You thought you were on top of things. You had your campaigns planned and your editorial calendar created for several weeks out. And then everything changed.
You can’t keep up your same old marketing in the course of a pandemic. The world is different. Your audience is different. And where your brand fits into their lives has changed along with everything else. If you act like it’s business as usual, you’ll come off as out of touch at best, insensitive at worst.
But you also can’t just stop marketing altogether. So what should you do? Most marketers don’t have experience in crisis communications, so knowing the right path forward is challenging. But there are a few best practices that can guide you in these confusing times.
1) Don’t disappear.
When you don’t know what to say, it may be tempting to say nothing at all. But one of the top pieces of advice from PR Consultant Michelle Garrett is to not to go completely silent. If you’ve spent time building a community, disappearing now could make it look like you’re not there for them. By continuing to post on social media and publish content, you show you’re at least present.
2) Do scale back direct pitches and sales messages.
Unless your brand sells something directly relevant to life under social isolation, like remote work software or toilet paper, now’s probably not the best time for a direct sales pitch. Some brands obviously need to press pause on promotional messages. For example, if you sell something related to travel or a service that requires in-person visits, any sales messages right now will make it look like you’ve either been living under a rock, or don’t care about the well being of your audience.
But even if your product can still technically be purchased safely, if it doesn’t relate in some way to staying healthy or staying home more—the two main things on people’s minds—now’s not the time for the hard sales pitch.
3) Do check your automated messaging.
Marketing automation has made many aspects of marketing easier, at least in normal times. Now that everything’s different, all those social updates and emails you scheduled to go out automatically may become a liability. There’s a good chance that something you wrote two months ago will come off as irrelevant or insensitive today.
If you haven’t yet done so, make this step a top priority. Check your automated messaging across all platforms and channels to make sure you don’t inadvertently push out information that doesn’t make sense in the present climate. This relatively simple step can potentially provide some damage control.
4) Don’t forget to be human.
Sometimes in the pursuit of a professional tone, brands risk sounding less human. But at a time when people are feeling scared and anxious, it’s more important than ever to connect with your audience on a more personal level.
“We want to sound human, says Garrett. “We don’t want to just put the same old automated voice out there.”
Part of that is about the way you talk. Use language that sounds more like how you interact with other people in day to day life. And part of it is making sure your messaging reflects and addresses how people are feeling. Don’t send out official-sounding proclamations that aren’t much better than legalese. Frankly, too many of the COVID-related emails jamming inboxes have fallen into this category. Talk to your customers and followers like fellow human beings who are dealing with the same struggles we all are right now.
5) Do pay careful attention to what people are saying.
This is good advice all the time but becomes especially important when your audience is going through something traumatic. In order to provide marketing now that’s relevant to where they are, you need to understand them.
Listen closely to your audience to learn what they’re concerned about. What problems are they facing? What are they feeling right now? Some of your customers will contact you directly about their current concerns. Supplement direct feedback by monitoring what people in your audience are saying on social media.
6) Do update your marketing strategy based on current concerns.
When you have a handle on what your followers are thinking and feeling, revisit your entire strategy. Some campaigns should be scrapped entirely (at least temporarily); others will need to be tweaked. And you’ll want to create new content and campaigns based on the main problems your audience has now.
Good marketing is always as much about helping as it is about selling. Now that people’s needs are greater on a number of levels, change the balance and make it even more about helping. You can keep your connection with your audience without being opportunistic by figuring out how to be genuinely useful to your community.
7) But don’t make your marketing all about the pandemic.
Your brand should absolutely address the virus when communicating with your audience; it’s disingenuous not to. But don’t make your marketing about nothing but the coronavirus. “There are a lot of people that are not wanting to immerse themselves in this 24/7,” Garrett points out.
People will be consuming content about other things. Some will be actively seeking it out as a break, and many people are treating these strange times as an opportunity to commit more time to career training or learning about new hobbies and personal interests.
And definitely don’t venture into providing virus-related information that’s out of your depth. Unless you work in health care marketing, steer clear of providing health claims. Be very careful not to spread information that doesn’t come from experts or that you haven’t fact checked.
8) Do look for ways to give back to the community.
The brands that are doing the best job of building customer loyalty in the midst of the pandemic are those that are actively working to help people in need. Many companies have stepped up to help raise money for people who have been hit hardest—the homeless, those that have lost jobs, and hospital staff that are currently overworked.
The best possible way to show your community you care is to demonstrate your brand’s values in a way that’s genuine and helps those struggling. Look to your community to see who’s hurting, and figure out how your brand can help. That could be providing free access to your products temporarily if you recognize a growing need, helping provide school lunches to local kids, or donating to a nonprofit doing important work.
Marketing Must Evolve to Match the Times
Marketing right now is weird. We’re facing an unprecedented situation and have to walk a careful line to get it right. Shift your strategy to focus on meeting your audience’s current needs, and on connecting more with the larger community.