doubt, there is a careful balancing act to perform here. Covid-19 continues to impact the nation, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The majority of us are stuck inside unable to see our loved ones or enjoy our usual summer social life. Is now really the time to heavily promote your summer fashions? A glib, ill-considered sales message now could be a long-term branding disaster.
And while it might seem easier to stay quiet, thinking that you can’t get the message wrong if you say nothing at all is misguided — even if your product or service might seem wildly inappropriate in a Covid-19 world.
You have to consider — and wholeheartedly believe — that product or service will be relevant again in the future. You also need to act in a way now that ensures you are in a good position and have maintained healthy relationships when that time comes. You need to try to keep your customers onside now, as well as fish responsibly for some new ones.
Lost For Words — Think Perception
So, what should organizations be saying in these tough economic times? First of all, consider how something might be perceived. I mentioned “summer fashions” earlier — here’s a real-life example of an organization focusing on perception.
One clothing company emailed its regular customers to apologize in advance that its summer catalog might be dropping in their mailboxes in the next few days. This meant a catalog full of pictures of models enjoying outdoor pursuits without a hint of social distancing.
The company not only pointed out that the pictures were taken last summer, but it also highlighted that with its stores closed, as well as those of the businesses it supplied to, its own warehouse had never been so full of garments. A thoughtful offer of free delivery and free returns showed a company thinking of the enforced changes to the buying habits of its customers.
It’s a great example of thinking ahead to how something could be perceived, explaining it in honest dialogue, and offering an incentive to shop. It was a message that conveyed understanding. It had, and encouraged, empathy — even as it sought to gently encourage sales.
In these times, businesses — even multi-million-dollar ones — need to be seen to have a caring nature. People are open to hearing about how a business has protected its staff. I want my favorite pub and restaurant to survive this and reopen. If they are offering a takeaway food service or similar in order to keep the business afloat, I want to know about it so I can support it.
Social Comes Into Its Own
Creating and promoting the right social channels can really help. At times like these, listening to your customers and actively encouraging dialogues is perhaps even more important than normal. What are your customers saying? By applying social listening, you can get the tone of your communications right.
Make sure your own posts and messaging highlight good aspects of your company’s culture. Express your own concerns and acknowledge the wider pandemic context. At the moment, with no sales event, conferences or face-to-face customer meetings, your biggest sales weapon is your advertising, marketing, PR and social media content. Make it warm, relevant and human.
Focus on creating sharable, friendly and advisory content that addresses consumers’ concerns. You are an expert in whatever your field is; let people know how the pandemic is affecting it, what you and they can do to adapt, and include any lockdown-relevant suggestions. Don’t ignore the pandemic, don’t carry on as usual and don’t be oblivious to your customers changing circumstances.
Listen to, research and take part in your community — it will be the only way to successfully maintain all those vital relationships. Marketing in the time of the pandemic actually has a lot in common with marketing at any time. It shouldn’t take place in a vacuum — it has to reflect the world around it and the challenges and circumstances of its intended audience. So, don’t lock down marketing in a time of crisis. Rather, free it to adapt to the times and help your business remain relevant.
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Author: Simon Corbett, Forbes Councils Member