Marketing in Times of Crisis: Good, Better, Best Strategies

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Marketing during a far-reaching, fast-moving global pandemic may seem like an impossible feat. With lifestyles and focus of attention drastically altered, now is the time your brand needs to make sure it’s not only staying relevant but also addressing the crisis head-on by furthering the conversation and providing genuine support to your customers and your community. And, of course, at some point, there will be a time to get back to promoting your business again. Here are some tactics for assessing your marketing strategy and pivoting your messaging in times of crisis.

Critical first steps

You’ve likely already taken the very first step in marketing during a crisis and stopped all planned business-as-usual marketing efforts. But where to go from there? To map out a clear strategy for moving forward you must begin by assessing the effect of the crisis on your customers and your operation.

  • Evaluate how your customer base has been and may continue to be affected—consider every possible alternative.
  • Determine how your brand can help your customers, the community, and greater relief efforts.
  • Understand the scope of the crisis and how it will affect your operations.
  • Update business information—hours, closures, contact info—on all communications and sites.
  • Audit marketing touchpoints and your marketing calendar to ensure existing messages will not offend or appear tone-deaf or insensitive.
  • Understand what resources are available to you so that you can pivot messaging to address the situation and changing customer needs at any time.

With this assessment in hand, you can move forward to craft messaging and content that will provide value and resonate with your customer base.

Good, better, best marketing strategies

Marketing during difficult times can be extremely tricky and calls for a well-thought-out approach that will need to be closely monitored and constantly adjusted to respond to a changing landscape of events.

The “do no harm” approach marketing-wise is to avoid anything that can harm your brand image or reputation. Ensure all on-the-fly and planned communication will not offend anyone or appear insensitive during a difficult time. While “do no harm” is the baseline, you should strive for execution on a scale of good, better, and best based on the resources available to you.

Appropriate content and tone

It can be difficult to determine what kind of content to deliver, what to say, and how to say it, especially when sensitivities may run high. A good rule of thumb is to always consider the perspective of your audience—how this crisis affects them and what will make them feel supported. Here are some guidelines on the good, better, best scale:

  • Good. Start by acknowledging the crisis, stating your commitment to protecting your employees and customers, and summarizing measures being taken. Your messaging and your tone should be empathetic and, above all else, genuine.
  • Better. Create a regular cadence of communication with content adjusted for relevance—consider things happening that may affect your message or call to action. Be supportive.
  • Best. Customize, customize, customize. During a crisis situation, things typically change quickly. Make sure every piece of content you send out is reviewed for relevance timing-wise and adds value for your customers. Most of all, communicate genuine messages of solidarity and community (as Adidas has done with their #hometeam campaign, for example).

Best-in-class execution

Once you’ve got your messaging down, where can you get the most visibility? Well, a lot depends on your audience. Seek out the channels they have frequented in the past and research which channels are trending.

  • Good. Run basic callouts and update business details—for example, banners and content modules—in prominent marketing channels.
  • Better. Add dedicated campaigns in prominent marketing channels.
  • Best. Your ultimate goal is to factor these messages and new channels into business-as-usual marketing campaigns. For example, in an acknowledgment of stay-at-home orders across the US, Dick’s Sporting Goods has updated its featured categories to reflect indoor, backyard, or other social-distancing-appropriate activities.

Providing support and relief

First things first: Any support and relief efforts you undertake should be done with a genuine desire to help. That said, there are many, many ways to help during a crisis. Think of what unique skills, materials, or operations your brand brings to the table—and then get creative.

  • Good. Financial contributions to fundraisers and relief efforts.
  • Better. Direct brand contribution of assets and/or services.
  • Best. Creative, brand-initiated fundraisers or other customized support. Take a look at this campaign from shoe manufacturer Allbirds: It’s donated over $500,000 in shoes to health-care workers and others on the front lines of the pandemic while also providing its brand followers with options for donating a pair.

A crisis at the magnitude of a global pandemic is likely something that none of us had considered or prepared for. But, as marketers, we’re trained for this—we’re trained to evaluate shifting market conditions and respond quickly. So move forward with your customers in mind, be a supportive neighbor and community member, and focus on providing support first while easing into crisis-adjusted business-as-usual campaigns that promote solidarity and hope for the future. We’re all in this together.

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