9 Ways to Reimagine Marketing in a COVID-19 World and Beyond

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

by Kelly Ashton Bradley, CXO, Marketing

Smart, Strategic Marketing in a COVID-19 World and Beyond

A crisis such as COVID-19 can either rally a company and its marketing team or bring it to a grinding halt. While agile brands have pivoted to engage their audiences, others have struggled to adapt and evolve— cutting back on marketing spend, or worse yet, laying off most of their marketing department. As we slowly shift from managing the COVID-19 crisis through recovery, it’s clear that the period of lockdown has profoundly impacted how people work, shop, entertain, learn and live.

In times like these, it can be difficult for marketers to know where to begin

Seemingly overnight we experienced a change in consumer lifestyle and priorities as people swung into protection mode to unify against the invisible force of the coronavirus, focusing on protecting themselves, their families, employees, customers and the communities where they live and work. Although the pandemic has posed broad challenges, it has also presented significant opportunities for innovation. Deeply rooted organizational beliefs and practices have been turned upside down and challenged as organizations continue to adapt in a constantly changing reality.

Some brands have had the agility to quickly embrace the changes COVID-19 brought on. Here are 9 ways smart marketers have helped empower these agile brands to adapt, pivot and innovate to grow business, engage audiences, gain loyalty, and give back:

  1. Message with empathy

When people feel vulnerable, empathy is critical. The nuances of brand messaging and promise are more sensitive than ever. In times of stress, it becomes even more important to communicate thoughtfully and with transparency. By deeply understanding consumers, marketers can act as a north star to help companies say the right thing and take the correct actions. Many organizations have used this time to lean into inspiring messages of longevity and wellbeing and drill down on what it takes to deliver on their brand promise in any scenario.

  1. Show up and be consistent
    Put quite simply, be a visible thought leader. Consumers want to continually hear from you. They expect thought leadership, quality guidance and to know you care. View your brand as a trusted ‘leader’ in the trenches with your audience and adjust your actions thoughtfully.

Come for Answers, Get Inspired

The Marketing in a Pandemic Webinar will give you expert tips, insights, and inspiration so you can keep pace with increasing customer expectations and drive business results in a COVID-19 world and beyond.

  1. Adapt to changing consumer behavior

The ways in which consumers are engaging with brands have changed rapidly. In order to remain relevant across multiple touch points smart marketers know it is important to allocate marketing resources to reflect these changes. The impact of COVID-19 on consumer attitude and behavior is too immense to rely on assumptions. Data from as little as a few weeks ago is already inaccurate. It’s important to gain actionable insights through up-to-the-minute data-driven analytics and voice of the customer programs to remain hyper-aware of the pulse of consumer sentiment and how to move forward.

Consumer Behaviors: As restrictions ease, it will take time to reach a new normal.

Source: Copyright © 2020 McKinsey & Company, How Covid-19 is Changing Consumer Behavior   

  1. Let your brand stand for good in the world

Operate from your deepest sense of mission, vision, values and purpose. People remember it when you do good for your team and your community in the spirit of authentic care and generosity. From matching donations, to medical support, supplying food and masks, providing free products, or paying employees during closings, brands have rallied to find ways to fight coronavirus, keep people employed, and show they care.

For example, Diageo, repurposed their beverage-manufacturing plant to help supply hand sanitizer with the message, “It’s in our hands to make a difference”, Adobe gave Creative Cloud to educational institutions, Ford repurposed their factory to manufacture ventilators and respirators, gyms offered free fitness classes, Google Arts and Culture offered virtual museum tours to help relieve stress, and the list goes on—all in a show of solidarity to help humanity in the best ways they could.

Give, give, and give some more

Educational and inspiring content that eases anxiety and promotes positivity elevates a brand. Some companies have produced powerful COVID-19 marketing campaigns that speak to the realities of the pandemic. For example, one of my favorites, Dove, created a spot that thanked heroes in healthcare.

While creative storytelling has been a must at all times, in the pandemic many of the initiatives which brands have embraced transcend marketing and lie at the heart of purpose. While these purpose-led actions don’t immediately grow business, they inspire goodwill, foster loyalty, build community and create evangelists.

  1. Mix up the media in agile ways

Being able to quickly pivot with rapid-response media operating models and mix things up on demand is important to leverage the platforms most appealing to people at any given moment in time. Marketing departments that are agile can continue to take advantage of the media “buyer’s market” that currently exists and seize cost-effective opportunities to engage with consumers.

Nimble marketing leaders who can successfully incorporate analytics, data, and cross-industry media benchmarks paired with a holistic, integrated marketing mix to build an optimal media plan will continue to navigate through the pandemic and position their brands for an expedited recovery.

  1. Track trends

Marketing teams should work closely with operations, sales and finance to forecast potential outcomes and gain insights in real time. Regularly measuring sentiment and consumption trends and listening to the conversation across social media can help marketers develop more targeted messaging and act as a catalyst for good decision-making.

Come for Answers, Get Inspired

The Marketing in a Pandemic Webinar will give you expert tips, insights, and inspiration so you can keep pace with increasing customer expectations and drive business results in a COVID-19 world and beyond.

  1. Adapt and deliver

As companies get more comfortable with remote collaboration, their marketing departments will continue to hone and improve digital and mixed media capabilities to pitch, sell, build relationships, develop creative, and increase morale as the new norm.  Marketing leaders have quite a few new additions to their plates as they support transition of each factor in the operating model to this new normal. Prior to the pandemic, a shift towards digital transformation was already underway, and now it is accelerating rapidly. Companies that have developed and executed digital strategies are positioned to leapfrog less nimble organizations. Innovation, digitization, and operational efficiencies are rapidly emerging out of this experience.

  1. Love, love, love your team

It’s critically important for CMOs to support marketing department employees and vendors with a continued focus on prioritizing health and wellness while helping them grow and develop to better serve the company. Communication is key.

  1. Plan for the post-Covid-19 landscape and beyond

As marketing departments plan for life beyond the COVID crisis, it’s important to keep the brand and customer journey intact and fully functioning while also working to more deeply understand the impact of business interruption, continuously improve the digital experience, and minimize gaps in the customer experience. Consider reaching out to your customers via survey to get real, actionable feedback. Accurate insights and fresh data are critically important to prepare for the post-COVID-19 landscape.

Marketing teams that reach across all areas of a company to offer value, stay focused, listen carefully and stay ahead of the curve have fared better during this crisis. Teams that build plans into the marketing and business strategy models to prepare for a future crisis such as COVID-19 will be poised and prepared.

During a crisis it’s essential to have solid decision making processes in place While there are many uncertainties and fears surrounding the pandemic, don’t let this crisis paralyze you and your team. By understanding your customers and acting on timely insights, you can navigate your way through and strengthen your team and business in the process.

About the Author

Kelly Ashton Bradley is the AMA-CT President Elect (2021-2022) and a master brand builder. She coaches companies on the art and strategy of creating a purpose-led brand for greater impact. Kelly writes for websites, blogs, and presentations. As the inventor of Brand Labs™ marketing transformation program, she mentors thought leaders on living into their mission, vision and values. kellyashtonbradley.com.