Marketers have a reputation for being creative and agile. We have to be, as the world is constantly changing and the needs of customers are continually shifting. Tactics that worked in the past rarely work in the present, while new opportunities are always presenting themselves to those who know how to find them. We’re practiced in adapting to change. But marketing in times of crisis demands more.
Crises are defined by uncertainty. We can’t see what lies ahead, we can’t fully anticipate how our markets will react, and we don’t know exactly what actions to take. There’s no longer a reliable playbook. A crisis like the one we’re in now tests our skills and creativity at maximum levels.
How should we respond? What does a smart marketing strategy look like when the world is fighting a pandemic? I’m not pretending to have the answers. But I’ll offer some marketing-specific insights that I gained during the economic crisis of 2008. And because maintaining your physical and mental health is just as important as staying on top of your marketing career in a time of crisis, I’ll also share personal insights from dealing with an unpredictable chronic illness. Let’s go.
How to handle client communications
In times of uncertainty, people latch on to any certainty they can find, especially the certainty that comes from staying informed. This is why so many people are constantly checking their newsfeeds right now. We want to know the latest stats, latest medical discoveries, and what’s happening in our communities related to the pandemic.
For this reason, one of the best things you can do as a marketing team is to communicate with your clients. Let them know specifically what actions you’re taking in response. And keep them updated as things change.
Transparency is more important than ever in times of crisis. Anything you try to keep under wraps will certainly come out at some point — and you will have lost the trust of your customers. It’s important to remember that when people are experiencing fear, they’re at maximum distrust levels. You can reassure your customers and maintain the relationship by staying open and honest.
How to innovate marketing campaigns
While you may be able to salvage parts of your marketing plan, chances are you’ll need to make some major changes to it. Here’s what to consider.
Adjust your personas
Things are changing quickly, and that includes the needs and desires of your personas. In times of crisis, you’ll want to adjust your personas since many things in the world of your prospects have changed. Be sure you have a thorough understanding of their current needs, goals, fears, etc.
Adapt your messaging
Maybe your messaging is on-point as-is. But perhaps you need to adapt it to reflect the current situation. In most cases, this will mean acknowledging the situation and framing existing problem/solution messages in the context of today’s reality.
Reevaluate content topics
Based on what you’ve learned in your new persona research, you will likely need to shift the topics you’re covering. Of course, some topics will still be relevant, but other topics will have moved off your personas’ radars — and new topics will have taken their place.
Reconsider content promotion and ad strategy
Are there new opportunities related to where you’re promoting content? Are your prospects consuming different media now than they were before? Reading different blogs? Using social platforms more frequently? And are they neglecting other media or blogs that they used to spend a lot of time on, like radio (since they aren’t commuting)? You’ll probably need to shift your content promotion and ad strategy to adapt.
Marketing in times of crisis requires being willing to ditch plans that will no longer be effective and replace them with new strategies based on the changes your prospects and clients are experiencing.
How to manage costs
Typically, during times of crisis, companies are also looking to limit costs. With so much uncertainty, you don’t know how revenue will be impacted. But one of the worst things you can do is to pull back on marketing spend. During the 2008 economic crisis, I saw companies making marketing cuts before they were necessary. As a result, they got hammered by competitors who continued to market and win business. Many of these companies took years to recover — and some never did.
No outcome is guaranteed. But generally, the companies that develop innovative plans and push forward are the ones that will find themselves on top when the crisis is over. Let’s look at some specific ways you can be smart about managing costs.
One of the easiest ways to manage costs is to analyze and reallocate budgets. Where does it make sense to spend money right now? Where does it not? The most obvious action is to reallocate your event budget into ABM, lead gen, or brand marketing campaigns. But let’s dive deeper.
Team members at your target accounts aren’t likely commuting — they’re working from home, glued to the news and social media. How can you take advantage of that? With many activities put on pause, people have more time to devote to professional development — and they’re looking for resources. How can you position your company as a thought leader providing these resources? There are many promising opportunities for budget reallocation.
Tackle important-not-urgent projects
Now is the time to complete that content audit you’ve had on the back burner. Inventory the marketing resources you have so you can make better use of them. We all fall into the trap of getting caught on the hamster wheel of the day-to-day grind. We fail to stop and consider how to better use resources or make our processes more efficient.
Once you complete your content audit, you’ll have a list of content that you can repurpose. Break a buyer’s guide into a set of blog posts. Turn a white paper or e-guide into a series of podcast episodes. Create an infographic out of a blog post. Look at the content you have and see what other content formats you could recycle these pieces into. (Here’s a great guide from HubSpot on repurposing content.)
A crisis is not the time for inaction. Smart marketers will take advantage of their resources and make the most of them.
How to recognize large-scale opportunities
We’ve been looking at making incremental shifts in your marketing, but what about identifying opportunities that aren’t currently on your radar? Marketing in a time of crisis offers major opportunities for those who think creatively and look at things from a different perspective.
Steal like an artist
Nothing is truly original. Creativity is simply a matter of taking existing ideas and combining them in new ways. When you’re trying to find opportunities, throw away the rulebook. Look at what other industries are doing with their marketing (even those quite different from yours) to see if you can adapt their innovations. Read widely to give your mind plenty of material to work with. Give your team unique experiences to free their thinking from existing patterns (made more challenging with the need for social distancing, but it can be done!).
Consider new markets
As a result of the pandemic, some industries are suffering and some industries are growing. Would it be wise to shift the industries you’re targeting or expand into a new industry? Are there new markets that now have a need for your products or services?
Consider new offerings
New needs are creating opportunities for new services or new ways of delivering services. What new challenges are your prospects and customers facing? What new needs are they experiencing? Consider how you could help them with new offerings.
To find these big opportunities, you must be willing to think far outside the box. Team brainstorming sessions that welcome all ideas, no matter how feasible, are always valuable during times of crisis.
How to manage your physical and mental health while working
Marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People make marketing happen. During times of crisis, don’t forget that you’re a human with physical and mental needs. It’s easy to neglect these needs even during normalcy, but especially so when you’re in crisis mode. Here’s what to stay focused on as you’re managing an increased workload.
Stay out of fight-or-flight mode
Your immune system isn’t as strong when your nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode. For your own health and the health of others, it’s important to manage anxiety levels. Easier said than done, especially when your amygdala is screaming that you’re in danger. But there are things you can do to immediately bring down the fight-or-flight response.
Deep breathing has been proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, counteracting fight-or-flight. Yoga, which incorporates working with the breath, also helps many people. Experiment to see what works for you. I recommend trying meditation, hot baths, time outdoors, long walks, and CBD oil — all of which are essential tools in my stress-management toolbox!
Sleep also impacts your immune system. Additionally, it helps you to maintain a more positive outlook, keeps your brain functioning at its best, and serves myriad other purposes. Anxiety can make sleeping difficult, but it’s important to do what you can to get a good night’s sleep each night.
Practice good sleep hygiene, including following a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and staying away from screens an hour before you go to bed. (For more ways to improve your sleep, check out this Ten Percent Happier podcast interview with sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker.)
Limit news consumption
Staying up-to-date can give us a stronger sense of control when we can’t control much else. But over-consuming news just leads to increased anxiety. Plan to check in once or twice a day for 15 or 20 minutes, and then focus on other things — like your relationships, hobbies, and gratitudes. While acknowledging reality and doing what you can (following CDC guidelines and preparing appropriately), it’s essential not to lose touch with the good things in life.
Opportunities and challenges with marketing in times of crisis
Challenges abound during times of crisis, but there are always opportunities waiting to be found. Whether it’s expanding to a new market, implementing new types of campaigns, or learning new skills for your mental health, a crisis situation forces us out of our routines and requires that we think creatively. It’s a time to bring our best to the table as marketers — for our own health, the health of our companies, and the health of the world. Let’s do this!
By the way, here are three ways I can help you attract and convert your ideal customers:
1. For marketing teams at B2B SaaS companies, take the free Content Strategy Quiz to see how your strategy measures up and learn how you can improve.
2. For tech startups, grab my free workbook on how to craft a messaging platform that gets prospects excited about what you offer.
3. Schedule a call to share what’s holding you back from better marketing, and I’ll let you know if I can help and how. If I can’t help, I’ll recommend someone who can.