Coronavirus Disrupting Business as Usual? Marketing Playbook for Uncertain Times

Mar 23, 2020

With the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are attempting to figure out how to adapt, as news cycles change by the hour, and the whole world grapples with how to adjust to social distancing measures. 

We work with a wide variety of clients that span diverse industries, all of whom are asking a variation of the same questions: How do we adjust and make sure we stay connected to both our team members and our customers?  

How do we not only provide critical information to our customer base, but also stay relevant and provide meaningful support during uncertain times such as these? 

Here are a few broad-based tips that come from strategy sessions of our own as we react to the new norm in real-time. We’ll update this series over the coming weeks to offer more actionable advice and concrete steps not only to weather the storm, but to ensure smooth sailing once it has finally passed. 

Adjust Your Content

Deliver relevant content that speaks to what is going on in the world right now. Do not completely ignore the situation and carry on with business as usual. Not only will “normal” content likely be ignored by consumers, overly promotional content will seem tone deaf and even insensitive. 

For many companies, this will mean adjusting everything from social media content calendars to communication strategies with stakeholders concerning proactive risk mitigation planning. Demonstrate empathy and understanding — you want both your employees and customers to feel seen and heard — by showing, not telling.  

You might, for example, share screenshots or clips of virtual meetings or anecdotal episodes about how your team members are responding and doing their part to stay both safe and informed. Take the opportunity to demonstrate that we are all in this together by being sensitive to the need for timely and relevant information and updates. 

Even companies and brands outside of the greater medical and healthcare industries may have something helpful to share. How can your product help people function with greater ease during the pandemic? Or, how is your service capable of alleviating real-world requirements brought about by the advent of the pandemic? What strategic partnerships might you be able to leverage with other companies to share in the burden of providing meaningful support to shared customers?

Between widespread self-quarantining and the closure of virtually every social event and venue, social media usage has spiked. As people try to stay updated on the latest news and in touch with friends and family, they’re scrolling their feeds now more than ever. TV and OTT (streaming) viewership is also up, as people are sheltered at home, awaiting updated guidelines. If you’re looking to reach your customers with a relevant and helpful message, meet them where they are. 

That being said, don’t force it. If there is nothing truly valuable to provide, do not use coronavirus as a cheap marketing ploy. It’s better to cancel a few planned posts or promotions than to post or advertise something that comes off as insensitive, untimely, or at worst, inappropriately opportunistic. 

Step Back and Analyze the Business

There is a strong likelihood that you will have some extra down time, or at least what feels like extra down time, during this uncharted time in modern history. Use it wisely in regard to your business.  

Although many parents are suddenly finding themselves in the position of homeschooling, without a commute or extra workplace chats, you may be able to carve out some extra time in your day to take a closer look at the macro view of the company. 

Plot out long-term goals and strategies and truly consider the efficacy of the way you are currently spending your time from day to day. You might also use any extra time to complete important tasks that otherwise tend to get kicked to the bottom of the to-do list. Oftentimes these are key organizational touch points that get sacrificed for more “mission-critical” priorities. 

Business owners often see an uptick in productivity, efficiency and growth after they take time to make sure that processes, workflows and internal organization are all humming smoothly. 

Find ways to strengthen virtual offerings. Whatever your company already offers virtually will benefit from being improved, with more eyes on screens these days. Auditing the user or customer experience will help identify opportunities to improve.

Adjust Your Offerings 

Are there ways in which your offerings can be adjusted to apply to the virtual needs of your clients? Many companies, including those that rely on in-person events and gatherings, are being particularly hard hit right now. What ways can you re-create your event virtually and still provide value to attendees, sponsors and stakeholders? 

Many conferences are moving completely online, training courses are being moved to webinars, and businesses are attempting to pivot to put contingencies in place, without knowing just how long all of this is going to last. Do not rule out moving things online rather than completely cancelling events. People are seeking out ways to connect from home right now and are likely to be more interested in a virtual offering than they may have been in the past. 

Add more videos, webinars, podcasts, or online courses to your repertoire. And if you don’t yet provide this type of content but think it might benefit your business, this is an ideal time to start preparing a dynamic online offering. 

B2B businesses can also adjust their offerings to meet the demands of businesses under pressure in the wake of a pandemic. Many businesses are wisely adjusting messaging to reflect that, before anything else, we hear you, we see you, we understand you.  

From there, you must take into account the new reality of your customer and employee base and make adjustments accordingly. Since everything is happening in real-time and changing so quickly, it is first and foremost important to convey the very clear message that we are on top of this and doing everything in our power to deal with it. 

Especially as it relates to B2B interaction, companies at each rung of the service profit chain, whether suppliers or vendors, should prioritize clear communication and make sure they are working together to bring shared ideas and solutions to keep the supply chain running and the end customer as satisfied as possible. 

Encourage Virtual Community

For Your Team

If your team is working virtually, find ways to make the most of the situation. It’s not enough to just ensure that team members are able to call in for meetings and stay up-to-date on important information. Right now company culture is more important than ever before. With people not able to actually interface in person, make sure you don’t lose the sense of culture that you have already worked so hard to engender. 

Our team at KPI Target is checking in via video conference and dedicating time to just asking about how everyone is doing. It’s important to keep everyone synced up and on the same team AND feeling cared about and included.

For larger companies facing the reality of travel restrictions and the current reaction of financial markets to the pandemic, smart planning begins now. How do you plan to consistently communicate key messages internally, especially at a time when clear communication is paramount? This is especially prevalent for companies with large employee bases in other countries. 

For Your Customers

Find ways to be there for them and speak to their need for social interaction. Be aware of the challenges they’re facing, and use your content and offerings to help alleviate stated and perceived pain points.

Creating virtual portals for members or adding to online meeting spaces gives your customers a place to gather with people who are going through some of the same experiences. Even online groups can create a sense of community from afar. Get creative with how you can hold virtual events and inspire a sense of connection and togetherness. 

In your marketing campaigns

Find creative ways to encourage a sense of community in your marketing campaigns. Tik Tok dances have already been exploding, now with more kids home from school, and more people with time on their hands, this is a popular space to be in. Mobile usage has surged in China and Italy since the outbreak: TikTok last month saw record activity in China to more than 3 billion total hours. Does it make sense for your brand to be on Tik Tok? Now may be the time to look into it. 

Stay up-to-date with popular hashtags. This helps you not only to stay current on news and trending information, but also to discover a potential greater reach into new user groups that may also be seeking out a solution you can offer. There’s no doubt that this is a time to be in the conversation whenever it’s relevant to your brand and you have something authentic and valuable to offer. 

Within the Industry

Use any decrease in scheduled meetings or activities as an opportunity to network. Stay informed about changes in your industry, share information, and comment on others’ posts. Not only will this help you stay ahead of the curve and ready to adapt to any changes, but it will also help you build relationships of mutual support within your industry.

Check in with those older connections, see how people are doing, and provide support and resources where possible. We can work together to solve the issues we face. 

Above all else, remember the human element; at the end of the day, we all share common needs, desires, hopes and even anxiety during uneasy times. Do what you can to support your neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. 

We hear it a lot lately, but maybe it’s exactly what we need to be hearing, over and over again: We’re all in this together.