The best marketing delivers the right message to the right customer at the right time. This principle has never been more important. Sell to our collective fear and panic, and you’ll be perceived 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 social distancing is eased. 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 that define your customers emotional and functional needs, shopping journeys, even how they learn about new brands. Your personas are now outdated in almost every way. Revise them to avoid messages and touchpoints that lack empathy 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 a 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, quickly pivoted to a drive-thru bagel & burger joint and was 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.
The Wirecutter (e-commerce affiliate of the New York Times) provided PSA’s letting customers know about the risk of viruses remaining on delivered packages (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 W.H.O. to answer questions from the public about the Coronavirus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide.
Your Brand -- what can you do to serve?
4. Redeploy Spending to Focus on Customer Retention
This virus is completely new, and behavioral science tells us that it’s human nature to over-react to new threats. As such, most customers will be cautious and will want to stay with what they know and trust. We see that playing out in the Democratic primary, but it’s true for every-day, lower involvement decisions, too.
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.
6. Increase Your Monitoring of Customer Sentiment on Social Media
If you’re a CEO, take the time to read and internalize customer comments. Hear the whispers of an opportunity or a threat early on. Take a minute to respond to comments, if you can. Allow your customers to experience the human at the helm. Brand empathy should be a critical part of your pandemic pivot.
7. Call or Zoom Your Customers
Check-in with your customers to find out how they and their loved ones are doing. Listen for what they need from you -- it might just be the phone call you're making. 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, so consider setting up calling circles or zoom meetings for them to connect with each other.
8. Crisis Is Opportunity, So Prepare to Pivot
This is a life-changing moment for everyone. It will create new opportunities 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 re-think habits." 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. I'll write more about this in future blog posts.