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In a Crisis: Should I stop marketing?

In a Crisis: Should I stop marketing?

March 2020
Liz Noli Roberts

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of hectic activity as we’ve all been swept up in what is now a global pandemic. Everyone has had to make adjustments to plans, from big things like cancelling holidays and weddings – to the smallest details of our daily routines.

In this climate of uncertainty and anxiety, businesses are trying to understand exactly how their industries will be impacted. Some are looking for emerging opportunities in this new world, while others are just hanging on and hoping the storm will pass as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The tough question that business owners and marketing managers are asking is: “Should we continue our marketing in the current pandemic?”

While there’s no one right answer for everyone, for most it’s this: “Yes. But only if you can make it relevant to your customers’ needs as they are now.” In other words, definitely not business as usual.

Businesses that attempt to simply forge ahead as if they are somehow insulated from the current crisis may find themselves on the receiving end of a blistering backlash from the public. The most recent example of this was Sports Direct declaring itself exempt from the government’s closed-shops policy. In their own view, their shops were worthy of “essential” status just like food and medicine outlets. They were swiftly slapped down on social media, and eventually the government itself, providing us with a helpful model for exactly what businesses should not do in a crisis!

So, what should you do with your marketing now?

1. Check Your Tone

Everyone is going through a tough period of adjustment right now. All your business communication should demonstrate your awareness of the current situation. Adopt a kinder and gentler tone to convey that you’re mindful of your audience dealing with challenges in their personal and work lives. Empathy should be your guiding principle.

Crisis brings people together, and this is one of the few times you can genuinely address your audience from a peer position. The pandemic is a shared experience for all of us, so adopt an “all in this together” standpoint and let your customers know you’re there with them, not on the outside looking in.

2. Focus on Content

Now is not the time for overtly “salesy” content. This risks looking tone-deaf, or worse, cravenly opportunistic. Focus on content marketing instead. Producing content that provides value to your audience shows them you’re focussed on supporting them, rather than simply driving a conversion.

Look to create content that addresses their current situation and provides helpful tips or advice. Resist the temptation to add a pushy call-to-action at the end. Think about what your business can do to be of service and develop content around this.

Alongside informational content, leave room for a little fun. This may seem strange to say in such a serious global crisis, but it’s true. As people are spending more time in “lockdown” at home with family, and struggling to meet school and work responsibilities, they will inevitably need some distraction. Offer them something fun and engaging! What’s engaging to your particular customer base may be different to others, so as always, keep your audience in mind.

3. Build Your Community

While your customers are spending more time at home, they will rely on online resources to keep them busy and entertained. This presents more of an opportunity for you to engage them and create a lasting connection.

Using a consistent mix of informational and fun content, this is a time to build your community, especially on social media, but also your email contacts. People are in the process of building new routines for themselves and their families. If your content is consistently seen to offer value, it can become part of this new routine.

In this unprecedented climate, there’s more room for creativity. Don’t be shy about pushing the standard boundaries of your “business-as-usual” content and experimenting with new formats and styles.

Showing the human side of your business is more important than ever. Get your employees involved. By sharing real stories contributed from your team, you’ll present a relatable and engaging aspect of your company that will grow your following. “Authentic” is a term used in social media often, but in a crisis situation, there really is no room to look fake or contrived. Authenticity will attract people to your business in a time when people are looking for clarity and reliability.

4. After the storm: a silver lining?

There will be lessons to learn for all of us during this crisis. Many companies are already dealing with very steep learning curves in a rush to pivot into a new way of doing business.

One of the most visible examples of this is the restaurant industry. With government-mandated closures, many have converted their business to entirely take-out and delivery service. Without an online payment gateway already set up, most are they’re finding workarounds using social media messaging and over-the-phone card payments.

As a result of this, many businesses will have an increased awareness of – and new appreciation for – the importance of their own digital capabilities. People’s habits are slow to change, and having just settled into arranging their lives around accessing online resources, it’s likely they will keep some of those habits post-pandemic. Take some time now to think about how this may affect your business over the longer term, and how your marketing would support those changes.

Everyone is being pushed out of their comfort zones — it’s a time to innovate, embrace new technology and processes to meet your business goals. More efficient ways of working that you discover now can set a roadmap for your future. This could be the “silver lining” that emerges from the storm clouds.

The impression you make now with your customers (and the general public) will last. You want them to remember you at your best. Getting your marketing right during this period will set a foundation you can build on when we all eventually get back to something more like “normal” life – and you’ll reap the benefits of the positive engagement you built.