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Thoughts on Marketing Amid COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak is a tragedy that impacts all walks of life. Read below to find some of the best advice on how to communicate with your customers during such a crisis

Are we witnessing these days the final verdict on the oldest question in marketing? Is there actually such a thing as bad publicity? If you ask the people of Corona beer, you might get a cold hard “yes.”

Of course, though, this is far from being the only impact of the coronavirus outbreak on retail, marketing, and many other fields.

But before we touch this topic, I want to personally say that beyond any economic impact, this global crisis is above all a personal catastrophe for so many people. As life must move forward and strive to prevail, we should always remember to put the human tragedy here first in anything and everything that we do. I hope you and your loved ones are all as safe and sound as can be and wish you good health throughout this worldwide calamity and beyond.

When we do turn our focus to marketing in times of corona, and the more mundane professional adversities this crisis brings, we find ourselves in front of a multi-layered, mostly unknown challenge.

Cross-Functional as Key

A good place to start can perhaps be the macro angle. A couple of days ago, a thorough report by McKinsey listed three “swing factors” when trying to predict a general direction for the global economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The three factors – (a) the extent of milder, undetected cases, (b) whether the virus is subject to seasonality, and (c) asymptotic transmission – were then used as the base for three possible scenarios: (a) quick recovery, (b) global slowdown, and (c) global pandemic.

Regardless, the executive summary of that report ends with the recommendation for companies to have a central “nerve center,” under which “Protecting and providing purpose to employees, stress-testing financials, stabilizing supply chains, and engaging consumers,” should all be integrated.

Speaking of a “centralized nerve center,” we should mention WARC’s coverage of the topic. Quoting Amit Narayan, a partner at specialist global risk consultancy Control Risks and lead for the India and South Asia business, their “COVID-19: what marketers can do” article notes how “Marketers have a role to play in this, helping steer the conversation as part of a multi-disciplinary crisis-management team.”

Community First

Mr. Narayan concludes: “This crisis shall pass, and when the dust settles, customers will remember the brands and companies that have taken pains to build rapport and trust with consumers. Crises – like sports – don’t just build character; they reveal it. As brand ambassadors, marketers need to ensure that their brands are seen to serve the public interest and that their companies demonstrate socially responsible behavior even in a crisis.”

Oh, and notice how we don’t talk about Basic Reproduction Numbers, for example? That’s because we are not trying to become virology experts – which is the first tip of advice for marketers in such times, according to Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddesa of PCMA.

While the agency’s focus is on events – and while event-marketing perhaps faces the most complex challenges among all marketing channels – her list of “do’s and don’ts” is relevant for practically anyone in marketing and communication. From “Consistent, proactive communication”, to “Use the power of social influence,” – that’s a list worth internalizing these days.

To be more particular, “In China, many brands have paused their marketing initiatives and ad spend as they figure out a way to engage with customers amid the coronavirus outbreak,” – as reported by Vogue Business.

“Customer communication should focus on community-building efforts and addressing consumers’ changing needs and concerns,” is further useful advice, also focusing on why this situation should be handled with even more transparency and authenticity, from a marketing perspective, than ever before.

Elijah Whaley, CMO of Chinese influencer marketing agency Parklu, which works with international clients including Shiseido, Guerlain, and Rebecca Minkoff, says “As brands focus less on brand awareness and sales campaigns during the outbreak, community-building activities are a safe way to interact with consumers and remain front of mind. [So] when they start spending again, they are going to spend with you.”

Reassure and Support

Additionally, “Store closures, a decline in retail footfall and changes in consumer sentiment have prompted companies including Burberry, Apple, and Capri Holdings to revise their annual forecasts,” VB reports.

This, among other things, highlights the more critical-than-ever need to master not only your communications – focusing those around communities, key opinion consumers (rather than key opinion leaders), reassuring, and supporting messages – but also your online user experience. From A to Z, with some special attention to support, and emotionally intelligent and sensitive experience.

As most of our readers here are either marketing executives or CRM professionals in a B2C company, our recommendation now is to focus especially on the “relationship” side of marketing, to cater to your existing customers’ needs – as these are obviously changing due to the dire circumstances. In turbulent economic times, the tendency is to be more cautious with your investments and new initiatives. Investing in your existing customers, in that sense, is for sure an investment that is more risk-averse and is likely to return a higher ROI.

I hope my post here has helped a little, at least from a professional, marketing angle – to get a better grasp of what is being said about this, and how it might be best to manage this crisis from our own narrow angle. Zooming in on day-to-day problems can also ease the overall stress.

Best of health.

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Pini Yakuel

Pini co-founded Optimove in 2012 and has led the company, as its CEO, since its inception. With two decades of experience in analytics-driven customer marketing, business consulting and sales, he is the driving force behind Optimove. His passion for innovative and empowering technologies is what keeps Optimove ahead of the curve. He holds an MSc in Industrial Engineering and Management from Tel Aviv University.