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3rd April, 2020

COVID-19 lockdown: Marketing through the crisis

In lockdown conditions, business owners are uncertain of how to best market their offering, or whether to market at all. Here’s how to do good and win hearts.

The reality is, that even in countries with tighter restrictions there are still people working, earning and spending. The more businesses that can try to continue operating, the less all our lives will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the longer term.

Marketing, now more than ever, can be a force for good – it’s a critical part of keeping people in jobs and communities in good spirit.

In short, the COVID-19 crisis has created a new world – one you need a new plan for.

We’ve pulled together insights from marketing experts to help you understand how to keep the brand lights burning, connect with your audiences and pivot to suit this new and rapidly changing world.


Keep the brand lights on: Why you need to keep marketing


When economies look bleak and the future of your organisation feels uncertain, marketing is nearly always the first budget to be severely cut. It feels like a nice-to-have, not mission-critical. But, according to Forbes, many studies show that maintaining some marketing spend during economic crises puts brands in an excellent position when things improve.

Why? Because those brands that stay connected with their customers emerge out the other side with customers. The brands that go silent have to start again from scratch.

‘…this virus, too, shall pass.

‘At some point, consumers will return to the streets, the cafés and the various other activities that they have been denied during the dark days ahead.

‘Keep the brand light burning, because the cost of snuffing it out for the rest of 2020 and then trying to reignite it next year is gigantic,’ wrote Mark Ritson for Marketing Week.

Any messaging you put out during the crisis and the inevitable downturn to follow will also deliver more value for your marketing dollar.

With your competitors shaving down marketing budgets, your messaging will stand out more in a suddenly quieter environment.


Respond to your audience’s new reality and add real value


Communications made before the crisis – or ones that continue to ignore it – will seem odd or completely tone-deaf in the new climate. Pull them now and don’t be afraid to comment on this new reality instead.

42 percent of survey respondents in a new study from Ace Metrix said, ‘any mention of COVID-19 is OK’, and 44 percent said it ‘depends on the message and/or brand.’

That leaves just 10 percent who don’t want to hear about it.

That’s being reflected in the behaviour already seen by the world’s biggest advertisers.

Ford replaced their current campaign with new messaging about a newly launched deferred payment programme for Ford Credit customers.

“It became clear we were at a tipping point where we expect typical messaging in the marketplace isn’t going to work the same way,” said Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co.

“It’s important to be reassuring right now, and not trying to say to people, ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event’.”

In a COVID-19 world, your messaging needs to face up to what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be sombre – in fact, light-heartedness, sensitively done, can be well received.

Most importantly, make sure your messaging offers support and shares tangible examples of ways you’re helping – what commitments or if you can, what discounts or concessions you can offer those that need it?


Build your brand, not new leads


During a normal recession, it’s often a good idea to focus on marketing that will bring in the cash – short-term promotions and discounts. But this is a new kind of crisis. People are scared, not just about money, but about their loved ones and their way of life in general.

Shouty promos won’t work. Instead, use that budget to play a long game.

In the same report, Ace Metrix found that messages of support need to be backed by “actual action, not just words”.

75 percent of respondents thought brands should be helping during this time.

That might hurt your profits short term – like Zoom, which is giving away free video conferencing to schools around the world instead of capitalising on the increase in remote learning – but helping people now is the best way to help your brand later.


Invest in your existing customers


It can cost five times more to win new clients than to retain existing ones.
In this time of business uncertainty and shrinking marketing budgets, it makes even more sense to nurture the customers you already have.

According to one study, increasing customer retention by just five percent will increase profits from between 25 percent and 95 percent – and doing that will cost five times less than winning a new customer.

Increasing customer loyalty begins with deciding which of them you really want to keep.

That information will be in your business management system – you’ll immediately see what kinds of customers spend the most with you.

Your messaging to these customers should then flip from trying to get more out of them, to finding ways you can give more value. Help them get more out of what they’re already buying from you, or show them support in other ways.

At MYOB, our Enterprise team is launching a customer check-in program.

“Whilst there are a handful of industries that have seen an increase in demand during this time, our team are laser focused on helping our own customers survive and succeed through this,” shared David Reece, Head of Enterprise Marketing at MYOB.

“Our marketing team has rapidly pivoted, with team members previously focused solely on acquisition campaigns, now prioritising retention programs aimed at connecting with and supporting our customers to help them use their software to navigate rapid changes across their payroll and tax obligations…”

Make sure you put your customers’ needs right now at the heart of what you do, be proactive, get in touch, listen – then be ready to adapt.


Be present and relevant


Even if you don’t have deep enough pockets to maintain your marketing spend, do as much as you can to reach out to your audiences.

Focus not on immediate ROI, but on long-term brand-building.

READ: Branding and design basics for business owners

That’s not just because it will pay dividends for your brand, but because marketing will be an important part of reinvigorating a floundering economy.

Show that you understand what people are going through in a world that’s completely changed, that you care about their lives and that you’re present.

That genuine push to help, alongside relevant messaging that will stand out in a suddenly quieter market, will set you up to take the lead when your customers start to recover.

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