So, the COVID-19 lockdown has messed with life as we know it. All those marketing plans carefully strategised and worked out for 2020? Thrown out! All those events you were going to host? Dumped! The marketing budget you were allocated? Probably cut down drastically!
Your head’s in a spin and you’re probably feeling a little fearful and confused. For years, you’ve worked according to a plan, you’ve known what you needed to achieve and you knew how to do it. And now this lockdown has come along and does not look as if it is going to end any time soon…
What’s the first step?
Tempting as it may be, especially in times of financial uncertainty, do not drop the marketing function in your company. It’s important to take a long-term view and to accept that ‘this too shall pass’. It’s possible that your company will cut down your marketing budget just as they will probably be cutting down on all operating budgets during this time. But discarding the marketing function altogether is going to negatively impact you once everything is back to normal again.
And the second step?
Take a long, hard look at what you currently have running and planned. Analyse it critically and in depth. I’ve seen companies running ads that, at this moment in time, come across as thoughtless, insensitive or just plain stupid. Why, for instance, run an ad advertising holidays that must be taken in the next three months, when no one can travel? Why advertise financial investments starting at one million rand when people are currently worrying about having enough money for day-to-day living expenses? It’s important to work out whether your ad or plans are relevant in the current time and, more importantly, do they take cognisance of the current situation.
Moving on to the third step
Establish your client persona. If you’ve already done this, expand this client persona more than you would have previously. If you were targeting middle-income individuals with their own homes, you now need to take cognisance of the issues this group probably faces – retrenchment, financial issues, no work no pay, frustration and fear of the future and illness will probably feature. If you were targeting small to medium businesses that had a turnover of X per annum and operated in what is currently a non-essential sector, you need to expand that persona. What are the issues that these businesses currently contend with? Less money to spend, trading activity curtailed for now, frustration and fear. Develop your empathy – it’s one of the most important things you can do right now and how well you do it is going to affect your dealings with clients and potential clients once all of this is over.
So does the fourth step mean cancel all ads and marketing?
NO! Obviously, you may have to adjust your budgets. Definitely, you’ll have to adjust your message. But now that you have had a long hard look at your planned campaigns and a detailed and more empathetic view of your client personas, it is time to start planning the way forward.
I think you’ll agree that you want to come out of this period with a high degree of client loyalty, as well as being seen as a ‘good’ company by potential clients. You’ll want to be seen as empathetic, understanding, there in times of good and bad, agile, forward-thinking and helpful.
So, right now it’s not a good idea to advertise products your clients cannot buy, exhort them to spend huge amounts when they’re worrying about cash flow, or to act as if nothing has changed. Nor is it a good time to institute what I call ‘decoy advertising’, where your company puts out press releases, adverts, communications and social media messages that intimate help and assistance, while actually offering nothing of any meaningful value. Don’t feign concern, show concern. Your clients are not stupid and hard times make them judge you more than they would in times of plenty. Once life returns to near normal again, I can see many organisations in the financial and insurance sectors on a slippery slope when it comes to client loyalty.
Think about what might help your clients and potential clients right now. What messages will they be receptive to? What would make them view your company in a positive light? Take cognisance of the fact that they are probably feeling a little isolated, more open to communication at this time, and planning a way forward. What’s useful to them? What will make them feel you empathise? Anything you can offer that might help? All of this relates to the client persona you established in Step 3. There’s no one size fits all category – it is very much dependent on the industry you play in and the type of client you have or are trying to attract.
It’s all about meaningful communication and not losing touch with your audience.
Now start planning your new marketing campaign for this lockdown period.
Step 5 – Your new marketing campaign
Ensure your website is up to date, carries thoughtful messages and takes cognisance of this specific time. Now is the time to give your website a revamp, double check its content and prepare for the future. At a time when people cannot easily communicate with you and face-to-face or personal contact is hampered, take into account that your website is the face of your company and the first impression for many potential clients too. Don’t waste your digital resources – read our blog on this topic here.
Think about what’s useful to your audience. This is going to vary depending on the sector you are in and the type of audience and client you have. It could be white papers, you could put together interesting infographics, it could be something as simple as a useful link to a relevant article. Distribute these via your website, your social media channels and email. Keep in touch!
Were you intending to exhibit at various shows or host industry seminars and meetings? Ramp up your skills or employ a company to help you to host or present webinars and virtual events. Depending on your industry, consider participating as a speaker at these events. Podcasts are also a good idea, as are videos and recorded presentations. Think about your team carefully and you’ll probably find that you have quite a few industry experts on hand.
Expand your branding. Now is the time to get virtual backgrounds made for your Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. It makes you look so much more professional, reinforces your branding and hides your messy home in the background. Speak to Evergreen Media about getting one made for you.
Be thoughtful about your digital advertising. Now is not the time to advertise products that no one can buy for months yet with a ‘call to buy’. But you can advertise those products with a longer-term vision in mind. For instance, ‘Ever thought of designing a home using black bricks? View our gallery for some inspiration.’ You’re not telling your audience to buy the black bricks, but you are speaking to their curiosity and possible future plans. Or ‘Download our guide to electrical conductivity measurement. The EC/TDS guide ensures reliable measurement and advises how to prevent errors.’ It’s very specific and only speaks to a small defined audience that will download your guide which is company-branded. They’ll remember that you were helpful. Consider useful discount offers or even free memberships. What you’re trying to do right now is build up a community that will remember you in the future. This is also not the time for a splatter and spray approach. Ensure your target audiences are very clearly defined.
Social media is important right now. Use it to connect, to identify with, and to develop relationships with current and future clients. Post regularly but with thoughtfulness. Now is not the time to upload a photo of your manager in their new Mercedes. Consider humour – your audience are human after all. I think the Tops at Spar ad currently on Facebook is a lovely example of humour and empathy. Have a look at it here. Your posts don’t have to be industry-specific either. Social media is where you can be a little more casual and a lot more human. Be selective about which social media channels you choose for your brand – align them with the message you want your company to portray. It’s better to use one channel and do it really well than try and be all things to all people.
As I write this, online selling has been opened up for almost all industries. Could your company sell goods online? If yes, look into setting up a small online shop. It’s quite possible that you’ve been considering e-commerce for a while – now is the time to change that consideration into action.
In closing, I’d like to wish all SMEs the best as we move into new ways of working, communicating, meeting and marketing. We will get through this unsettling time.
Some useful articles to read:
Bizcommunity – Is this the best time ever to build brand love?
Bruce Clay MENA – Cutting Down Marketing Budgets and COVID-19