Like you, I am seeing lots of worrisome (shocking, tragic!) economic news after a rough month and my first thought is to yell from the rooftops or more accurately, from my social media, which I have done repeatedly:
Do not shut down your company’s marketing communications and public relations as a tactic to attempt to survive the recession.
I know it’s tricky to give this advice because I sell my own #PR services, so of course, I want everyone to hire marketing people (or keep them) but also I say that you need to maintain your marketing communications during a downturn because it is my best advice based on 25 years in the field. There is simply no other way you say it. You must not walk away from your creative investments when the economy tanks. It’s just good business advice to stay creative and to stay relevant.
Now I do not expect you to just take my word for it so I have been reaching out to my peers and asking marketing professionals from around the world – some of them in the most hard-hit Covid-19 regions – what marketing activities should companies be working on while we wait to get through coronavirus?
I am having a lot of conversations with businesspeople and communications professionals and there was already nervousness about the economy heading into 2020 before coronavirus was an international disaster, but now everything is just melting down and it is scary! I have a one-track mind, so I approach every situation (good or bad) through the lens of public relations.
What I’m recommending now is to NOT cancel all of your marketing communications, but to lean into it as one possible way to keep afloat during this downturn. And because I practice what I preach, I made a guide and it will help you to manage your small business social media marketing, content and promotional activities: The PR Method.
So what were the top marketing activities that my peers suggested that companies work on while we wait to get through coronavirus?
Martin Watts of 8Cats Digital reminded me of something very important that Henry Ford said:
“Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.”
Martin noted that perhaps Ford said it under different circumstances the sentiment applies to this situation. “Now is the time to double down on your marketing while all your competition is dialing back their activity through fear and uncertainty.”
Now is the time to urgently review your objectives and marketing plan, as more than ever, businesses need a marketing plan to follow with clear objectives and KPIs. Every activity needs to be working as hard as possible for your business. Focus on the ‘free’ channels because when budgets are tight, you still only have 24 hours in a day. The same as you ever did, and the same as you ever will. Spend it wisely by doubling down on your SEO. If you’re not blogging weekly, then now is the perfect time to do it. Also, now is the perfect time to embrace video as your viewers won’t be expecting high production values from your home office environment. So get creating and live streaming to your audience!
The number one suggestion from marketers across the globe from every discipline and industry was Content.
Yep, Content was already king and he’s now the ruler of all marketing. LyndalFrazier-Cairns says that companies should be doubling down on content because it stands in for the lost in-person interactions that move people through the funnel, and online is where your customers are looking for you, especially now.
The Top 5 Marketing Activities to Continue During a Crisis:
eCommerce (using Gift Cards, Giveaways or crazy deals)
I personally would put employee relations at the top. My friend Suresh Gaur made a very important point on Twitter:
One way to secure your brand during COVID-19 crises is to actively associate your brand with Community Relations activities. Such activities coupled with good employee relations does help brands in sustaining during difficult times.
I think that so many people rushed to send the “we are here for you” email but then did not follow up with actual actions and activities. Employees are the best branding a company has, so a great employee response plus community relations would be a win!
I think Michael Myers, a senior marketing consultant at Talent Plus, Inc. agrees with me:
“Now, more than ever, relationships are paramount. Reach out in whatever virtually inclusive manner works for you. The number one thing that companies and brands need to focus on right now is empathy in their messaging: Be empathetic to customers, but also communities which include company employees.”
Or as Francine Marlenee of The Innovation Institute says: “Pivot where needed and help the greater good.”
The most interesting suggestion I received was to suggest that companies pivot to gamification via branded games. That was not something I had thought of, so I am going to use some of my spare time to learn about the benefits of the Gamification as suggested by Carles Bonfill, founder of Easypromos.
My favorite reminder comes from Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva: “Remember to focus on the long term.” Yes! Stay in it to win it!
And the most obvious but totally missed by 80 marketers, except Mr. Matt Seltzer of <a href="http://S2 Research: “Use your free time in the downturn to start researching your competitors.”
One tactic that I recommend doing annually that is not specific to a disaster but is useful when you have downtime is what I call my Social Media Spring Clean. Similarly, Andrea Loubier, the CEO/founder of Mailbird reminds us to beef up our online profiles and bios during our free time. Additionally, Boyd Norwood, VP of Marketing at Nozzlenow suggests that now is a great time to have your inbound sales team take the time to clean up their contact records in your CRM and also make a list of new people to outreach to when the crisis comes to a close.
And my favorite marketing suggestion that most people cannot or do not need to do, but I like the suggestion nonetheless, comes from Chris Kaiser of Click A Tree, “we’re currently translating our website into German.”
Adrienne Lenhoff, President & CEO of Buzzphoria perfectly laid out all of the areas in which we can look at our marketing communications during this time. Adrienne reminds us that now is a great time to take stock and to understand the lessons you have learned in recent months and to properly position our companies for whatever is coming next.
- From a sales perspective, take this time to review your sales materials. This includes any presentations, website, sales sheets, brochures, miscellaneous collateral materials, etc. When was the last time any of them were updated? Do they reflect your business today? Does the messaging resonate? Is everyone within your organization using the same sales tools? If not, this downtime might be a great time to begin aligning your materials into one cohesive message and presentation.
- From a marketing perspective, take this time to audit and refine your marketing tactics. What have you tried? What’s worked? What has not? What are your KPI’s (key performance indicators)? How do you measure success? This downtime is the perfect opportunity for you to refresh or develop your marketing strategy and tactics for the coming 6-12-18 months. What elements will be part of your marketing mix? What does your marketing calendar look like on a week-by-week, month-by-month, and quarterly basis? Now is the perfect time to plan and map out your post-coronavirus marketing strategy and initiatives.
- From a PR perspective: Plan out your post Coronavirus strategy. Every business has a story to tell. What’s yours? Now’s a great time to look at all the items around your business that might make a good future news story. These stories also include how you fared during this time. What’s the news you can share in the post coronavirus world? Now’s a great time to plan out a 6-12-18-24 month PR strategy to align your story angles. In addition to traditional media, what other forms of media are included in your mix? Are you maximizing social channels effectively and efficiently? Take a look at these channels and do a social media audit to assess what’s been working and what hasn’t. It’s also a great time to do some homework and look at what discussion groups are out there that reach your customers. Is there a way for you to authentically become part of these groups and discussions? Who are the bloggers and influencers your customers follow and pay attention to?
Below are just a few of the great comments, quotes, and suggestions from a variety of marketing experts and please. I will be updating this space because marketers had a lot to say about this topic! If you do not listen to me, then listen to them: do not walk away from your creative investments when the economy tanks.
This is a very emotional and stressful time for almost everyone. It also presents a golden opportunity to be human…From an employer brand perspective, showing genuine support and concern for employees is a must. A company’s culture is defined by what you do when it is not easy. How you treat folks now will be remembered. Similarly, how you treat customers and clients will also be remembered. Did you do something thoughtful and kind or was it all about you? Behavior in a crisis defines character. This is the time to become the firm you want to be.
Jennifer Tramontana, The Fletcher Group
“If you have something to share that will help your industry, now is the time to focus on the collective good. Our agency is focused on the payments and fintech industries and we are offering a free daily news aggregation of payments and fintech news plus reporter needs for data and source comments. We are supporting the media needs in our space and supporting any company that can benefit from our unique access and insights. To get through, this businesses need to focus on the collective good of their industries.”
Lora Georgieva, ProExpoServices
Our industry is one of the most affected by this global pandemic. We at ProExpoServices provide price quotes to our business travel clients which could save them up a lot of hassle when traveling to participate in trade fairs and expos. However, right now most of our clients are canceling their trips and don’t plan to travel at all in the foreseeable future, due to the virus. Also, most of the fairs in Europe are canceled anyway. We have developed partnerships with major accommodation suppliers, which enables us to have the most affordable room rates for those who are canceling right now. We are preparing price quotes for the future 2021 edition of the fairs, and if they decide to continue communication with us and decide to travel next year, they could save up to 30% on regular room rates on the spot. This will surely spare their companies’ budgets after the pandemic passes.
Shel Horowitz, Author Green And Profitable
The trick in marketing during a crisis time is to directly address the
concerns of those affected…Currently I am offering virus-free virtual resume writing services over Zoom—and for those who lost their jobs because of the virus, the first cover letter at no-charge. While resume services are a very small part of my business these days, it’s something that directly addresses a need. Thousands of people in my area are out of work due to restaurants closing, etc.
Jason Lavis, Out of the Box Innovations Ltd.
While working from home and self-isolating, we can prioritize website maintenance, such as fixing out of date information, broken links, or 404 pages, and mobile device responsiveness.
Ruthie Bowles, Defy The Status Quo
Trying more direct methods of marketing and advertising could fall on deaf ears for many businesses’ target audience. Now is a great time to focus on content marketing. From an SEO perspective, the algorithms don’t care about viruses. They continue on indexing and crawling pages. Future blog posts, social media, and email marketing can be planned out.
For businesses directly impacted by COVID-19, like restaurants, if they’re still doing delivery or carryout, then they need to use their current content channels to make sure people know.
For businesses that can’t operate, like gyms, they can offer their email list at-home workouts to help their customers stay fit AND engaged. Using Youtube’s Premier option or Facebook Live means people can check in before beginning the workout and when they’re done.
If the business isn’t directly impacted, like B2B SaaS or consulting firms, then they should look at either hosting or attending virtual events. Now is also a great time to look at different podcasts or guest blogging opportunities. Podcasts aren’t like the news; they don’t usually cover current events. Most podcasts have their niche and they stick to it.
Kirsty Finlayson, Holded
I work closely with our Sales and CS teams and what we’re seeing now is that people want face-to-face contact more than ever — which we can’t do with the current restrictions! But, luckily we have a wealth of tools available. We’re planning to run weekly webinars on themes that SMBs will be interested in, like how to stay afloat financially during COVID-19 and inviting banks to speak live on a webinar. To keep the feeling of conversation, we’ll be using tools like Zoom and Sli.do so that people can see each other and upvote their concerns.
Melissa Tirey, Shift6
Looking at how much life has changed over the past few weeks and how lasting certain changes may be, it is critical to start thinking about whether your value adds proposition makes sense for this environment or does it now seem outdated or worse, tone-deaf? Now is the time to come up with ways to tweak your previous value statements to make them more relevant for the future. Another opportunity is to take this time to see if any new verticals or markets may open up to you and creating content around these new opportunities to ensure you are ready to go once the worst of this has passed.
Emily Lyman, Branch and Bramble
Get in front of the camera! Now, more than ever, people are craving connection. Any hesitancy brands had previously about creating video messages should be put aside. No need for highly produced or polished. Keep it real. From quick daily messages to lunchtime tips, live or recorded video will help brands build a community.
Felicia Libbin, NLDA Associates, Inc.
Check-in on your financials! Check your credit line with your bank, credit card companies, even your landlord. They understand this is an uncertain time and may have additional ways to help support your business over the next few months
Calloway Cook, Illuminate Labs Inc.
I think it’s a great time for companies to focus on producing high-quality brand assets that they can leverage on their website and social media pages.
Bonnie Harris, Wax Marketing
Supplemental activities should focus on the greater good for longterm brand retention. Here is the advice I give clients (and basically we should all consider ourselves in crisis right now). This is the time to expand your social reach but you need to focus on messaging is helpful and factual – not sales.
Lonny Kocina, Media Relations Agency
Beefing up publicity efforts is a quick way to replace some of the face to face contact that will be lost with the lack of personal selling. That’s one place you can still reach the big groups. Publicity as a sales tool is underutilized by most companies and it is relatively easy to ramp up. Putting your best salespeople in front of reporters and producers who have big audiences is always a win. Plus unlike expos and trade shows, your competition isn’t right there beside you. I see a lot of trade show money shifting toward publicity and media coverage.
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