As the number of cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. multiplies and the economic impact grows, marketers are balancing the desire to stay actively engaged with customers, the need to adopt the right messaging tone and the realities of the market. Proven tools for many brands—events, trade shows, retail activations and sponsorships—are on hold for now. It’s easy to feel frozen in place, but it is essential that marketers ask one simple question: What’s next?
Customers, employees and other key stakeholders are looking at your company right now and asking that question. How will your brand respond? In a limited number of cases, marketers can continue with the status quo. For most there need to be strategy adjustments, fresh thinking and informed creativity. Failing to communicate with key stakeholders now will make the recovery period longer and more difficult.
So, what is next? Marketers are the voice of their brands. It’s critical to speak up now and make sure your brand is ready when we emerge from COVID-19. This crisis, like all others, will end. Here are 19 things that marketers should be doing during the COVID-19 outbreak:
1. Stay Active: Research indicates that in all previous national emergencies and economic downturns brands that continued to communicate emerged the quickest and the strongest when the crisis lifted. You may need to shift your messaging, but history shows going completely dark damages a brand for the long run.
2. Talk to Customers: In normal times it can be difficult to get customers to engage because of their busy schedules. They are still busy, but they are spending far less time at social events, on airplanes, attending conferences and commuting to work. This is an opportunity to build relationships, gather feedback and learn by listening. Remember that consumers are utilizing Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp more frequently to contact brands because customer service call lines might be staffed less or overloaded. Closely monitor all customer touch points and be ultra-responsive.
3. Confirm Your Position: How is your brand positioned in the market? Do you have a campaign, tagline or brand position that made perfect sense before COVID-19, but might appear out of touch now? The strongest brands are those that resonate with consumers both emotionally and logically. These are sensitive times, requiring sensitivity in how we communicate. Accomplishing this requires an awareness of how customers view the world. Redirecting budgets that had been earmarked for canceled trade shows and events to funding market research is a wise investment at this time.
4. Challenge Your Assumptions: Humans are creatures of habit. But our tendencies and practices have been disrupted by this crisis. Now is an opportune time to ask questions about your brand, markets, customers and competition. Some assumptions that were true before COVID-19 may no longer be as rock solid. Play the skeptical reporter in your next strategy or planning meeting and ask the who, what, where, when, why and how questions. Challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” point of view and cause people to take a fresh look at the obvious.
5. Be Social: Traffic on social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram is up since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Serving up interesting content with appropriate tonality means your message will reach more people. Deploying humanizing messages and operational updates on a regular cadence is reassuring to key audiences. Targeted ads and promoted posts are also likely to get more engagement now. Dialing up your social listening capabilities is important now because it is critical to respond to customer sentiment in real time.
6. Focus Down the Road: Look three to six months ahead to see what projects are on the horizon and get them started now. When things start to return to normal you could be overwhelmed by competing deadlines. Anticipate pent-up demand for efforts you don’t yet know about and take care of the things now that you do know about.
7. Measure What Counts: What type of metrics do you have in place for your marketing campaigns? Are you measuring activity or accomplishments? Focus on your company’s KPIs. You may want to consider building an entirely new “recovery marketing plan” that takes into account the new realities your business will face and steps necessary for success.
8. Hold Virtual Events: If your trade show schedule has been sidelined and your sales meeting canceled, now is the time to consider hosting an online event. Creating the right content and user experience can open doors while the rest of the world is in shutdown mode.
9. Get a Weather Report: We all know people outside of our organizations whose opinions we respect. They might be an industry analyst, the head of a trade association, a trade journalist or a thought leader. Reaching out to learn what they are hearing and thoughts on trends that will emerge after this crisis can give you a clearer forecast of what is next.
10. Take a Hard Look at Your Website: What does the outside world see when they visit your website? How do you rank in search? Is anyone testing links to make sure they’re not broken? How engaging is the content for your customers? If you have not done a major update of your website in the last 18 months it is likely your competition is getting stronger online while you’re standing still—or worse.
11. Rally the Troops: Your employees are under stress. They may be isolated working remotely. If they’re able to come to work, they may be concerned about exposure to illness. They may be experiencing pay reductions. They are worried about losing their jobs. This is all on top of concerns about their personal health and the safety of loved ones. Employee communications, training and recognition programs are more important now than ever. Remember, they hold the key to customer service and experience.
12. Mine that Data: Most organizations have a wealth of data. Unfortunately, much of the gold is buried in siloed reports owned by various departments. Learn more about what your company already knows and put it to work to build your brand.
13. Prepare for the Next Crisis: A surprising number of companies don’t have a crisis communications plan. Even fewer have ever conducted a drill to prepare a crisis response team. The time to prepare is before the next storm strikes.
14. Review Media and Sponsorship Plans: The current crisis has caused some companies to cancel media buys and pull out of sponsorships. This presents opportunities that did not exist a few weeks ago. It is a buyer’s market right now, but that will change when the crisis lifts.
15. Analyze the Competition: One of the best ways to discover your own brand’s opportunities and vulnerabilities is by taking an objective look at what competitors are doing. Understanding the products and promotions they have in the pipeline, comparing your share of voice in the market and gaining insights about customer preferences can identify the gaps in the category you can exploit.
16. Create Compelling Content: Who are the subject-matter experts in your organization who have available time now to help create the content you need for your website, social channels and outbound marketing efforts?
17. Test Your Citizenship: How would your company score in a corporate social responsibility audit? Now’s a good time to find out. Studies show customers are more likely to do business with companies that support causes important to them.
18. Get Ready for Your Closeup: The current situation creates a window to assess your executive team’s presentation and media interview skills. Plan now on how to train and prep them to make the most of upcoming opportunities.
19. Look for the New Opportunities: A crisis of this magnitude creates business opportunities. Seismic shifts are taking place in how and where people work, how they buy services and what they value in products, services and relationships. Is there a brand extension, new product or tangential business you could create to meet these new priorities? What can you do so key audiences view your brand with a higher degree of trust, relevance and affection?