By Alan Young
It’s been just over a week since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus, or COVID-19, a global pandemic. Since then, the information surrounding the continued transmission of the virus has evolved at a rapid pace, taking business owners and employees across industries for a wild, and notably scary ride.
Each day, we awake to a news cycle brimming with critical updates that directly impact the well-being of our business, the experience of our clients, and find ourselves wondering: What could possibly come next? And now, as more closures commence around the world, social distancing practices go into effect, and travel bans are enforced, we find ourselves facing uncharted territory. But it’s not all bad news. The cancelations or postponements of live events, meetings and conferences and the increasing barriers of face-to-face business have opened up new opportunities for brands to build on their digital strategies.
And though we may not have the answers, that doesn’t mean we can’t share what we do know to offer guidance for customers and other businesses that are experiencing disruptive shifts in their market. Marketing in an Unstable Environment When things are amiss in the world, marketing becomes a strange proposition. Political, social, and environmental factors are pointedly influential in our realm, often steering the trajectory of consumer behavior, economic factors, and in turn, business messaging. Many organizations are going to become more reliant than ever on their digital strategy.
In the case of COVID-19, many of us are likely thinking back to the uncertain times, which followed the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, in 2020 we grapple with a somewhat novel and challenging dynamic — the expansive influence and reach of media.
Today, consumers are more connected than ever before, and the world finds itself waiting with bated breath for each new update to make its way across the news or our social media platforms. Although this breeds a culture of informed opinions, it can also, in some cases, inspire a culture of fear-mongering and hyper-awareness. It is a harsh landscape to navigate, and now, business leaders find themselves wondering:
· How can we possibly market in an environment like this?
· There are so many other things at stake, and, surely, we don’t want to appear self-serving or even worse, as though we’re trying to sell.
· Of course, we want to protect our businesses and continue to cultivate the potential for success and survival, but how do we approach marketing initiatives in such an unstable environment?
First and foremost, it’s imperative to understand that we are experiencing an unprecedented event, one which affects seemingly every industry around the globe. Hotel and travel industries may find themselves at the tip of the spear, but as exemplified in the past, they will get through this, and be stronger for it.
Many of those hardest hit organizations will be faced with the question of how, or even if, they should keep pushing ahead. While there is no sure answer to these questions, leaders must go with their gut to a certain extent. Operating under the realization that this will pass, organizations need to evaluate their readiness to hit the ground running once industries and consumers around the globe return to business as usual. It is also critical to look beyond the implications of current events to imagine the future, which will eventually arrive, beyond the uncertainty. The Long Term Perspective In the interim, your marketing efforts will undoubtedly adapt in accordance with this dynamic environment, but the last thing any brand should do is go dark. Don’t fall victim to “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”!
While your marketing strategy should always be based on educating and providing value to current and prospective clients, that sentiment becomes especially integral in times like these. While an immediate, measurable ROI or influx of sales may be off the table at the moment, focus on the continued cultivation of relationships.
This isn’t opportunistic or self-serving, it’s simply the adoption of a long-term perspective. If a company chooses to go dark, fading quietly into the background as the news continues to pour in, the path to recovery down the road becomes somewhat convoluted, and far from guaranteed. Alternatively, those companies which remain top of mind tend to weather these types of events much more effectively.
Lean Into the New Normal A key factor in resilience is adaptability. And as people turn to technology for information and connection in these times of need, it makes sense for businesses to ensure they are doing the same.
The adoption of a remote workforce is hardly a novel concept. Studies show that 3.7 million employees in the U.S. are working from home at least half the time, and right now? Most of our surrounding communities are working from the confines of their home to abide by social distancing recommendations. Schools and educational institutions are also responding by moving to online learning programs until further notice.
The good news for marketers is that thousands, if not millions of people, are spending more time exploring digital channels that are specific to their respective industries. Perhaps this (and the lack of a morning and evening commute) is the silver lining of self-isolation.
While social endeavors may need to take a backseat, for the time being, people around the globe are reinvesting that time into learning about best practices, industry trends, and long-term projections surrounding the anticipated resolution of COVID-19. There are no stylish offices; co-workers huddled in the kitchen over a hot cup of afternoon coffee or packed meeting rooms. For many, right now, it’s just our home, a desk (or kitchen table doubling as a desk), and our laptop and mobile devices connecting us to our virtual workspaces, our co-workers, and the world at large. As companies steadily shift to adopt more flexible infrastructures while relying on digital mediums, elite leaders have the unique opportunity to become thought leaders across those digital channels. Those brands which remain active across relevant online platforms to consistently exhibit expertise, share critical knowledge, and inject value into online interactions without trying to sell overtly will inspire trust and positive brand association.
Ultimately, marketing amidst a pandemic is no easy task. As market dynamics change rapidly, we’re continually reassessing, and our teams are working around the clock to adapt, respond, and pivot according to the global issues at hand. And though there is no playbook for situations like these, what I’ve found is that crisis can provide some clarity. Now is the time for organizations to plan for the future, make sure their company is positioned as an industry leader, and brands must keep the content flowing.
Of course, if you are unable to market your firm due to cost constraints, we get it. But ensure that you keep the lines of communication open. Pick up the phone or send out an email to see how your clients are doing. Just being there to support them as a partner means a great deal in times of uncertaint