Marketing During a Pandemic

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the world as we know it has changed overnight. The scale of transformation is still unthinkable, but in the meantime, as marketers, what do we do?

I am sure you have already seen plenty of examples of what not to do. There have been infuriatingly unaware, self-promotional social media posts as the cases were increasing dramatically worldwide. Also, a stream of emails using COVID-19 as an excuse for self-promotion, and lead-gen messages that don’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. 

The lack of sensitivity of some brands and thought leaders is astonishing. If you are a marketer, you will be wise to think twice before following their lead.

What Marketers Shouldn’t Do During a Pandemic

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons of the current COVID-19 crisis is to beware of automation, something particularly visible on social media. The brands happily promoting their latest product while the death toll was rising were often victims of social media scheduling gone wrong.

I’m not suggesting you should go back to manual posting. Automated social media scheduling tools are great, but you need to use them with care. In particular, you should always review your queue of pre-scheduled messages if anything major happens, just as you should with any comms. 

During a crisis, advertising can also come across as insensitive. The balance between generating awareness and shoving your agenda down people’s throats is particularly delicate at the moment.

You may want to reassess your advertising plans and investments during this time. Stopping advertising altogether is risky, but make sure your strategy and messaging are in line with what your audience is thinking and feeling right now. 

So What Can Marketing Professionals Do During a Pandemic?

The situation is very grave. Many businesses are struggling. However, there are still things that can be done in marketing during a pandemic.

Depending on your type of business, now may be an excellent time to connect with your audience. Reach out, acknowledge the exceptional circumstances, offer consolation and reassurance. If it’s relevant, offer them something to make the crisis more bearable. Just remember: make it all about them, not you.

At the same time, don’t go overboard with your messaging. Too much sentiment can come across as false and self-interested. It’s a challenging exercise to get the tone just right. If you’re not confident you can do it, perhaps avoid emails altogether. Instead, stick with shorter, less invasive messages on social media.

The lockdown is also an excellent time to carry out a spring clean. Take it as an opportunity to review your branding, marketing assets and priorities. Are they still relevant? Are they up-to-date? Consider what you can improve internally. Perhaps reassess your email nurturing campaigns, or sort out your filing system once and for all.

Now is also a great chance to brush up on your skills. Many course providers are offering special lockdown prices or even free learning opportunities (LinkedIn has a Managing Virtual Teams course I have just finished and thoroughly recommend). 

In other words, you finally have the time to do all the important things that tend to get pushed to the bottom of the list because they are not that urgent: use it wisely.

How I Am Spending the Lockdown

At ALVUM, our revenue has dried up completely, so we are forced to go on hibernation mode for the coming weeks. It’s heartbreaking because we were building some momentum, but we feel it’s just not the right time to push things forward. Thankfully, in our case, this has not involved any redundancies because our structure is already minimal. 

But does that mean that I have nothing to do? Nothing could be further from the truth. 

I see the pandemic as a unique opportunity to audit our marketing. I am reviewing our branding, social media profiles and website. I am also able to look at my analytics in great detail, a real luxury when you are a tiny team responsible for everything. 

On the other hand, I have also decided to stop social media advertising for two reasons. First of all, as a start-up, we have very limited resources. We can’t afford to invest unless there is an immediate return. Unfortunately, people are not interested in researching their food intolerances when their loved ones are gravely ill. 

Then, there is the issue of the context of online ads. It’s something that we have no control over, and are worried about its impact on messaging during the current pandemic. We don’t feel comfortable with the idea of our ads appearing between a eulogy and the angry rant of someone who has just lost her job.

At the same time, we are continuing to publish new blog content twice a week. However, after a couple of experiments, we have decided to leave the content promotion for after the crisis. Generating new content means that we are continuing to build SEO equity for our chosen keywords while keeping controversies at bay. 

Help Where You Can

Finally, my co-founder and I have also decided to do our bit to help. Over the last two weeks, we have been working pro-bono to help develop a chatbot designed to address the many fake news and bits of useless information that are spreading like wildfire on social media.

The chatbot project has given us a sense of purpose and usefulness in a very chaotic time. If you can take time to support others, I cannot recommend it enough. As well as feeling good, altruism can also help build brand affinity if you chose to publicise it (we have decided against it for now). 

Marketing Favoured by the Pandemic

Finally, you may be one of the marketing professionals favoured by the pandemic. After all, people are continuing to buy, albeit their focus has shifted. According to Slackline, the top 100 fastest growing categories in e-commerce include disposable gloves, bread machines, weight training, computer monitors and craft kits and projects. 

If your product is meeting the needs of new buyers, there is no reason why you shouldn’t ride the wave. Just try to keep your messaging sensitive and self-aware. Yes, people are painting more walls and doing many more jigsaw puzzles these days, but perhaps the reason why doesn’t need to be celebrated. 

COVID-19 is a major event but it will not always be part of our lives. We will get through this, so it is a good idea to focus on improving the here and now. And, if you can, to also help others.

Please stay safe.

Photo by Freestocks on Unsplash.

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