Planning a Marketing Strategy During COVID-19

Planning a successful marketing strategy can be challenging even in normal times, let alone a pandemic. To help guide you through this unprecedented moment, we’ve interviewed nearly a dozen marketing executives—and counting—to gather their insights. Here are seven key tips to consider as you move forward in the months ahead. 

1. Cut any experimental or difficult-to-measure marketing activities to conserve cash. Move toward tactics with greater certainty and ability to measure.

In moments of uncertainty, you want to choose marketing tactics that you can measure and assess quickly. Ideally, these will be tactics that have worked for you in the past or are easy and quick to deploy and track. Don’t be afraid to axe an investment that isn’t performing and reallocate those funds to a more reliable tactic. 

For example, legendary Pittsburgh restaurant chain Primanti Bros. has increased their engagement with their audience on social media, utilizing channels that were already robust prior to the pandemic. They have also adopted a “move fast and learn fast” approach that prioritizes implementing social media marketing tactics quickly, measuring them thoroughly, and then making an efficient decision on whether to continue or move on. 

2. Focus a disproportionate amount of effort on retaining your current client/customer base and building strong relationships with folks who have already purchased from you. 

People are nervous and are looking for confidence and certainty anywhere they can get it. They want to know that you’re there for them now, and that you’ll be around after this is all over. Don’t send them running into a competitor’s arms because you were too busy putting out fires (even if they’re legitimate).

For example, utility pole manufacturer and distributor Koppers Inc. has emphasized “assurance marketing,” or investing time and resources into communicating their stability to loyal customers. In their case, this has meant reassuring customers about the reliability of their supply chain, reconnecting with long-time customers on a personal basis, and temporarily moving away from new customer acquisition.

3. If you need to change your messaging or value proposition in response to the crisis, try to pivot around the core value that you already offer to customers. 

Even during a pandemic, customers like to see consistency and reliability. This is also true for your brand value proposition. If customers turn to you because of your existing strengths, play to those strengths during times of uncertainty. This is far more effective than trying to pivot to an area where you’re unknown or not yet trusted. 

For example, consider Facility Solutions Group (FSG), a B2B facilities and major industrial lighting, signage and energy services company. They focus on your physical facility. The main concern for many businesses at this time is reopening facilities safely, so FSG shifted their product mix to include UV disinfectant lighting and retooled their sign division to make protective plexiglass shields.

4. Proactively over-communicate any changes to marketing or sales messaging internally so that everyone is on the same page.

Communication is absolutely vital during moments of stress or uncertainty. And while most of us think about ways to communicate with our customers, it’s important to also reach out to our internal staff, as well, to make sure everyone is aligned around a central message. This also helps boost employee morale during a tough time. 

For example, senior care provider Loretto invested heavily in both external and internal communication as the pandemic hit its peak in New York. This included daily calls with their executive team, weekly calls with managers, the creation of a dedicated intranet site for employees, and even the use of an in-house TV station where employees could get updated on messaging and company priorities. 

5. Prepare for the “pandemic time warp,” a rapid ascent or a sudden descent in market trends. 

You’ve probably become accustomed to forecasting trends in your industry on an annual cycle. In today’s pandemic landscape, however, we’re seeing the pace of change move much faster than ever before. Trends that were slowing before the pandemic have suddenly ground to a halt, while emerging trends have accelerated at breathtaking speed. Events, urbanization and resource sharing ground to a halt; video communication, digital marketing, remote work technology and the democratization of day trading made decades’ worth of progress in a matter of weeks. While day-to-day life is slowing down, trends that were already in motion are happening faster than ever. 

Smart marketers are adapting to these changes. For example, leading mattress producer Serta Simmons Bedding has seen the explosive growth of online mattress shopping since the pandemic began. In response, the company is pushing ahead with plans for virtual shopping experiences that simulate the in-person mattress-buying process. 

6. Prioritize honesty, authenticity, and transparency.

With nowhere to hide, we saw the unfiltered inside of our colleagues’ and celebrity idols’ homes and lives. There was no time for business casual, and there was always someone walking by in the background of video meetings. An entire cottage industry of “Zoom bookshelf curation” sprang up as we peered at famous people’s reading material. 

Brands can take part in this authentic moment, too. For example, gift brands such as Harry & David have included hand-written notes thanking their customers for their orders and humanizing the people behind the product. This is an easy and high-impact way to allow consumers to “peek behind the curtain” and show that businesses are ultimately made up of real people, too. 

7. Adapt to a very different daily life. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of daily life for millions of people. With parents working from home as kids attend remote school and business travelers grounded, we’ve seen an unprecedented growth in captive audiences. Some industries, like RV, bicycle, and outdoor gear manufacturers, are seeing a boom in business as customers look for affordable and safe entertainment options. During this time, consumers have largely shifted their focus from out-of-home activities to a family-first perspective.

Even businesses hit hard by the pandemic can take advantage of customers stuck at home. To help keep their loyal customer base engaged, Princess Cruise Lines created the “Princess At Home” program, where they shared food and drink recipes from their celebrity chefs, video content, yoga tutorials, and even webcams from their popular destinations. This smart pivot helped customers remain connected to the brand even during an uncertain moment. 

Using these seven insights can help you pivot your marketing strategy to a stronger footing as we continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back in with the Marketing After Covid Project often for our latest articles, resources, and podcast episodes.

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