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Marketing During A World Health Crisis? Where To Begin.

A week ago most of us in the U.S. had COVID-19 concerns on the peripheral but certainly not inches from our face like we do today. COVID-19 was largely China’s problem and if our company or clients had operations in China then there were certainly concerns about revenue projections. Now our concerns have grown to the point where we cannot just sit back, wait and see. Action is needed.

Though not nearly as important as the health and well-being of our families, friends and neighbors, we as marketers need to consider how best to help our companies and clients navigate their external and internal communications during this uneasy and unpredictable period of time. Though every business and every client are different, here are a few things to consider. 

Don’t stop. Adjust.

We have a client that was incorporating the NCAA’s basketball tournament into their advertising. TV spots, radio spots, online video, and social media ads were ready to go. Then, the entire tournament was cancelled.  That left us two options. Option 1 was work with our media partners to cancel all of our client’s buys and live to fight another day. Option 2 was to keep running ads but change the creative to messaging and promotions that would resonate with our audiences over the next two weeks.

We opted for option 2, focusing on our client’s online buying platform (which our client has a unique advantage in their markets) and shifting some dollars out of radio since fewer people would be commuting and into TV and social where we suspect people will be spending more time. You could make the argument that fewer people are making discretionary purchases right now so why advertise at all, but for this particular client the buying process is long and typically starts with online research so it made perfect sense to push a complete online buying process right now even if the crisis extends for several weeks.    

Sympathize now.

While some are making bigger sacrifices than others, we are all making changes to our daily lives. My wife and I are trying to navigate us both working full time jobs while also having two kids (one being a toddler) at home. Sometimes when I wonder how I am going to get through this I think of my grandma in assisted living. She isn’t allowed outside visitors and I believe isn’t allowed to leave unless for medical emergencies. COVID-19 isn’t an inconvenience for her. It’s life or death. 

As marketers and, more importantly, human beings, we need to sympathize with one another. Marketing isn’t all about product promotion. Equally important is brand engagement. What is your company or your client doing to help those during this crisis today and tomorrow? If you want to create loyal customers that will respect and remember your brand when this crisis is over, do something for your communities now and then share it on social media, your website and other platforms. It’s okay to show you care because hopefully you truly do. 

There are countless examples of NBA and NHL professional sports players paying low wage stadium employees’ salaries while sports venues and teams are shutdown. No one is expecting your small or medium business to pony up millions of dollars, but how about donating your company’s remaining March travel expenses that were budgeted for but won’t be incurred to Meals On Wheels or using it to buy gift cards at your employees’ favorite local lunch spots to get these small businesses hit hardest through these hard times.

The truth is there is no playbook for what marketers should do when the world temporarily shuts down. The suggestions above are just that – suggestions. But I think once this difficult period is over and our society and economy return to normal, the brands that adjusted and adapted during this crisis will be in a better position than they were before it.

Tom Higgins is a Partner at ity Advertising, who works with businesses in energy, automotive, utilities, manufacturing, the arts, tech, and non-profit sectors to grow their business through advertising.

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