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The PR Maven(R), CEO & Founder, Marshall Communications, creating & implementing marketing/PR/personal branding strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the world as we know it. The world of marketing is no different: Our new normal is a challenging one for marketers to navigate.
According to a recent survey from the World Federation of Advertisers, more than 80% of large advertisers are deferring their advertising campaigns. And nearly 60% of survey respondents have already decreased their budgets “somewhat” or “greatly.”
From Airbnb to Coca-Cola and Visa, some of America’s most recognizable brands are showing that even they are not immune to a pandemic. One analyst expects the U.S. ad industry to lose as much as $26 billion this year.
But it’s not the time to give up. Where there is crisis, there is also opportunity. The most innovative, forward-thinking companies can still find ways to promote their brands to consumers.
Especially because sales representatives have less face time with prospective clients and customers right now, the onus is on marketers to fill that void and add value. Take your local car dealerships: Due to showroom closures, the traditional salesperson has been replaced by the online marketer, who can leverage email newsletters and social media outreach to reach consumers. Jack Hollis, who markets Toyota cars in North America, recently said, “If you currently have a dealership that’s been selling maybe 10% of its sales through an online system, maybe now it goes to a third.”
Let’s remember the power of marketing in the first place. It is marketing that sets the stage for a salesperson to walk out and be the star of the show. If a consumer has heard of the brand before, they are more likely to buy from it. Conversely, salespeople can waste a lot of their time (and money) making cold calls without first establishing brand recognition. That’s an uphill battle. Many consumers don’t want to talk to a person until they know, like and trust the brand.
The best marketing is like a magnet that attracts the right prospects. It allows you to create a sales funnel, pull prospects along the sales process and educate prospects about the brand. After a while, educated consumers are the ones who are likely to trust the brand enough to spend money with it.
Only then should the salesperson act — after the marketing process has set the stage for their success. Before that, the salesperson may be perceived as a pest, and the sale is more likely to fall through. Think of the difference in your own life when you get an email or phone call from a person or a brand you know, like and trust versus a cold email or call that you cannot wait to delete or ignore.
Public relations is another way to create brand recognition and establish consumer trust. If a prospect reads a favorable news story about a brand, they are more likely to engage with a salesperson. Earned media can provide third-party validation, which can go even further than traditional advertising. After all, PR experts take advantage of the media to deliver messages for them.
I believe that brands have an opportunity right now to create brand recognition for themselves. Consider promoting how you’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighting your appreciation for consumers or broader philanthropic efforts. Indeed, most Americans are interested in learning more about brands’ COVID-19 initiatives.
What does that spell? Opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong: The current crisis is challenging to navigate. But I’ve experienced this opportunity firsthand — from the consumer side. I have developed new loyalty to brands that have connected with me in a new way and that know how to solve my greatest problems.
What is business if not a challenge? Isn’t this a problem worth solving?
I believe it’s time for marketers to seize the opportunity in front of them and shorten the time it takes for salespeople to close sales. If your brand is worth promoting, create compelling content that solves your customers’ greatest challenges and helps them sleep at night.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?