The world has changed in such a short period of time. There is no playbook for what we’re going through, except for the sensible thing of acknowledging this time in our marketing and sales strategies.
We’ve got to keep going, but we’ve got to it differently, reading the room and adjusting our message and outreach to match our customer’s needs.
Life might not go back to normal anytime soon. There’s been talk about how the country will have a new normal, and it would probably “resume” in stages over an extended period of time. What this means for us is we can’t stick to crisis management
Pre-COVID and post-COVID
Crisis management is for achieving some modicum of stability amidst incredibly choppy waters. When it has no end in sight, adjusting replaces managing. We accept this new environment we need to work in (we have no choice), so we need to think about ways we can prepare to face it with competence now and later on.
Later: the post-COVID era. What we knew pre-COVID might no longer apply. Marketers and sales reps need to consider this and think of strategies to keep businesses shipshape for the other side.
The nautical references can’t be helped. This is turbulent water we’re currently navigating, and helping brands stay visible and relevant is like steering the ship to safety.
And like a ship in the middle of a storm, we feel buffeted by so many factors. Marketing and sales goals for brand messaging and dissemination currently feel trivial in the midst of all the government updates and posts about safety and health, and concern for the frontliners and the vulnerable. Can you still do marketing? Yes. But not like usual.
Adapting to changes
Your customers will change.
Marketing and sales teams can get really familiar with what their target audiences want, and AI can help track customer behavior, building your personas into robust data banks for predicting and answering your customer demands.
That familiarity and expertise on your audience takes months or years to build. At this time, and whenever a crisis hits, it all goes out the window. Your customers will change, either slightly or significantly. So your understanding of your customer should also stay agile to the changes and evolve.
This isn’t really new: agility is essential in marketing. What you planned from customer data in June won’t necessarily be effective in July, even if it’s still summer.
Nobody might care right now
With their priorities changed, how relevant do you think your messaging would be? All the PR releases and marketing campaigns scheduled need to be re-evaluated for postponement or editing, to match what your audience considers important right now.
Tone-deaf promotions reveal the brands that didn’t bother, with the ads or email campaigns rolled out despite current events. That’s a waste of money and resources. People won’t even see that content because it’s incongruous to the current landscape. If anything, it’s damaging because people remember ridiculousness.
If you’re really unlucky, your content might get screencapped, posted on Twitter with a witty caption, and go viral from there.
What do they care about?
People are low-key (or outright) panicking right now. They may need distraction, and they might need relevant information and real help in addressing things that can alleviate their anxieties. You need to be part of the solution, or at least part of the public consciousness right now, sharing the same thoughts and concerns.
As an example of the latter, Chevrolet has ads reminding everyone to stay home: “We’ll find new roads tomorrow.”
It doesn’t have to be about donating money. It can be content related to your service or product but still relevant, like the simple reminder from Chevrolet, an article about clothing materials one can turn into protective gear from a clothing retail store, or a how-to guide on financial savviness from a financial adviser or financial institution.
Granular-level and business-wide modifications
As you adapt to the current crisis with refined messaging, don’t forget to make modifications to the rest of your marketing assets and the customer journey.
- Phone number and email: With WFH in effect, is your phone number still the same? Or should people email for customer support?
- Website: Update landing pages with any discounts or promotions related to COVID-19. Checkout pages should have logistics information on shipping priorities and delays, if any.
- Omnichannel: How’s your messaging on text message and push notifications? Tone-deaf messaging here is just as awkward as if you ignored the current pandemic in your Facebook ads.
Keep track of how this crisis is changing your business. Not all changes are detrimental. You might discover something you’ll want to retain moving forward. Start to strategize about that permanent change, making it happen in a way your customers will like, because you were consistent about it, making the transition smooth in all channels.
Smart and fast for sustained impact
Strategy and consistency means deep thinking, research, tracking, and planning, and at the same time not taking too long. Relevance is only relevant when it’s timely.
Identify and implement strategies for immediate value realization
The Four Rs sales framework for COVID-19 from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) gives us time-bound action points we can adapt to for our marketing gameplan.
Applied to marketing, here’s my version of the Four Rs:
- Initiate messaging that gives support to your customers’ current needs
- Monitor news items and social media trends for opportunities in marketing and to see customers’ evolving needs as we all progress through the shelter-in-place protocols and beyond.
- Keep track of customer behavior to offer timely messages for support and conversion.
- Optimize your digital spaces for maximum brand effectiveness.
- Keep doing Respond action points and account for revisions in the business game plans and personas
- Look for solutions and opportunities inwardly and at the competitive landscape as weaknesses and threats start to rear their heads
- Update marketing game plans and product selling points entirely to match changed/changing user personas and customer behavior
- Track emerging trends in customer behavior and keep doing Respond and Reflect action points to refine SEO and produce content to match customer journeys.
- Look for opportunities for your digital space and services to scale.
- Scale Respond action points to match the established new customer profiles and journeys.
- Set up AI and machine learning capabilities for value-focused messaging and features (including pricing)
The 4Rs move forward and look forward. You need to optimize and deploy, reflect and scale. Preparedness pays. 14% of companies actually increased profits during the past four recessions. “This, too, shall pass” is definitely not the philosophy to take. Keep building.