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image of coronavirus vector with laptop and digital marketing during the covid19 crisis

Digital Marketing During the COVID-19 Crisis

No matter what industry your company is in, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the way businesses operate. How companies interact and communicate with their consumers has fundamentally changed due to populations practicing social distancing and many governments closing non-essential businesses.

The sudden changes to how their business is run will directly impact their digital marketing strategy. Some businesses are looking to reduce or pause their digital marketing program completely. However, is this an effective choice for their brand, especially in the long run?

In this article, we’ll be looking at how brands can adapt their digital marketing program during times of crises, offering our own tips on the types of ads and marketing strategies businesses can adopt. We will also look at how some businesses are actually scaling up their digital marketing efforts during this time, moving marketing budgets previously allocated to cancelled offline events to new digital campaigns.

 

DIGITAL MARKETING DURING A CRISIS

 

Brands must be both reactive and proactive. First, the mindset must address the question, “Here is how we’re impacted by COVID-19. What’s going to change?” The COVID-19 pandemic means that for most companies and consumers, it’s not business as usual. This crisis forces businesses across all industries to rethink the way they connect with their customers and how they offer and market their products or services. With many people self-isolating, digital marketing becomes even more important for businesses in order to reach their audience online.

Businesses must then shift from a reactive to proactive mindset by asking themselves, “Here is what we’re going to do about it.” Ultimately, staying in a “reactive” mindset will not lead anywhere. Brands must take the opportunity to innovate and refine their digital marketing strategies.

Marketing efforts during a crisis must strike a balance between acknowledging the severity of the issue and incorporating the brand’s identity. Marketing during a crisis is not meant to take advantage of the situation. In other words, digital marketing messaging is not about thinking “How can we use COVID-19 to sell our products?” but rather asking yourself, “During this crisis, how can we best connect with consumers in order to deliver them the products and services they need?”

Can brands address COVID-19 directly? Yes, they can. However, when businesses develop their digital marketing campaign, the tone must be thoughtful and sensitive. As with any crisis, especially a global pandemic like COVID-19, companies must understand the severity of the situation, rather than trivializing it or making insensitive jokes. Digital marketing material should have a clear focus on the consumer, while secondary focus can be given to COVID-19 (such as addressing self-isolation).

 

HOW BRANDS CAN SHIFT THEIR MARKETING STRATEGY

 

For many business owners, the immediate gut reaction is to stop running ads completely, but does this help the business in the long run? Instead of being purely reactive, companies must analyze their current digital marketing strategy by asking the question, “What is the goal of our current ads or marketing program?”

From there, think about your services, the way you primarily sell to your consumers, and how you interact with consumers on a regular basis. Given that non-essential businesses are closed, this may limit or completely remove the ability to connect to your consumers in-stores or even sell your products or services at all. At this stage, consider what your business can still offer consumers. This may require a bit of innovation! For instance, is your product something you can still offer online? If not, are there any parts of your business that can be shifted to e-commerce? If you offer a service, can it be delivered online through video conferencing? By analyzing your  offerings under severe limitations, business owners can start to innovate how they communicate with consumers.

 

 

Effective Ads During a Crisis

Some common types of online ads include generating leads for registrations or promoting a particular product. However, given the COVID-19 crisis, businesses will have to shift their messaging due to the changing retail environment. Here are some types of digital ads and other marketing messaging that are more effective during a crisis.

General brand awareness

For many brands, a common marketing strategy relies on creating ads that drive in-store visits, sign-ups, and other actions. However, what happens when a business is unable to offer their product or services at all? Our recommendation is that brands shift their digital marketing strategy to focus on brand awareness. One of the benefits is that it keeps the brand within the minds of consumers in a more general sense. Through different targeting strategies, businesses can even reach new consumers.

Addressing the Coronavirus Situation

Another type of online ad messaging that is similar to general brand awareness but directly speaks to the crisis is one that addresses what the business is currently doing during this time. For instance, if the business has locations that are still open, have business hours changed? In the food industry, many restaurants have closed their dine-in sections completely and only offer take-out and delivery through popular apps, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. For businesses in certain industries, transitioning to offering products online or using alternative delivery methods is a straightforward approach to continuing business operations. This type of messaging can be an effective way to let consumers know how they can still access these products if they can’t visit in-store.

 

 

Have the Brand’s CEO Speak About the Crisis

In the past few weeks, many CEOs have taken to social media and email in order to address the crisis, how the virus impacts their business, and what they are doing for their employees and consumers during this time. This represents a more personal approach by speaking directly to the consumer. This is different from posting on a general brand social media account since the messaging will come from an identifiable person. By speaking out, top-level executives and their companies can provide more information and reassurance to their consumers.

Create or Bolster Your Organic Social Media Program

One of the best ways brands can connect with their consumers is through social media, which offers businesses the ability to connect one on one with their audience. For brands that haven’t built an online presence, now is the time to do so. Social media is an effective way to communicate time-sensitive information and allows businesses to answer any questions their consumers may have. A cohesive social media program that is developed to complement your business goals can help build brand awareness, communicate brand values, and drive consumer engagement.

 

RAMPING UP DIGITAL MARKETING DURING A CRISIS

 

In some industries, businesses are actually ramping up their spending and are looking to put more money into their digital marketing program to compensate for cancelled offline events. Some examples of events that have been shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis include conferences, trade shows, and fundraising walks and runs.

Similar to how retail businesses must think about how to deliver their products and services to consumers, those who have had their “offline” events cancelled must find different ways to connect with their audience. This means using online platforms in an innovative way and utilizing digital marketing to spread the word. Here are three examples:

  • For nonprofits, social media is an excellent and cost-effective solution when thinking of ways to connect with their audience. Using other online platforms, a fundraising initiative, such as a marathon, can instead be a “virtual walk.” A comprehensive digital marketing program can build awareness for the online initiative.
  • For B2C brands who can’t offer their products during this time, consider how you can still deliver knowledge to your consumers. For instance, skincare companies may want to create an informative video on their skincare line and how to best use each product. This keeps the products top of mind for consumers by providing them with valuable information.
  • For the B2B sector, digital marketing ad campaigns and thought leadership content are ways to position the company (and potentially the executive as well) at the forefront with their potential prospects. This type of digital messaging can generate leads and wider networking opportunities that would be much different than those coming from in-person trade shows and conferences.

 

CONCLUSION

 

A sudden or long-term crisis can often take marketers and brands by surprise, but it doesn’t mean a digital marketing program should be halted immediately. Different businesses will be impacted in different ways and what COVID-19 has shown us from a business perspective is that innovative, resilient companies are those that are able to pivot their marketing messaging in order to continue delivering value to their customers.

 

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