Savvy business leaders understand the importance of creating a robust business plan and aligned marketing strategy. As we begin to understand the economic impacts COVID-19 will have on U.S. businesses and workers, organizations that stick with their strategic plans will help to minimize them.
A marketing plan combines traditional advertising with online engagement strategies designed to reach specific audiences, from potential customers to brand advocates. Its success is directly aligned with the strength of the organization’s strategic communications strategy, including PR, corporate communications, and yes – crisis communications. How brands respond both publicly and internally to a crisis impacts the strength of that brand, as well as consumer loyalty and the success of its marketing strategy. One Forbes contributor writes, “Brands can project to consumers the image of corporate stability during challenging times.”
When responding to a crisis, from a front-page article about a product recall to a natural disaster or a global health emergency, falling back on the strategic communications plan and continuing to implement the marketing and advertising strategies within it are more critical than ever. Why is it that communication teams, consultants, and marketing dollars are often the first to go in uncertain times? This knee-jerk reaction can cause massive long-term effects in both brand development and on the bottom line.
Here are a few reasons why your marketing and advertising strategy is more important now than ever:
1) Brand marketing in a crisis: You wouldn’t leave your friends to respond to a crisis alone, and brands shouldn’t be thinking about leaving their customers alone either. Consumers are looking for positive news stories, ways to support COVID-19 efforts, and the knowledge that we’re all in this together. Your team has spent time and resources building a strong brand reputation, and a moment of global crisis is not the time to go dark.
Should you evaluate your messaging and marketing strategies to ensure they align appropriately with the situation? Definitely. Should you design new creative that speaks directly to the issue? Absolutely. However, you respond – with a corporate giving and customer-matched donation strategy, donations of time and resources to local efforts or by building an online community where customers can come together to share their thoughts and connect with one another – you should be authentic, truthful and consistent, but not absent.
2) Corporate communications in a crisis: Your organization has a mission, vision, and values. A time of crisis gives us all the opportunity to evaluate and to live those values in our daily actions. For organizations, it’s a time to communicate who you are, what’s most important to you, and how your products and services align. It’s also an important time to speak internally about how each team member plays a vital role in your organization’s mission.
As we work remotely and practice social distancing, it’s essential to identify those links between everyday assignments and your overall mission. Whether that translates into providing direct or indirect support to COVD-19 response, activating corporate social responsibility dollars to support national efforts, or helping your customers directly in other ways – it’s essential to communicate how, what, and why.
3) Listening in a crisis: Your digital team has built a strong community of followers and friends. You communicate daily about company news, products, and services. Now is a time to listen. In a Forbes article on crisis management, the author notes listening as one of the most important things brands can do in a crisis: “Customers can also be your greatest pipeline to gauge how you’re handling the crisis.”
Let your customers speak. Ask them what they think. Then deliver what they say they need. Again, we’re all in this together, and digital marketing should always be a two-way conversation. In a time of crisis, ask how you can serve as a sounding board, help people connect and share, and most importantly, listen closely to what your customers need.
4) Advertising in a crisis: When times are tough, advertising budgets can be first on the chopping block. Lessons learned from the 2008 recession show that advertising when budgets are tight can have an even bigger impact on the health of a company. While messaging may change, keeping your brand top-of-mind for consumers is essential. While people are stuck at home and in front of their screens, engaging content will rise to the top and be shared. If you have less advertising dollars, it’s more important than ever to use them wisely and creatively. Here’s an interesting take from Travel Weekly: travel advisors can also keep their clients dreaming, brands should not shut down completely, but strategies should differ depending on the sector and situation.
5) Internal communications in a crisis: Communicating truthfully and directly to your entire workforce about your COVID-19 response, how your 2020 business goals may move or change, and how this affects them in the short and long-term is more important than ever. Remember that your team members are your strongest brand advocates, that nothing stays internal in the digital world we live in, and that your workforce is your biggest asset.