Marketing during a pandemic…. Or any other time of crisis…

At times like we are experiencing now or any times of crisis or change, invariably the spotlight turns to marketing for two key reasons:

  • Some businesses will look to cut their marketing spend or stop marketing all together
  • Part of marketing is what your stakeholders (customers; suppliers; employees and partners) see or experience of your business during this time – i.e. how your company responds to the crisis; what you say or do determines the lasting impression they will have of your brand

So what should you be doing this time?

  • Don’t stop marketing – while your approach to marketing needs to change based on the circumstances, it may be more detrimental to your brand to ‘disappear’ altogether. Don’t cut your marketing budget entirely – re-arrange it to focus on priority channels that will help you maintain your visibility and stand out. It is well documented that during the Great Depression in the 1920’s, Post was the category leader in the ready-to-eat cereal category. The brand made the decision to significantly cut back its advertising budget. Its rival Kellogg’s doubled its advertising spend, investing heavily in radio and introducing a new cereal called Rice Krispies, featuring “Snap,” “Crackle” and “Pop.” Not surprisingly, Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% and the company became the category leader, a position it has maintained for decades. Similarly, in the 1990-91 recession, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell took advantage of McDonald’s decision to drop its advertising and promotion budget. As a result, Pizza Hut increased sales by 61%, Taco Bell sales grew by 40% and McDonald’s sales declined by 28%.
  • Follow your brand values – now more than ever your brand values need to be front and centre – they will guide what you communicate and the tone of your communications. Remind yourself and others what your brand stands for and what this mean in the current context. A fabulous example of this was the advertisement released by Nando’s before the lockdown and how they linked the closing of their stores to their core brand values.
  • Get personal – now is the time to emotionally connect with your stakeholders – tell stories where you can, do video broadcasts and communicate often in a way that is truthful and realistic.
  • Valuable content is key at these times – now is not the time for the hard sell (avoid ‘we’re trading the lockdown’; ‘order now – receive after lockdown’ etc. mailers) focus rather on providing value-adding content that is aligned to your core business (e.g. if you’re a restaurant provide quick recipes using pantry items; provide a guide to what items can be frozen and for how long etc.). Be careful to not jump on the ‘self-care’ bandwagon unless its your core business.
  • Focus on digital – social media takes centre stage – revisit your strategy and decide what campaigns should be put on hold or brought forward. It’s ok to post as ‘normal’ – just pre-empt your ‘everyday’ posts with a message that lets your audience know your sensitive to the current situation but in an effort to maintain some sense of ‘normalcy’ and aligned to your values you would like to continue educating, inspiring, motivating, entertaining (whatever it is you want to do). People don’t want to be continuously surrounded by doom & gloom, they want positivity and to feel a sense of hope (in a realistic way).
  • Listen to your market – now, more than ever – use social listening to determine customer sentiment – what are they talking about, feeling and needing at this time? Encourage your sales and account managers to call your customers, not to sell anything just to check-in and see how they are doing at this time. Understand if there is anyway you can support them and any innovations you should be considering to better serve them.
  • Use the time effectively – if your website needs revamping; if you need to update your company profile; if you need to re-look your positioning and messaging – now is the best time! You may also be able to negotiate effective rates from marketing suppliers who are not at full capacity during this time.

The most important thing you can do is be consistent and authentic in all your communication. Be savvy and think about how your behavior at this time has the opportunity to drive long term loyalty and commitment to your brand.