If you’re like most business owners these days, the question of how to create a marketing plan to deal with a crisis like COVID has crossed your mind more than once.
And with good reason.
Business owners are navigating uncharted waters these days. The COVID pandemic threatens to cast even the best-run businesses onto rocky shoals.
Some may be tempted to throw their marketing plans overboard to save money.
Yet that’s the last thing you should consider.
Over the past 100 years, numerous studies have demonstrated the need to maintain or increase marketing efforts during economic downturns.
What today’s business climate demands is a marketing plan that can not only help you survive a crisis but thrive in it.
Today’s normal isn’t normal. From shelter-in-place orders to job loss and toilet paper shortages, today’s world is strange and isolating. For marketers, it can be argued that working in this field gives you a privileged position — although it may not seem like it.
Right now, branding and marketing aren’t business as usual. The rules have gone out the window. And, the necessity of staying relevant and cementing trust with consumers will be the mother of all invention. How can your business stay relevant, and even increase market share during an economic downturn? Developing an effective pandemic branding plan will help your company come out on the other side of the crisis stronger than before.
Creating A Marketing Plan For COVID and Beyond
Confronting this new reality requires a new marketing plan template. One that takes into account changes in customer behavior like what we’re seeing with COVID mandates and recommendations.
What do consumers want from brands during the pandemic?
Many of the usual principles that apply to effective content marketing — being helpful, cordial, and non-sales-y — have been amplified thanks to the pandemic. Recent consumer surveys on Covid19 and marketing have found that people are even less receptive to strong sales tactics. Instead, people want brands to help them solve the unique problems this pandemic is causing in their daily lives.
Opportunistic sales and promotions during a crisis like Covid19 can alienate both current and potential customers. People expect brands during coronavirus to use their creativity to launch or retool products and services to help customers with COVID-related problems. The way companies treat their employees during the pandemic is also critical for securing consumers’ trust.
What are the top pandemic branding strategies businesses can use?
Companies that will find success despite the pandemic are those willing to adapt their branding strategy with these consumer sentiments in mind. Those who embrace the changes and meet these challenges head-on will emerge from the crisis as better marketers. Below are the top pandemic branding strategies business can deploy.
1. Continue to invest in content marketing during the pandemic.
During a downturn, marketing is often the first part of the business strategy to get axed. But this fear-based response is a mistake during Covid19. Companies have an important role to play during the crisis as educators.
Investing in content marketing during the coronavirus pandemic gives your company an effective platform for helping your audience. People want to know how to protect themselves. But they also need to feel a sense of community. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have put a damper on peoples’ ability to socialize and share information or simply encourage each other and offer support. Although it’s not a replacement for face-to-face contact, social media can bridge the gap.
Businesses can use their social media platforms to foster a sense of community with their audience. Interacting with people on social media helps humanize your brand. Communicating with your audience through blogs and social media on how you’re helping your employees is also essential during the pandemic.
2. Consider the tone you use during the Covid19 crisis.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel. But people are still afraid. Using a tone in your content that’s too humorous or lighthearted for the situation can alienate your audience. If your brand strategy pre-Covid was to use a flippant or funny tone in marketing, now might be the time to pivot to offering a more empathic, supportive voice. Effective marketing during the pandemic requires you to read the room.
3. Start planning now for the recovery.
The hard times don’t last forever. Soon enough, the crisis will end, and we will return to a new state of normal. While it may be prudent to tone down advertising during the pandemic, it’s not a good idea to forgo strategic planning. While normal will return, no one knows what that’s going to look like.
We may get a vaccine within the next year, or it could take longer. Face-to-face shopping may return soon. But festivals and concerts will most likely be off the table for a long time. It’s also possible that lockdowns will return if infection rates soar before a vaccine or viable treatment for coronavirus is invented.
In the face of uncertainty, marketers need to be flexible when planning for the future. Future strategies for marketing and branding may need to be changed quickly in the event of future lockdowns, for example. Changing your brand voice when consumer sentiments switch from being fearful to confident is also critical. Below are a few things to consider when planning for the recovery.
- Plan for increased demand — The economic recovery may not take as long as you think. After lockdowns ended in China, demand for certain goods and services soared. Think about how your company will meet excess demand once the lockdowns are lifted. Avoid cutting back too much on your supplies so you can position your brand for success.
- Evaluate your long-term investments — A slowdown can give you time to evaluate and maybe change your platforms, operations, and processes. When the recovery begins, you’ll be operating a leaner, more efficient machine.
- Adopt new sales channels — Restaurants have had demand for in-table seating plummet. But switching to take out and delivery services has helped them turn a profit during the lockdowns. Consider where your brand can embrace new sales channels such as increasing eCommerce offerings. Or see where you can focus on increasing conversions through online channels, like social media, instead of face-to-face meetings.
4. Reinventing Your Mission To Meet Changing Conditions
Before you begin the marketing planning process, you need to take a fresh look at the mission of your business.
This may seem like a radical proposition, but it really isn’t. All it requires is that you refocus on your core business function. Your core mission will serve as a touchstone for your business, allowing you to adjust marketing plans without straying from your core competency.
The goal is to take what you are already doing and reconfiguring it to accommodate the new norms of the marketplace.
A great example is how many area restaurants are now in the produce selling business. Earls Kitchen + Bar in Somerville, MA, for example, is now selling produce like meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products. The mission to provide food and beverages to the community is the same. The kind of food offered and the way it’s delivered has changed to meet social distancing norms.
5. Monitor The Mood Of The Marketplace
Use this time to take a step back and see how your customers have adjusted to the new norms of your business. In the case of Earl’s, they decided to sell individual rolls of toilet paper. Not only did this add some humor to the situation, but it also signaled that management was in tune with their customer base.
This is the time to keep abreast of how other leaders in your industry are adapting to meet changing customer expectations. Implementing a successful new approach to solve an industry problem will solidify your position as a thought leader and problem solver.
Monitoring the mood of the marketplace in an ongoing process that never truly ends. In a crisis, marketing adjustments also need to take into consideration events that are likely to transpire within the next 3-6 month window.
6. Change Your Marketing Content To Reflect The New Reality
Messaging that was conceived months ago is unlikely to resonate with your customers and prospects today. In some instances, it may even come off as tone-deaf.
Presenting the wrong marketing message during a crisis can damage your brand and your bottom line. It can send an unintended message that you’re indifferent at the very moment customers want to be heard.
Customers need to know that your business is adapting to help them solve their crises- related problems. They need to know you’re there to provide a service they need.
People are looking for information now more than ever.
Providing tips for helping your target market navigate their new reality will convert them into fans. If you’re a restaurant selling produce, for example, you might consider scheduling emails with recipes that use the produce you’re selling. If you’re an attorney, provide some information on how people can protect themselves from crisis-driven scams.
Don’t make your customers and prospects feel abandoned at a time of crisis. Review all content and social media calendars and adjust accordingly. You’ll win their loyalty and win the day.
Bridge The Quarantine Divide With Digital Communication
It’s the question every business owner is asking: What’s the best way to stay in contact with my existing customers and win over new ones in a time of social distancing?
Fortunately, the answer can be found in digital technology.
Jen Levin, a fish distributor in Portland, Maine, has shifted from distributing fish to area restaurants to selling direct to customers. A new section of her website is dedicated to online ordering and arranging for pick up. Across the country, restaurants selling produce are also driving sales by live streaming music, cooking segments, and mixology segments.
These technologies can help keep your existing customers engaged while providing a needed service to prospects desperate to find what you have to offer.
Conduct An Audit Of Your Marketing Channels
Use your downtime to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing channels.
- Is your website slow?
- Does your digital marketing plan need an update?
- Do you need to replace elements within your marketing plan?
Once the business begins to pick up again, it will be hard to find the time to address these issues.
Effective Branding During the Pandemic: A Takeaway Message
The data says people want and need comfort, empathy, and practical help from the businesses they trust during the coronavirus pandemic. The way a company treats its workers during the crisis and communicates those changes to consumers is also essential for effective branding. Reputation in business is everything. Failing to offer help and support to both customers and employees during Covid19 will damage your brand’s reputation.
Here at InThink, we’re meeting this crisis head-on with creative solutions for how businesses can survive and even thrive during the pandemic. If you need assistance pivoting your branding strategy for Covid19, we’re here to help. Let’s talk.
Need Help? InThink Is Here For You!
As a business leader, you’re a different breed than most. Fading quietly into the night in the face of adversity isn’t in your DNA.
We get it. We’re wired the same way.
InThink is a full-service marketing agency built to serve businesses like yours. We help guide you through the storm so you can focus on what you do best – run your business. Contact us today and find out how we can help you survive and thrive in today’s turbulent business environment.