Marketing in a Pandemic – what is appropriate?

Leah Andrew
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Marketing in a pandemic - Should we change our strategy? Yes.

Everyone wants to know, what is appropriate when it comes to marketing in a pandemic?

It’s no secret that in the space of a week (ish) CoVid-19 has changed the way we live. Whether it’s work, grocery shop, educate our children, interact with each other…..you name it, it’s pretty much changed. I was on many client calls last week discussing how they should respond.

Over the course of these calls, I’ve noticed there are some consistent questions that have come up. I offer them here in hopes they will help you and your company navigate these changing times.

Here are the 3 questions:

  1. Activities: Are the marketing activities in our plan still appropriate? Short term vs. long term?
  2. Communications: How can we help reduce fear and misinformation?
  3. Community: How can we support the community at large?

1. Are the marketing activities we’re doing still appropriate? For both the short term and the long term?

Now is the time to don the lens: “how does our current environment impact our marketing activities”? And are these activities still relevant (whether they are big or small)? Take a look at the next 8 weeks worth of marketing activities you’ve got planned and see if they pass the litmus test when marketing in a pandemic.

For example, one of our clients who is part of the food supply chain is experiencing an unprecedented surge. As we all know, demand for core basket items is at an all time high. They have a number of large, in-store promotional events planned within the next 2-3 months. But planning for big in-store promotions during a crisis when people are being asked to self isolate and grocery stores are struggling with the basics like stocking shelves just doesn’t make sense. Better to redirect efforts on activities to help their partners and customers through the next 3-4 weeks.

Similarly, on a smaller scale, consider revisiting your social media strategy. If you’re a master planner and have already got a bunch of tweets scheduled, now is the time to revisit them to make sure they are still relevant, timely and sensitive to your audience. If you put out helpful tips/hacks, or fun facts, consider how to tweak them to align with some of the main messages we see in the media. For example, some recurring themes include:

  • keeping people safe during CoVid-19,
  • providing help/support for those at the margin,
  • how to adjust to working remotely,
  • what to stock up on, and
  • how to manage a dollar in the period ahead.

Take this period of pause and reflection to ask: how can I adjust our marketing activities – to be more timely and sensitive to our current environment?

2. How can our communications support positivity and kindness, not contribute to the fear and misinformation?

I’m sure every one of us has received no less than 10 emails in our inboxes from brands outlining what they’re doing to slow the spread of CoVid-19 and keep their employees and customers safe. What I liked and what stood out for me in reading all these notes (because yes, I did read them all), was the tone of their messages. Almost all of them talked about safety and well-being of their employees and their customer community first and foremost. In addition, they all ended with what seemed like an authentic message around kindness, caring and people coming together for the common good.

On the flip side, there is also no shortage of mis-information on how the virus spreads. This information is disseminated quickly through social networks. When coupled with news stories of food hoarding and of people profiting from reselling lysol wipes, it can become overwhelmingly bleak. We need to consciously think about the role each of us can play (as individuals and organizations) to help spread a “better together” message.

We know that this is unprecedented, and that people are scared. But, how can you (or your marketing department) contribute to a pandemic of kindness and positivity? When you review your current customer communications plans, ask yourself what needs to be added or removed from the schedule. I encourage you to share some of the efforts you are taking to keep your employees and customers safe. How frequently might you need to share updates and through which channels?

And above all, I ask as you consider forthcoming company communications: what can you do to amplify these messages of support, positivity, patience, kindness?

3. What can we do to support our wider community?

In this time of uncertainty so many questions remain unanswered – and will likely remain for a long time. Questions such as:

  • When will schools reopen (maybe not till September)?
  • Will critical supply chains hold?
  • Just how many of us will get this virus (probably more than we think or hope)?
  • What does the new normal look like when this is all over (perhaps we have outside clothes/inside clothes)?

We know that brands with a commitment to community do well – it helps with employee engagement and a feeling of a bigger purpose. It also helps the community itself prosper and do better. So how does the community fit into your own brand strategy? For those brands committed to doing good and supporting communities – how do we maintain or even strengthen commitment to the greater good?

This pandemic is shaking up the economy with unplanned layoffs, business closures, schools shut down, and services suspended. There are kids in our communities who may be missing meals because school is no longer running, or elders who are housebound unable to get food or supplies, families struggling to put food on the table or keep the lights on, and restaurants that may not make it through a 4 week shutdown. What can your organization do to support the community at large? Great examples of marketing in a pandemic that I’ve seen include:

How can we help our community get through this time of difficulty? I’m sure there are countless others out there, but the meaningful and reflective question it begs for organizations and individuals is: when we emerge from this period of social distancing, how are we going to see the world and how do we want to reframe our interaction with each other? How can we make the world better than it was prior to CoVid-19?

Tell me, what other questions should we be asking ourselves when it comes to marketing in a pandemic?

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