Marketing through a time of crisis
We’d all like to think we respond well under pressure. That we rise to the occasion. That we can think on our feet and have all the answers when the proverbial hits the fan. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. All good marketing plans have an element of flexibility – allowing them to shift with breaking news, legislation changes, environmental impacts, increases or decreases in budget, the variables could go on. But when something as huge as a global pandemic erupts and our daily routines and normal business procedures are impacted more than we ever could imagine – all the preparedness of agility needs to be turned into action. So where to start? Here’s some top tips to keep your cool and ensure your business or brand stays ahead of the game during the current crisis:
- Start by communicating internally to your people. The fundamentals of communicating with employees start with the time-tested principles for any crisis: transparent, truthful and timely to maintain trust and demonstrate strong leadership. This phrase came to my mind early last week, when our MD demonstrated clear leadership: “Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right thing.” Employees need to believe that the business can handle the crisis. If your employees believe in you then the rest is sure to follow. Act quickly, even if you don’t always know the answers, just let them know you are aware and are working on the next steps. Remember to take a human approach to address their fears and update them regularly. By leading with empathy, you demonstrate dedication to employees as people.
- Be anything but silent. What’s the first thing a good marketeer does when they want to launch something new? They check out what the competition is doing. I was amazed by how many businesses – not just our competitors - hadn’t actioned or published anything during these past two weeks of crisis. We were praised by others regarding how proactive we were on issuing acknowledgment and guidance. Research from strategic insight company Opinium shows that a very large majority of people in the UK would like to hear more from brands and how they are responding during this crisis. Timeliness should also be emphasised – making short, frequent and contemporary knowledge available is appreciated by consumers much more than a huge long anthology of information.
- Be brave - One of our values at Robson Laidler is ‘be brave’. This is relevant here as brands brave enough to step out and voice their support are perceived to be handling the crisis better than businesses that are less vocal. Look at how major retailer Tesco boldly turned around its ‘Keeping you safe’ message. On Monday 23rd March the Prime Minister ordered us all to ‘stay at home’. By Friday 27th Tesco was airing its first TV campaign in response to this, encouraging shoppers to keep their distance whilst shopping. Shot overnight on Wednesday 25th in the retailer’s Stevenage Extra store, Tesco has been praised for conveying an important message quickly, by using real employees and minimal budget. The impact of ‘everyday value’ at its very best.
- Don’t be too self-serving. Usually in a crisis a business owner’s instinct is usually to think what we can do to turn this around to promote ourselves or push a product or service. Not here. Now more than ever companies will be judged on how they act. Instead of your own interests think what you can do to help others – for free. Learn from the likes of Costa Coffee who is distributing thousands of ready-to-drink coffee cans to those at the forefront, completely free of charge and Blueline Taxis who are providing free travel to keyworkers.
- Involve your publics. Described by several marketing authors, public relations is about a two-way flow of information. As a business or brand try to not just tell your customers what you are doing – but rather reach out to them and ask them what they can do or give back. We just need to look at the response to the call for volunteers for the NHS, where more than 500,000 people signed up in 24 hours, to see that people want to be involved, not simply told what others are doing. Customers are looking for businesses to act as a facilitator, to allow them, not the organisation, to make a difference.
- Don’t throw the baby out the bath water. In times of crisis even the greatest leaders can blunder into mass panic. Don’t forget the basic marketing principles – what is your message and who do you want to say it to? Don’t forget Marcus Sheridan’s ‘they ask, you answer’ principle; what are the questions your customers / prospects want to know and how can you answer them? We need to listen to the people we claim to be talking to and speaking for. And listen hard, inspiring confidence and stability.
- Rely on the experts. Try to separate your overly charged emotion with facts and data. This will not only help to inform your communications plan but also strengthens your voice. Review reliable information from national Government sources but rather than just issuing these documents try putting your brand and tone of voice on it, ensuring the actual data isn’t altered, and pass this information on to you clients and employees.
- Utilise social media more than ever before. We are now living in a world where we are working from home and social media is playing an even bigger part in our lives, with a 76% increase in social media usage in the past week. Community is more valued than ever, and social media is a powerful tool in building and maintaining our connections. Think of great ways you can still maintain business and market creatively on social media; we’ve seen gyms doing online sessions, restaurants and cafes turned into takeaway or delivery points, churches using social media to carry on worship, and sport brands doing viral challenges, fundraising and socializing online.
- Don’t stop marketing! The last economic downturn showed that organisations that maintained marketing activity bounced back faster than those that took their foot off the pedal. It’s more important than ever that we don’t stop delivering the right messages at the right time to the right audience.
- Be Kind – the buzz word of 2020 so far. If you follow this rule, then you cannot go far wrong. Look after your people, clients and partners – we’re all in it together, and together we will be stronger when we emerge from this unprecedented situation.