covid marketing

During the Great Plague of London in 1665, a young student at Cambridge retreated to his birthplace manor. He was in what’s now called “social isolation” to avoid being infected. In the year he spent mostly cut off from the rest of the world, he achieved three significant things:

  • Invented the system known as calculus.
  • Discovered that white light is made up of different colors by drilling a hole in the shutter of his bedroom window and holding a prism up to the beam of sunlight.
  • Watched apples fall from the trees and….you know the rest.

Isaac Newton recalled his time in isolation as “annus mirabilis” – or simply, a wonderful year.

So while you’re stuck at home, using Zoom to desperately coordinate with colleagues —this might be exactly what you need as a marketer.

Let me explain.

The Opportunity in the Crisis

We all know about the Chinese word for crisis. Whenever there is a crisis, an opportunity comes along. While the danger of coronavirus is extremely real, be it to public health, society and businesses–the opportunity exists too.

This is as good a time as any to reflect on your marketing strategies. These are stressful times. People are worried about their health and that of their loved ones. Many are afraid of the prospect of losing their livelihood due to the impending economic crisis. Marketers need to reevaluate their tactics and shift their focus towards advertisement that is mindful and empathetic.

COVID-19 pandemic is providing a unique chance for marketers to better understand the sensitivities of the masses.

Marketing will have to adjust to the current crisis. And people promoting brands and services might need to set a few guidelines.

Marketing in a Global Pandemic

The current situation is unprecedented in modern times. Since no SEO strategist was designing a campaign during the 1918 flu pandemic, there aren’t any examples of how one can promote products while people are dealing with a potentially deadly viral disease.

Whether we like it or not, the coronavirus lockdowns myths are here. The key is to understand the psychological aspect of lockdowns, social isolation and the economic uncertainties. Keeping this into consideration, the following are some ways of marketing a brand during a global pandemic.

  1. Keep Up with the Trends

With hoards of people working from home, work hours have become extremely lax. This means people are doing business and non-business searches throughout the day. The pandemic has decreased the demand for luxury goods but has increased consumption of essential items.

For instance, Google Trends for toilet paper tells a fascinating story.

Knowing what people are searching for can help you create relevant content. On ‘normal days’, you would be looking at summer spending statistics for your next holiday campaign.  However, these aren’t normal days. You’ve to follow the trends on a day to day basis.

Nowadays, coronavirus and everything relevant to it is dominating the discussion. With essentially all big events being cancelled, there isn’t anything else to talk about. But as the threat of viruses decreases and keeping up with news becomes more tiring, new fads will emerge in the online world. This is where you should keep your finger on the pulse of things.

But whatever happens, DO NOT make the mistake of capitalizing on the on-going pandemic (more on this below).

  1. Try Not to Come off As a Greedy Moron

Back in 2012, Gap asked it’s consumers to shop during hurricane sandy. Not to be undone, American Apparel released a special SANDYSALE 20% discount. Both brands got blasted on social media and had to apologize for these gaffes.

These mishaps could’ve easily been avoided. While brands shouldn’t be oblivious to crises, they should take special care in how they communicate with the customers.

A better way to approach events like hurricanes and pandemics is to:

  •  Keep people informed about your response to the crisis. For instance, tell people about your COVID-19 policy updates and whether your stores are closed or not. Being proactive and putting out vital information makes for great customer relationship strategy.
  • Be humble and empathetic to the customers. Do not promote any content that seems disingenuous and boastful. Take celebrities’ rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ as a case study. People are in no mood for empty gestures and anything that plays with their sensitivities.

To sum up, keep it classy. Do address the current crisis but be more human in your approach. These aren’t days where you should be loudly and bluntly promoting your product .

  1. Set Up Your Priorities

It would be wrong to say that the COVID-19 outbreak came out of nowhere. There was troubling news coming out of China since December of last year but no one anticipated the virus would spread at such a rapid speed. Brands were not prepared for the virus’ devastating impact on public life. And since promotional activities are designed months prior to their launch, entire marketing operations of brands were put on halt.

To their credit, some companies have been able to respond quickly. Iconfnder created a number of coronavirus icons making them free to use for everyone. But it’s unrealistic to expect other businesses to revise their strategy on such a short notice.

The only way to weather this storm is to take a multi-pronged approach. To start, step aside and see what’s in the pipeline. See if the campaign you’ve planned will drown in the current climate. If yes -put it on a pause. Hopefully when things go back to normal, your campaign will be ready to take off.

Since life is currently at a standstill, you have all the time in the world to determine how your post-coronavirus marketing would fair. You can gain an advantage over the competition by preparing for the next big shopping season during quarantine days.

As of now, try to make your content more quarantine-appropriate, this means avoid anything that alludes to touching, connecting or ‘bringing people together’.

  1. Provide Value to Customers Even if You Aren’t Selling Anything

People aren’t interested in buying non-essential items these days. And with 20% of the world under a lockdown, most businesses except supermarkets and pharmacies are closed anyways.

Even if you promote software or online subscriptions, you might have noticed a decline in sales. But this doesn’t mean you should go on a hiatus. There are still ways to provide value to customers. Content that solves a customer’s most pressing needs is currently in high demand. Fulfilling it will put you in the mind of consumers for some time to come.

Since most people are around a week into quarantine, they might be looking for motivational content or something to take their mind off the depressing news cycle. Content that relates to DIY crafts, home exercise routines and working-from-home is attracting a barrage of clicks. If any of this relates to your industry, this might be your chance to reach thousands of prospects.

With people stuck at home, life has moved online. According to reports, internet usage is up by 50% in some parts of the world. This has created an exceptional opportunity for brands to increase their digital footprint.

  1. Use Online Alternatives to Live Events

Like everything else, marketing for the time being completely moved online. This means no conferences, trade shows or anything that involves an assembly of people in the same physical location.

This creates a dilemma as marketing involves both online and live interaction. But there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with customers that are more personal and direct.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Host a virtual conference that involves educational discussion and product demos.
  • Let industry experts use your platforms for video lectures or guest blog posts.
  • Try to create a more appealing webinar experience with supporting graphics.
  • Reach out to social media influencers to promote your products through exclusive coupons.

Now is the time to shift your focus on video content. In particular, live video content. Even if people cannot be physically present while you promote a brand, they should still feel like taking part in something. This feeling can only be replicated when you’re live on the web.

Final Thoughts

Coronavirus has created an enormous global crisis. But crises like these create great leaders. The time is ripe for marketers to create solutions that are short-term and strategies that are concentrated on the future.

Working away from the office in an uncertain economy is tough. However, a break from the usual can create a perfect environment for innovation and ingenuity. As marketers, it’s our duty to reassure all stakeholders that we can get through these trying times.

Marketing in the age of a coronavirus might seem like anchoring a boat during a storm but it might make better captains out of all of us.

Evelyn Johnson is a part-time blogger and writes about business, technology, social issues and pretty much anything that’s in the now. @EvelynJohns0n

Covid-19 marketing stock photo by Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock