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March 20, 2020


Responsible Marketing during the Coronavirus Crisis


Can we still do marketing in the current time, and if so, how do we do it responsibly?

By Natalie Howells

I won't bore you with a recap of the unprecedented situation we're all in at the moment - there's more than enough news and discussion running around as it is. 

But in such troubling times, we can't simply forget about doing business. Many, many businesses will be affected by coronavirus and Covid-19, and sadly some will be unable to survive.

We should be looking for ways to support one another, but we also shouldn't let our concern and our compassion prevent us from continuing to run our businesses and marketing activities. Without doing so, we'll be contributing to a wider problem for the economy, which is struggling enough right now. 

That said, we need to be sensible about how we go about this - no one wants to see people trying to capitalise on a disaster (just look at the condemnation of people trying to resell hand sanitiser at vastly inflated prices). We can continue to do marketing without being mercenary, we just have to do it the right way. 

Should we really be marketing right now?

The word marketing may seem to be a bit of a dirty word right now. But the economy still needs business to be done, otherwise everything will grind to a halt and we'll all be in a much worse position. 

Marketing also allows us to remain in mind for people who want what we offer, which means we won't be starting from scratch when things start to recover. In fact, prevailing advice from business leaders who have dealt with more than one financial crash is that marketing is the last thing to cut back on, and that now is actually the time to invest.  

So, how do we do marketing responsibly in the current climate?

1. With empathy

Right now, plenty of people are afraid. There's a huge amount of uncertainty - across the world and across many areas of our lives. We're all in the same boat - no one has a crystal ball that can tell us what to expect. 

So, when we're talking to people, we need to recognise that they're worried and that what we're talking about might not be the highest priority right now. 

We should redirect our messaging to address these fears. Think about what fears your product or service can solve for people. We usually look at pain points, and they're still valid, but fear is a strong motivator and a strong way to connect with our audiences at this time. 

That doesn't mean we should try to instil fear in order to sell something - that would be cruel and unnecessary. Instead, we should think about how we can genuinely help with those fears.

We also shouldn't 'sell' our solution - we're very much not in a time when the hard sell is appropriate. We need to talk, empathetically, about what's going on.  

2. With sensitivity

One area that is absolutely vital to marketing during times like this is to be sensitive. There have been many times where businesses have made horrible mistakes when trying to capitalise on current events, and now is much more intense. 

If you're marketing with empathy, sensitivity should come as part of the package. Be sensitive to the fact that people are worried, nervous, scared, and frustrated. Don't take advantage. 

People's lives are in turmoil right now, so be sensitive to the fact that we're dealing with everyone at their most human. Between working from home, self isolating, and schools closing, most of us are juggling areas of our lives that are usually kept separate and our identities are no longer quite as clear cut as they might have been in the office. 

So recognise that when you're interacting with 'Marketing Manager Joe' or 'CEO Rachel', you're also interacting with someone who might be more distracted than you'd usually expect. Again, sensitivity is key. 

Decisions will take longer to be made. Questions that seem obvious will be more common. Accept that people won't be at their best and try not to get frustrated. We're all more on edge than usual. 

3. By providing support

The best way to be sensitive when marketing right now is to rethink your strategy. Start by thinking about how you can best help and support people through this time. 

If you're in property, for example, start creating content around how to deal with rental or mortgage issues, what resources there are, and who to contact. 

If you're in finance, you will have a wealth of information that people need right now. Think about the realities people are facing now. What do you know that could help? What resources can you create or point people to?

Support is not about speculation - only share information that is accurate and helpful. Fuelling the news cycle with opinions and theories won't help anyone. Nor will it help you - people need to know who they can rely on for expert guidance.

That's where you come in. Sharing supportive and useful information at this time will allow you to become a trusted expert, which will continue after this crisis subsides. Once people have built up that trust with you, they'll remember you.   

4. Looking for opportunities

This is an area that may feel a little more on the side of 'taking advantage', but if you keep empathy and sensitivity in mind, you should still be able to find opportunities in the current climate. 

Whether that's the opportunity to change how you do business and marketing, the opportunity to connect with other businesses and combine forces to offer something new, or the opportunity to start something to help and support people. For instance, we've set up AltNet, a virtual networking event to help businesses stay connected now that all the in-person networking has been cancelled. 

Opportunity doesn't have to mean capitalising on the situation. It can be as simple as taking the time to rethink how you perceive marketing. AltNet is a way for us to support businesses, using technology (which is kind of our thing). It's still marketing - it gets our name out there and shows people who we are, but we're not pitching or selling our services.

It also ties in closely with our messaging - Inspired. Connected. Empowered.

Look at your messaging, your USP, your customer promise, and see if there's a way to embody that in a new way that fits what the world looks like at the moment. As always, be helpful. 

5. Focusing on the future

Along the lines of that last point, think about the future. What you do now can influence how people perceive your business long after we've moved on from this situation. If your marketing is pushy and self-serving, people will remember. If you shared free resources and support, without expecting anything in return, they'll remember that too. 

Marketing in a crisis isn't about getting business right now. It's about being there. 

Not doing marketing is not an option - once things get back to normal (or, more likely, find a new normal), you don't want to be starting from behind where you are now. We all need to stay visible so we don't disappear - in a rapidly-changing world, it's easy to get lost and be overtaken by competitors. 

But don't expect too much yet - plenty of people and businesses are holding back on spending until the uncertainty is lessened. You just want to be at the forefront when they're ready again. 

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