How can you market your business during and after COVID-19?
A major crisis can either incapacitate your company’s ability to market itself, or present opportunities for your brand to thrive.
At the time of writing, several global brands have already declared bankruptcy or significantly downsized their business, including Hertz, Singapore-based oil trading company Hin Leong and WeWork, with more companies expected to follow suit, even as countries are looking to re-boot financial activities after months of lockdowns or social restrictions.
With so much uncertainty and a gloomy outlook that’s likely to last over the next few quarters of 2020, should you continue with your marketing activities, and how do you keep your audience engaged during these difficult times?
The Marketing Paradox: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t
Marketing is necessary for any business to flourish; yet we all know that marketing budgets are also among the hardest to justify, and especially during the current business climate, many business owners would tend to see marketing activities as luxuries as they actively seek out ways to reduce spending. Companies are not only cutting back on marketing – in some cases they are actually laying off their marketing teams.
On the other hand, as business owners, we all know we can’t stay “quiet” for long, especially in today’s content-rich and social media driven marketplace where your brand is likely to be forgotten when you adopt conservative strategies.
According to a recent study in May 2020 by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, 43% of consumers found it reassuring to hear from their favourite brands, while 56% said they like to learn how brands are helping their communities during the pandemic. Only 15% of respondents said they would not want to hear from companies at all.
What this means is that, contrary to what many of us would imagine, it actually makes more sense to increase – not decrease – marketing spend during this period if you do not want to lag behind your competition when business activities pick up again.
So how then should you approach your marketing and branding during and in the aftermath of Covid-19?
1. Focus on interaction with customers, not pushing products. Even as the economy reopens, remember that months of stringent social and movement restrictions coupled with gloomy economic and employment outlooks has left their mark on the psyche of your customers. The next few months or even years ahead are going to be difficult for many people, especially with the prospect of more job losses looming in the horizon.
It is therefore necessary to understand that while we are anxious to restart our business activities, we need to balance off our marketing and sales efforts with exercising empathy for customers. Empathy is the ability to understand and feel another person’s emotions, and it becomes even more critical as we interact with customers during such difficult times. Being overly pushy with trying to get people to notice your products immediately in the aftermath of a particularly trying period is very often not the best approach in building trust.
In a post-coronavirus business environment, having an omnichannel strategy becomes even more important when interacting with customers. While multichannel marketing only looks at creating as many channels as possible to connect with customers, omnichannel adds a dimension of ensuring the user experience regardless of chosen channel is consistent so as to truly personalize interactions with customers.
2. Reassure customers with your brand. Every brand seeks to add value to its target market; the most successful brands are those that connects on so many emotive points with their customers that they remain assured (and hence loyal) to the brand even in challenging times. Such was the case for recently-bankrupted Gold’s Gym – its long-standing delivery of its brand promise to keep members fit and healthy allows it to still retain a loyal following even as the brand’s future remains uncertain.
It is important for companies and businesses to try to provide an assurance to both existing and potential customers that they will still delivery on their brand promise and value proposition even during difficult times.
While it’s true that consumers are more conservative in their spending during this time, it would be a mistake to think you have to keep talking about cost-savings for those who use your product or service. Highlight the strength and unique characteristics of your brand instead of just trying to justify your pricing or how much of a “good value for money” you are.
3. Work your CRM. If you are looking at using multiple channels to reach out to the market, you might consider switching to a more robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. A CRM allows you to gather useful data and analytics that provides you information like where your customers are coming from, who is likely to purchase your products and services, customer lifecycle and help you keep track of your marketing campaigns.
In a post-coronavirus era, a credible CRM system is like a marketing multi-tool for you to gain massive outreach: you can segment your client base into distinct categories and take advantage of built-in features like emails, customised messages, send out event invites and a whole lot more to deliver omnichannel-optimised user experience.
4. Don’t promote fear. The last thing anyone needs right now are brands taking advantage of fear and panic to promote their products and services. Fear is never a good motivator, and while you want greater brand visibility, you do not want to create negative associations with your brand name.
What you really should be focused on is telling your audience why they should take proactive positive measures to cope better with the tough times, not tell them about dire consequences of not using your product. We talked about empathy early on, and you will miss out on opportunities to build genuine connections with your customers when the focus is on using fear to motivate people to make a purchase.
5. Review your product offering. With gloomy economic outlook ahead, consumers are likely to focus on purchasing essentials rather than spend money on luxury goods and services. You have to therefore target the essential product segment and come up with a brand narrative that fits that picture. For instance, you may have a brand that deals exclusively with high-performance one-on-one coaching with clients. This may be a good time to consider introducing a range of functional fitness training programmes that can cater to the needs of a wider audience. Doing so does not necessarily dilute your brand identity – it just makes your brand more accessible to a larger audience with a different goal or need.
6. Focus on longevity of your branding. Brand longevity is really about ensuring how you can remain relevant to the market in different circumstances. The current chatter is focused on dealing with a health- and economic-related issues – any brand that talks about these issues will therefore gain visibility quickly; yet to skew your entire marketing and branding angle to what’s relevant now would be short-sighted. You need to look at angles that allow you to build new narratives and pivot quickly to remain relevant to your audience when circumstances change.