COVID-19 & Marketing: What Global Pandemic Means for You

Coronavirus (COVID-19) seemingly came out of the blue and slapped us all in the face. We’re seeing businesses shut down, the global economy in turmoil, group gathering recommendations getting smaller, and (in the United States) an extreme toilet paper shortage.

But what does all this chaos mean for brands and marketers?

COVID-19 has created a ripple effect impacting nearly every industry. Some have certainly been hit harder than others, most notably the restaurant and travel industries.

I’ve got some good news: chaos is where the best brands and marketers tend to shine!

Chaos creates holes; clever marketing puts brands in a position to fill them.

Think about brands like Groupon.

Groupon was launched during the 2008 US recession. It was a platform that provided both businesses and consumers a way to survive the economic crisis. In the thick of the recession, Groupon quickly spread to 300 markets in 35 countries. Talk about right time-right place!

Now, this current global pandemic is quite a bit different than the 2008 recession, but that certainly doesn’t mean marketers and brands are doomed!

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to test us all – both personally and professionally.

Let’s discuss the situation from a marketing standpoint.

Don’t Be A Fearmonger!

First and foremost, a global pandemic should not be a green light to exploit people’s fears. People are getting enough of that on the news!

You’ve probably seen stories on the news about price gouging on items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Sure, these sellers are making a quick buck. But what’s the long-term gain of this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing!

In fact, those customers will probably resent the price gougers when things are back to normal!

Now, I understand there are entire industries built on a foundation of fear marketing: insurance, home security systems, anti-aging products, and perhaps more appropriate to the current times, hand sanitizer.

For these types of companies, fear is simply in the DNA of their marketing. But that doesn’t mean they need to fan the flames.

Exploiting people’s fear in a global pandemic does not make the world safer. Many would argue that this practice is actually more destructive in the grand scheme of things.

As businesses, it’s our duty to inspire people in tough times – not throw gas on the fire.

Plan For Fluctuating Traffic and Conversions (And Revenue)

The harsh reality is that many businesses are in a serious pickle right now – while others are seeing an uptick.

The recent trends in traffic and conversions are a pretty good indication of this. Here is a graph showing how these fluctuations are rippling across industries – courtesy of Neil Patel.

traffic growth or decline due to covid-19

conversion growth or decline due to covid-19
Image Credit: NeilPatel.com

Due to travel bans across the globe, travel companies are getting crushed right now (unfortunately). I can tell you from an insider’s perspective, the organic traffic to my travel tips blog has been in a freefall since February.

In fact, COVID-19 is estimated to rob the travel industry of roughly $820 billion!

On the other hand, news outlets and healthcare sites are seeing nice upticks.

For many businesses in the negatively affected industries, the game plan seems to be to shut er’ down and hope things turn around quickly.

Marketers will need to brace for these trends and accommodate their SEO strategies in the coming weeks – possibly months!

Scale-Up, Not Down: Find Opportunities To Innovate

The way brands handle themselves during times of chaos is fascinating.

To quote Warren Buffett, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”

As an agency, we’re seeing all sorts of brands scale back their marketing efforts due to the fear of uncertainty – which is an understandable response. This is creating MASSIVE holes in just about every industry.

Look at some of the biggest brands we know today. A lot of them rose to new heights in times of chaos. They found holes in the market and capitalized at the best possible time.

Netflix is probably my favorite example of this.

Let’s go back to the 2008 recession.

Entertainment companies were getting rocked across the board and struggling to tread water. Consumers across the United States were making massive cuts to discretionary spending – which included scaling back expensive cable packages. Let’s face it, cable is a freakin’ rip off!

So what did Netflix do?

They ramped up their streaming service.

Netflix’s revolutionary streaming service changed entertainment as we know it. In the midst of the recession, Netflix stood out as a new shiny alternative to satellite and cable TV – at a tiny fraction of the price.

By the end of 2009, Netflix stock shot up by a whopping 57 percent!

Fast forward to today – all those TV networks are coming out with their own streaming services to catch up with Netflix!

Let’s go back a little further – to the Black Plague era.

Plague Doctor
Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Black Death, as horrible as it was, led to massive advancements in agriculture – both in terms of management and efficiency. The plow, which had been around since the Roman empire, saw a number of updates to better exploit the land – as there were significantly less people working the fields.

Instead of shutting down operations, stakeholders in agriculture raised the bar.

Once the Black Plague Pandemic had passed, Europe’s economy was booming and many saw a big boost in their quality of life.

What’s the lesson here?

Times of crisis – as fearful and unforgiving as they can be – are huge opportunities for innovation.

Just because you personally are being asked to quarantine, you shouldn’t quarantine your marketing efforts in times like these!

With some ingenuity and the right strategy, your business can come out of these tryin’ times stronger than ever!

Focus on Relationships

Relationships are, without a doubt, the most important thing businesses/marketers need to be focusing on – no matter what industry. Now is a time when consumers are feeling scared, anxious, unsure, and vulnerable.

All across the world, we’re seeing companies do amazing things to help people in these difficult times.

For example, Loom, a video recording, and sharing service, made Loom Pro free for both students and teachers. They also removed recording limits and restrictions on free plans. For businesses, Loom slashed the price of Loom Pro by 50%! This is helping people across the globe make the transition to remote life more manageable.

Google made their video conferencing services, Hangouts Meet, available to all G-Suite customers through June 2020.

Ahrefs Academy is offering their “Blogging for Business” course for free – something that is usually $800!

blogging for business - Ahrefs Academy
Image Credit: Tim Soulo

To reiterate, it’s up to brands to inspire people during dark times, not perpetuate fear. This is the time when companies have the power to step up and show people how you value them.

This strategy has worked in the past.

To give you another history lesson, let’s talk about Mark & Spencer, a British brand known for high quality clothing, home products, and food.

During World War 2, when cities across Britain were being lit up by bombing raids, M&S spent a great deal of time and effort manufacturing ration clothing for the public. Additionally, they took part in fire watching, raised funds, set up soup kitchens, and helped the country care for wounded soldiers.

M&S was in its heyday in the decades following WW2 – as consumers across the world admired the company for their noble actions during wartime. In addition to creating fantastic relationships, M&S’s actions during the war became a notable part of their brand story and legacy.

M&S was there for the people when things got rough. As a result, the people were there for the brand afterwards.

Relationships are everything in business. Times of chaos are when brands can showcase just how they value those relationships!

Think Long-Term

Let’s not sugarcoat this. The short-term looks bleak right now. Very bleak. Businesses across the world are being forced to scale back with the general mindset that “the worst is yet to come.”

With most of the population hunkered down in their homes, stimulating a horrified market is a formidable challenge.

But now is not the time for radio silence – even in the face of giant budget cuts.

Humankind has been fighting plagues since the beginning. Coronavirus will pass. People will leave their homes again and the market will return to normal.

The smart move is to keep your eyes fixed on when that day comes.

Keep in mind, performance-based marketing is not going to do well in these times. Focus on long-term brand building initiatives. This is the time you need to be showcasing your expertise in the field and preparing for when things go back to normal.

But what if you’re an agency?

As an agency, you are more than likely dealing with a list of panicking clients. Many are jumping to rash conclusions in the fear of uncertainty. But keep in mind, this is when your clients need you the most!

  • Explain why marketing is extremely important in times like these.
  • Educate them on the dangers of going silent during a mass crisis.

Be flexible here. Consider offering options for delayed payments or more lax payment plans. In the long run, these acts are what clients will remember. To reiterate what we discussed earlier, take care of people now and they’ll take care of you later.

Your Turn!

COVID-19 is something we’ve never experienced before in our lifetime. It is a huge test of our resilience, moral fiber, and ability to keep things from falling apart.

The news is definitely presenting the virus like it’s the end of the world. This is to make sure we act early and take the proper actions to contain it. In other words, the media hype is to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t become the end of the world!

There is one common denominator to get through all of this: listen to the CDC!

The better we are about following the experts’ advice – quarantining, social distancing, etc. – the sooner we can put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back on track!

As a brand or agency, this is not the time to go into hibernation mode.

The day will come when things return to normal, and when they do, you don’t want to be dusting off cobwebs and scrambling to get your operation moving again. Chaos creates openings in the market. If you elect to move out of the way, there’s a good chance someone else will fill it!

For any questions or concerns regarding marketing during these tough times, do not hesitate to reach out to our expert team! We are happy to help!

  • Kevin Svec is a chief content strategist at E2M. He spends his days researching and helping businesses produce compelling content that resonates with audiences of all interest levels. When he’s not rock climbing or hanging out at one of San Diego’s many beaches, Kevin is writing for Impulsive Wanderlust, a travel and leisure website he founded.
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