Marketing During the Coronavirus: What To Do

None of us, in life or in business, are immune to crisis. As the Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak evolves, our norm is rapidly adapting – we’re social distancing, working from home, stockpiling hand sanitizer and paper goods. We’re stressed over our loved ones’ health, closed schools, and cancelled events.

It may not be business as usual, but for many, business moves forward. Some companies are sharing with customers how Covid-19 is transforming business operations. Many brands don’t have an update, but feel compelled to jump on the bandwagon – resulting in subscribers being inundated by very similar (and largely irrelevant) messages.  

Cancel everything is not a path forward. Instead, marketing during the Coronavirus means treading carefully. What’s the right chord between sensitivity, timeliness, and relevance? Should you be making a statement, what type of statement, and what else should you do in the weeks the world’s at a standstill?  

Pause and plan, but don’t panic: every business right now must ask and answer these questions, with their unique customers’ needs and interests in mind. We hope our strategic recommendations will help you navigate these murky waters and communicate more effectively.

Marketing During the Coronavirus: Proceed Thoughtfully 

We’re seeing a lot of brands sending transparent and helpful messages, while others appear tone deaf. The former is genuine, helpful, and sincere, where as the latter may be opportunistic and insensitive.  

Avoid turning off subscribers by addressing what matters to your customers: what do they need to know right now. Have you closed, did hours change, are you modifying your refund or cancellation policy?

We’ve seen great examples of companies pivoting their typical policy to better serve their customers and teams (restaurants delivering groceries, service companies offering free help to their communities, in-person events moving online, behind-the-scenes photos of employees working from home). This type of content is relevant and human, reminding audiences we’re all in this together. (If your message is a generic blanket statement, then skip it.)

Ask Yourself: 

  • Am I providing clarity or timely information?  
  • Am I addressing concerns and putting recipients at ease? 
  • Am I sharing facts? (Don’t guess, assume, or share rumors.)  
  • Am I answering questions completely? 
  • Is the tone appropriate for the message, audience, and climate?  
  • Is this urgent? Can/should it wait? 

Have more than one person review communications, paying attention to tone and sensitivity. The collective mood is somber, your peppy subject line will feel false and unflattering.  

As an aside, don’t forget to audit your existing send schedule. You may need to pause continuous campaigns or other automated programs, due to copy, imagery, or subject lines deemed insensitive in light of current concerns.   

Choose The Right Channels 

A landing page on your website is a great place to share updates and address concerns with the audience seeking it (without risking adverse unsubscribes). Information like availability, new processes or services, shipping/fulfillment changes, etc. should be compiled into a single source of truth for your customers. Clearly state how often you’ll update your audience with new information.  

Next, determine whether this need-to-know information is important enough to warrant an email, or whether the website landing page, homepage banner, or social share would suffice. In the last week, subscribers have been inundated by Covid-19-related emails. If your message isn’t truly valuable (covering the questions noted above), then email may be too direct a channel.  

Creative Ways to Stay Engaged 

  • Describe how your helping your community 
  • Humanize your brand with behind the scenes pictures or employee profiles 
  • Move in-store promotions to your e-commerce website 
  • Promote delivery, subscriptions, gift cards, or other value-adds 
  • Reach out to prospects on LinkedIn or social channels. 
  • Set up a phone call or a video conference to mimic the in-person meeting.  
  • Host a virtual event or webinar 
  • Create content: share how-to articles, offer advice, create videos.  
  • Stay educated – take advantage of online trainings or articles and share them with your audience base. 
  • Promote alternative ways to engage: social media, a direct line to your sales rep, a webform 

We also recommend testing content on social media. A social post is a quick and easy way to gauge your audience’s reaction to your content. Tailor copy, imagery, or themes that resonate on social for email and other channels.  

Use Your Data Wisely 

A surefire way not to add value is by sending the same message to everyone. Make sure to leverage your data and segment messaging appropriately.  

If your message is geographically sensitive, like a store closure, delivery radius, or shipping/availability update, segment your audience by that specific region. If you’re communicating an event cancellation, personalize messaging for event registrants differently than you would event vendors or the media. Again, ask yourself whether you’re giving the right information to the right audience.  

Use search and website data to know what interests your audience right now. Our client Cuisinart uses Google Analytics pageview traffic to match their email to consumers’ current interests. Instead of their typical newsletter, they shared ideas for keeping busy at home, like cooking with children or planning a movie/game night. This data-driven approach guides their marketing strategy, helping Cuisinart grow rapport with customers and consistently strike the right tone.   

Your subscribers’ behavior is likely in flux. Don’t forget to monitor email metrics and deliverability to make adjustments to email content, frequency, and segmentation,  based on how users are interacting with your brand during this time. 

In Crisis, Keep Going 

As a digital agency we may be more comfortable than many operating online, but we’re feeling the anxiety, like anyone else. We are staying calm by staying client-focused. We’re helping clients navigate evolving changes, shift appropriate resources to digital, communicate adeptly, and continue to deliver for their customers.  

There’s no bulletproof guide. As the weeks go by, we’ll see some brands make blunders and be impressed by the brands that get it right – staying customer-focused, thoughtful, and genuine.  

Two Tactical Resources

Need help mindfully modifying your digital strategy and customer engagement plan across channels? Get our two step-by-step tactical guides to assist you with alleviating marketing risks and maximizing opportunities in light of COVID-19.

Our Guide to B2B Digital Strategy and Marketing During the Coronavirus includes recommended actions you can take to avoid communication blunders, enhance engagement, and provide value to customers.

Wondering how to effectively share COVID-19 related brand information? Our Communicating COVID-19 Information: What You Need to Do Checklist covers tactical tips and considerations to communicate a clear, timely, and helpful response.