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14th May, 2020

Marketing with sensitivity during COVID-19

It is possible to market your business effectively during a crisis like COVID-19, but it takes careful consideration. Here’s what the experts have to say.

Whether you’ve temporarily had to close your doors, wind back operations or even if business is thriving, marketing through COVID-19 has its challenges. Messages need careful consideration, budgets are tight (or non-existent), and there’s the delicate matter of pushing products while millions are impacted by the global health and economic crisis.

But it is possible to market your business with sensitivity during the coronavirus pandemic. Here, two marketing experts provide their advice on how it can – and should – be done.

They also explain why abandoning your marketing efforts during challenging times such as these may cause more pain down the track.


Maintain your marketing now for customer loyalty tomorrow


“When tough times hit, marketing is often one of the first places business owners attempt to cut [expenditure],” said marketing educator, blogger and podcaster, Emily Osmond.

It’s a reality all too familiar for any marketing or PR consultant or agency owner – yours truly included.

But according to Osmond, abandoning marketing isn’t always a good decision, and it can negatively impact your business’s bottom line.

“Studies show us that it’s more profitable to retain our existing customers than to acquire new ones,” she said, adding that businesses “often emerge weaker and less profitable” after slashing marketing during a downturn.

But how does a business retain customers under the dual pressures of social distancing and economic stress?

READ: Where to focus your marketing efforts in lockdown

Keeping the light on with marketing can help, said Osmond.

She advised a shift in efforts to focus on communicating how you’ll be operating and any adjustments you’ll be making, such as social distancing measures, opening hours and takeaway offerings.

In addition, she recommended sharing “value-driven content that inspires, entertains or educates your audience.”

“Prioritise marketing or campaigns that help actually stimulate repeat purchases or that up-sell or cross-sell across your business and focus on ways to support your existing customers,” said Osmond.

That way you’ll (touch wood) have loyal customers lining up when you reopen your doors.


Know the distinction between profiting through and profiting from a crisis


If you’re fortunate and business is suddenly booming, don’t let guilt prevent you from marketing your products or services.

“Profiting through this is very different to profiting from this,” said Osmond, adding that it’s up to your customers to decide whether they continue purchasing from you.

“Don’t make that decision for them by stopping marketing,” she said.

“Because of course no one is going to buy from you if you stop telling them how!”


Pay attention to your messaging


According to Osmond and Eugene Went, director of Merge Digital Marketing, your messaging during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic needs very careful consideration.

“Clarity of message is important, along with empathy,” said Osmond.

She stressed the importance of checking the messaging in any ads or marketing you have running or scheduled. “Is there anything that could be misinterpreted or insensitive?” she asked.

Smart marketing should acknowledge the context of the situation faced by your audiences, said Went.

“Many people are spending increased amounts of time at home with new restrictions on workplaces, schools and recreational activities. These audiences need content that is stimulating, engaging and inspiring.

“It’s also important to remember that with a large percentage of people out of work or unemployed, these audiences will be price conscious and may respond well to content that provides value.”

Obviously, all messaging and images should represent safe social distancing guidelines, added Went.


Show customers you care


Marketing during COVID-19 should be positive and show your business’s human side. “Let your audience know you understand what they might be going through,” said Osmond.

“This isn’t the time to make your marketing about your business: keep it focussed on your customers.”

According to Went, spreading false information to drive sales or capitalise on your audience’s vulnerabilities is a definite don’t.

And it might be time to scrap that “Mega COVID Sale” you’ve been planning, with Osmond cautioning against campaigns that play on the virus’s name.

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Look to online marketing solutions


“Online marketing [is]… such a quick and powerful way to get in front of our audience and connect,” said Osmond.

And for savvy marketers, increased consumption of digital media during lockdown, and reduced competition, presents a rare opportunity to engage with existing audiences and generate new customers.

“Consumption of digital media has increased since users are spending more time at home,” said Went. Additionally, “Google search trends indicate audiences are spending more time researching products and services online.”

With many brands switching off their marketing campaigns to save costs, competition in many industries is lower, he added. This has led to a significant reduction in the cost of advertising through online channels such as Facebook and Google.


View criticism as an opportunity to improve


And if you do miss the mark in your marketing? View any (constructive) criticism as a chance to do better.

“Critique from our audience can provide us with valuable feedback and an opportunity to improve our business or the way we communicate,” said Osmond.

“Acknowledge the issue that has been raised,” said Went. “Demonstrate how you’re going to resolve the issue and offer the opportunity for further discussion through private channels of communication, like Messenger, email or phone.”