Thanks for reading this. I know everyone’s busy and preoccupied so let’s get to the point: my top tips for marketers right now.
1. Stay true to your brand
Your brand purpose and values should already be clear: now let your actions speak for your brand. How you treat employees, suppliers and customers will be shared, at least within communities where they all live and possibly far more widely across social media platforms. Big brands like Levi’s, Apple and Lush have moved quickly to reassure staff they’ll be paid despite global store closures. Along with local tech firms, French perfume makers and Formula 1 teams, the Brewdog brewery joined the fight by switching a production line to start making hand sanitiser. The CEO of Slack (a strong business which will do even better in the near future) is multiplying some charitable donations by five.
The John Lewis partnership will, for the first time in 155 years, close all 50 stores this week but makes no mention of letting staff go, meanwhile Topshop is currently firefighting on social media about claims it reportedly ‘sacked 100% of staff’ as quickly as possible last week rather than keep them on and take possible government assistance.
History says some of these actions will be remembered long after the emergency is over – and customer loyalty will clearly be tested.
2. Focus on the long term
It might be tempting to put marketing budgets into short-term promotions, but these are unlikely to pay off and may be ignored due to stress or seen negatively, as desperation. (Beware the opposite too: Aldi are not increasing prices of loo rolls). Instead, focus on the long term, think about how you want your brand to emerge from this. While your competitors are panicking and shifting their focus, stay true to your brand and you are more likely to come out of it a winner.
3. Feel your customer’s pain
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – developed in 1943 during WWII - is real. Everyone right now is primarily concerned with the health of themselves and their loved ones. Basic concerns such as paying rent or food will preoccupy people even as they sit at their desks, so this should be acknowledged directly sometimes. Speak honestly about what customers can expect and how you are maintaining ‘business as usual’ where that is true.
If you don’t feel you need to speak about the virus at least sense-check communications to make sure they aren’t insensitive to the very real concerns of your staff, suppliers and customers.
4. Find out where your customers are at, and expect disruption
Some people may be working at home for the first time ever, dealing with illness, childcare, isolation in their households, or just struggling to get something approved because of staff absence or board meetings being disrupted. So maybe their daily reality mirrors yours or maybe it’s very different - do they have children or elderly relatives, underlying health issues, money worries? These can be huge stressors of course.
Work-wise they very likely have extra responsibilities right now beyond dealing with you. As parts of their business move more online than ever before, supply chains are disrupted, their tech is tested beyond the norm, perhaps ask how you can help your customers in new ways to trim costs, present proposals differently, or help get decisions over the line.
5. Use the time to plan
The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two pictograms: ‘Risk’ and ‘opportunity’. You may have unexpected time on your hands! So use it wisely. You may sadly be looking at closing parts of your business but re-imagine what the world might look like, what new markets and ongoing needs may emerge? Use the time to re-think plans, test assumptions, get creative with partnerships …and work out how you might come out of this stronger than you went in.