In the span of a few short weeks, our whole world has changed. A deadly virus that very few saw coming has forced workers to stay at home for their own safety, businesses to shutter temporarily, and entire economies to be shut down. As a result, instead of developing long-term business strategies, working to achieve ambitious growth targets, and readying the launch of new products, small and large organizations alike have been prompted to hit a pause-and-reset button.
Even now, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, as infection and death rates continue to rise. In the face of what’s sure to be a severe economic recession, businesses, in general – and marketers, in particular – are struggling to find a way forward. How long this recession might last and what shape it will take are open to speculation. Though a great degree of uncertainty remains, what’s clear is that the immediate future is going to look dramatically different than the one we’d planned for at the start of the year.
With lockdowns beginning to ease and the scale of the economic challenge coming into clearer focus, companies can start to measure the initial impact the global pandemic has had on their businesses. If profits are lagging – as they inevitably will be – business owners may seek to cut costs by scaling back their marketing efforts and curbing ad spend. However, as we will see, this is not the time to “ghost” our customers. Companies that do so, in times of crisis, often struggle mightily to regain market share once the economy eventually recovers.
As unemployment skyrockets, money will inevitably be tighter for consumers as well. We can expect that customers will behave differently than before, since their immediate needs and short-term priorities will have drastically changed in the past few months. In order to rebuild the trust in their company’s brand, products, and services, marketers must alter their approach to their customers. The message must be restructured to fit the tone of the moment, or else it may come off as tone-deaf at best, or offensive at worst.
Let’s be clear: there will be no “winners” from the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is possible for companies to come out of this crisis stronger than before by leveraging a combination of shrewd crisis management, sincere empathy, and a depth of understanding of the “new normal” we’re all facing.
8 Strategies for Marketing Your Business in a Post-Pandemic World:
1) Customer Insight
Knowing as much as possible about our customers and prospects has always been a hallmark of any successful marketing campaign. In a post-COVID world, insight will still be of vital importance, but we must closely monitor consumers’ current preferences, needs, and even their feelings, as these will change often and rapidly.
In the wake of this global crisis, a few trends have already emerged. Consumers seem to respond best to positive messages brimming with confidence, reassurance, signs of hope, and a clear path for recovery. Customers have also shown a greater desire for more sustainable products, as well as an increased intent to buy locally.
As marketers, we must be willing to dig deep to understand what consumers care about, what they don’t, and what they’re anxious about at any point in time. Using social media and data analytics to track behavior will help us understand what potential customers value most and what concerns them. A clear marketing strategy, now as before, successfully links what a brand has to offer to what potential customers want.
2) Communication & Engagement
The need to engage with clients has never been more important as it is now. Failing to do so effectively risks damaging long-term relationships with customers. While it’s understandable that companies may be unsure of what to say, how to say it, and when to reach out to customers, it’s crucial that we keep the lines of communication open.
More than ever, people crave a human connection. Brands that can relate to customers at a human level, by initiating new and meaningful conversations, will not only see a boost in exposure but the increased potential for new clients as well. We, as marketers, should strive to provide consumers with relative, informative content when they need it most, being mindful of their short attention spans and the need for instant gratification. All communications should be carefully monitored and altered as necessary to meet the changing needs and interests of consumers.
3) Empathy & Sensitivity
As marketers, we must get to know our audience well enough that we can credibly ask them to trust our solutions to provide for their needs. In order to do that, we have to be able to empathize with our customers. Empathy goes beyond merely thinking about customers’ needs and being sympathetic to the challenges they face. Genuine brand empathy requires marketers to forge a deep, emotion-driven understanding of what customers are going through during these troubling times. This isn’t something we can fake or pay lip service to with empty clichés like “We’re all in this together.”
Businesses must acknowledge customers’ anxiety, grief, and frustration and respond with compassionate, relevant content that’s in tune with where customers are in this moment. Customers should feel as though we have their best interests at heart. If we truly do, we must back up our words with actions and help provide tangible solutions.
Pretending like nothing extraordinary is happening is both tone-deaf and irresponsible. People will remember how brands handle their marketing during this time. Negative association with a brand can cause irreparable damage to a company’s reputation and its continuing business operations. We must be vigilant to ensure that the information we’re sending out is sensitive to both our customers’ needs and their recent experiences.
4) Digital Transformation
Over the past several months, a global population in lockdown has flocked to the internet in droves. From online grocery shopping to video-conferencing to telehealth, digital media has been able to meet people’s most pressing needs like never before. The internet has also played host to a variety of entertainment options for the homebound, from gaming to social media to live TV and news. Ecommerce has grown exponentially in recent months as well. The digital landscape has been expanding and evolving for some time now, but the rate at which it has done so during the pandemic is staggering. The majority of these digital users, new and old alike, expect their reliance on digital media to increase or, at least, remain at the same level for the foreseeable future.
Some brands have spent the past couple of years investing in their online customer journeys – developing websites, applications, and implementing live streaming, to name a few – are now reaping the benefits of these efforts. A multitude of retailers and other businesses have spent the last two months scrambling to set up an online presence, with mixed results.
Now more than ever, businesses are realizing they must turn to digital channels such as social media to maintain connections with customers, as well as sow seeds for future growth. Advertisers and marketers alike have taken advantage of digital media’s unique ability to reach customers in real time and adapt messaging quickly as needed. Everywhere an organization exists digitally is a potential customer service channel. As marketers, we must expand our efforts to find, engage, and serve customers everywhere online. Advanced targeting and personalization allow marketers to track customer sentiments more efficiently and adapt messaging to current moods and behaviors.
Going forward, companies would be wise to invest in creating positive digital experiences for their customers. Social media pages should be updated frequently. Websites should be responsive in design, optimized for mobile, and as user-friendly as possible. First impressions of a business aren’t just made in person anymore.
5) Cultivate Trust & Brand Loyalty
Creating trust and cultivating brand loyalty are critical to remaining competitive in a post-pandemic world. Brands that build strong relationships with their customers in the short term will reap the long-term benefits of those connections.
As much as is possible, businesses should continue delivering on their promises, respond quickly and effectively to customers’ concerns, and maintain brand visibility. We, as marketers, must be able to demonstrate a deep awareness and understanding of the positive outcomes and experiences our audiences want to achieve, not simply focus on transactional behaviors that we want to drive.
Winning over new customers in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis may be difficult. Our focus should be on re-targeting previous patrons. Keeping in touch with past customers via social media, email marketing, and targeted ads is key to maintaining close relationships with our customers.
6) Creativity & Innovation
Our job, as marketers, is not only to keep our businesses moving in the right direction, but also to build and maintain truly meaningful partnerships with our customers. By creating content that engages in memorable, surprising, and personalized ways, we can inspire customers to take the next step in their journey. We should focus on producing content that’s more personally resonant, situationally relevant, and emotionally intelligent. Providing trusted information, some much-needed comic relief, or anything in between can help our clients get through this difficult time.
The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to rethink the way we’re presenting our products – the manner in which we talk about them, the topics in these conversations, and the context around our customers’ experiences. Too many advertisers and marketers are using the same tired strategies to reach out to their customers during this time. We are tasked with making sure our brand stands out while also appealing to what our customers want.
A valuable exercise for marketing teams to explore is brainstorming how we can create content for platforms we haven’t employed previously. By expanding their organic reach, brands can stay top of mind in a global audience that’s actively seeking new media.
Throughout the pandemic, businesses small and large have shown the capability to pivot quickly to address the changing needs and priorities of their customers. Being prepared ahead of time to adapt to an ever-changing market is critical to future success.
Businesses must examine their goals and strategies and consider new approaches, services, and products they may not have considered previously. Marketers must continually reassess who their potential customers are, how they make their purchasing decisions, how likely different groups will respond to marketing, and how messaging and content should be modified for different audiences.
The way we do business has changed dramatically in a few short months, thanks in large part to the increasing number of remote workers. Organizations that were previously leery of allowing employees to work from home have quickly developed and implemented strategies to make remote working a functional reality. Businesses are realizing that this arrangement can be a cost-saver, as working from home reduces the need for office space and other infrastructure. As a result, this practice will likely gain greater acceptance going forward.
8) Everything Is Marketing!
During these challenging times, companies can continue to build their brands by treating everything they do as marketing. From employees’ community service efforts and corporate social responsibility work to company communications on social media, everything an organization does shapes people’s opinions of our brands and influences their decisions about whether to do business with us, now and in the future.
We, as marketers, must ensure that every activity we engage in reinforces and interprets our brand’s positioning and personality. We have the ability to turn interactions with employees, business partners, communities, and customers into potent messages about our brand. By transforming everyday actions into extraordinary ones, we can improve brand perceptions and attract greater attention to our business.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses cannot simply dust off the old marketing playbook and pick up where they left off. Brand personas, methods, and messaging must evolve to confront the new realities. The effect on consumer behavior and values will almost certainly continue for years to come.
Marketing will play a key role in our recovery. Companies that have been able to prosper during lockdown – grocery delivery services, for example – may experience significant setbacks once consumers return to in-person shopping. Businesses that may have been forced to close temporarily will have to find ways to persuade customers that their products or services are safe once more. Still others will have to implement strategic plans to win back customers who may have adopted new daily habits while working from home. Throughout all this, information and communication will be vital. Marketers who make the most of these unique circumstances will be best positioned to help restore the economy.
It’s still too early to know what the “next normal” will look like, which behaviors will persist, what attitudes may shift permanently, and what technologies will have taken root in the lives of consumers. As marketers, now is the time to double down on what we do best. We need to make sure our brands are at the top of searches, our social media pages are constantly updated, and that we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to connect with our audiences.