Thursday 30 April 2020 10:07 am

Marketing: How to navigate the choppy waters of Covid-19

The author is Deputy Head of Technology at Aspectus Group

The last month has been tragic and bizarre in equal measure.

The world is currently having to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic and its heart-breaking effects. And for most people, this will be unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.

In the business world, there seems to be a distinct spotlight on companies right now – closely judging how they are handling this situation. As YouGov boss Stefan Shakespeare has written on these pages, firms that go above and beyond could well be rewarded at the end of the crisis. 

This greater scrutiny is causing paralysis with some businesses. And rightly so. Getting the tone of a piece of communication right is a difficult balancing act. But, as many business leaders and research have shown, continuing to communicate with your audience – whether that’s your employees, investors or clients is critical. 

Read more: Wetherspoons reputation battered after Covid-19 controversy

After researching how this pandemic would impact the PR and marketing industry, and how businesses were reacting (both the good and the bad), here are some suggestions for marketers and business leaders to consider:

Don’t lose sight of the long term  

It’s important for businesses to think about short term wins and adapting, but you shouldn’t forget the long term. Previous epidemics have shown a short-term impact but generally, the economy recovers, therefore you must be ready when things do eventually pick back up. 

In fact, a Deutsche Bank report which assessed businesses after the 2008 recession found those who continued to invest in marketing were more successful in weathering the storm than those who did not. 

Suggestion: use this time to not only go after quick wins and support your audience or community, but also as a chance to regroup, reassess and plan for the longer term. 

There’s a thirst for information 

Whilst demand for certain products or services might be reduced (depending on what you’re selling), people are consuming more content online – and it’s not just virus related. Use this to start investing in your blog, social media campaigns and building resources. 

Suggestion: if you’re struggling to convert leads currently, it’s wise to shift the focus to top of the funnel tactics. For instance, invest in resources that educate your audience and campaigns that capture leads. Doing this means you’ll have a good pipeline to nurture and convert when spending habits do eventually change. 

Know what conversations to join in on

Companies can actively damage their brand with ill-conceived attempts to join a COVID-19 conversation they have no reason to be part of. Ensure you stay relevant and true to what your brand stands for, without that relevance, brands run a risk of exploiting the situation. 

Suggestion: If you haven’t already, spend some time mapping out the conversations taking place in the publications you want to be in – it might not all be virus related. Then see where you can comment and offer insight; it’s important to be strict in ensuring everything ties back to your overall messaging so you don’t adopt a scattergun approach to communications. 

Offer positivity and support

Not surprisingly, consumers are demanding more positive news to reduce anxiety. Indeed, Google Trends shows the spike in searches for ‘positive news’ in the last month.

What’s more, people are also looking for more support across a range of things from remote working, staying fit or staying sane. However, note the tone of voice section below in ensuring you don’t sound too cheerful or chipper about this disaster. 

Suggestion: tap into this demand but be careful of the tone. Whether it’s by creating informative webinars to bring people together or curating a positive news roundup newsletter about your industry.

Don’t exploit the situation

According to research presented in a recent Kantar webinar, 60% of consumers don’t want brands to be exploiting the situation to profit. For instance, Brewdog faced some backlash for overly branding their hand sanitiser recently. A good example where the tone was struck, and it felt genuinely authentic, was a local Italian restaurant which accompanied each takeaway order with a CD of Italian music to give to people to listen to try and recreate their restaurant dining experience. 

Suggestion: It’s hard to outline where the line is drawn between offering support and exploiting a situation. I think if you’re offering genuine support – without trying to sell people things they don’t actually need, then you’re on the good side.

Tone of voice online

You should be constantly checking what is an appropriate way to discuss the crisis and ensure the tone is ok. Digital presence is obviously more crucial now than ever, so it’s important that firms aren’t continuing to market themselves like it’s business as usual. For instance, if your brand usually strikes a light-hearted, jokey tone, consider whether that’s appropriate if talking about coronavirus – your posts could be read by someone who has just lost a close family member to the virus. 

Suggestion: pause any scheduled posts for the foreseeable future and instead take it day-by-day. We’ve seen some very awkward looking ads which clearly hadn’t been updated.

Of course, the situation is in constant flux, meaning what you say or do one week might not be appropriate the following week. Businesses must be constantly reviewing what communication you’re putting out and if it’s still appropriate. 

Above all, now is not the time to cut remaining lines of communication in the fear of getting it wrong. We’ve seen a few businesses do this, and indeed clients thinking this might be the best option, but continuing to communicate to your audience – when you’re physically unable to do this face-to-face anymore – highlights the importance of keeping those remaining lines of communication open. 

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.