The best marketing has always delivered the right message to the right customer at the right time. That maxim has never been more important. Sell to our collective fear and panic, and you’ll be seen as exploiting misery. Ignore the microscopic elephant in the room and you'll risk sounding tone-deaf. How you handle this crisis will shape brand sentiment long after we return to normal. Here are 8 tips to help you navigate through these uncertain times.
1. If You Haven't Already, Suspend All Scheduled Posts & Emails
Most likely they were developed earlier in the month and reflect your persona at that time. Use this time to review all your outreach marketing efforts — even your call center scripts and chat-bots — for relevance and tone to make sure they reflect the current news cycle.
2. Revise Your Persona
Personas are the blueprint for defining your customers: their emotional and functional needs, shopping journeys, even how they learn about new brands. Your personas are now outdated in almost every way. Not revising them to reflect the new now can result in messages and touchpoints with a startling lack of empathy and/or relevance.
3. Serve, Not Sell.
Once you’ve revised your persona, focus your marketing efforts on serving instead of selling. Help your customers solve a problem related to the crisis. The more meaningful, memorable and empathic your approach to serving, the more long lasting the impact. If you can’t serve in brand-relevant way, pause. Don't simply hijack the conversation.
Here are a few examples of brands serving well:
Canlis, an iconic, fine dining restaurant here in Seattle, pivoted to a drive-thru bagel & burger joint, and it's been sold out nearly every night.
Bartells, a local drug store chain here in Seattle, showed customers what a safe social distance is through signage and tapelines marked on their store floor.
Zips Dry Cleaners informed customers in a simple, factual, and friendly way that dry cleaning kills viruses, thereby creating a new use case for dry cleaning.
The Wirecutter (ecommerce affiliate of the New York Times) provided PSA’s letting customers know about the risk of viruses remaining on delivered packages (considered very low).
Alibaba launched a global B2B sourcing platform to connect medical goods suppliers directly with frontline medical teams.
What's App launched a chatbot in conjunction with the WHO to answer questions from the public about Coronavirus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide. It also serve government decision-makers by providing the latest numbers and situation reports.
How can your brand serve and not sell?
4. Focus Your Efforts on Existing Customers
This virus is completely new, and behavioral science tells us that it’s human nature to over-react to new threats and respond with caution. As such, customers are likely to stay with the tried and true, opting for what they know and trust. We see that playing out in the Democratic primary, but it’s also true for every-day, lower involvement decisions.
5. Update Your KPIs
After you’ve revised your marketing calendar, update your KPIs to determine what’s realistic. You will still want to manage your performance through this crisis.
6. Increase Your Monitoring of Customer Sentiment on Social Media
If you’re a CEO, take the time to read customer comments. Even take a minute to respond to some of them, if you can. Allow your customers to experience the human at the helm. Hear the early whispers of an opportunity — or a threat — firsthand.
7. Call or Zoom Your Customers
Check in and find out how your customers are doing and if they need help from you. Even if you’re a B2C business, call some of your best customers. Your loyalty program most likely captured their phone number. Does your target audience skew toward senior citizens? Chances are they are alone and anxious, and there’s a higher mortality rate among older people feeling lonely. And while it’s great to call your customers, if it's brand-relevant, consider setting up calling circles for them to call each other.
8. Crisis Is Opportunity, So Prepare to Pivot
Times like these are stressful and life-changing, but they create new opportunities for consumers to discontinue old habits and make new ones. According to Wendy Wood in her excellent book, Good Habits Bad Habits, “we are freed up to practice new behaviors without interference from established cues and our habitual responses to them. Discontinuity forces us to think. By making fresh decisions, we act in new ways -- ones that may work better for us." Will your customers establish new habits with your brand -- or with another brand? This will be a critical issue for many businesses in the months ahead.