April 16, 2020
Marketing is always tough.
But when a global pandemic strikes and many local and global economies come grinding to a halt, it can be near-impossible.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, brands have had to drastically reconsider their marketing efforts.
After all, you don’t want your brand or your clients’ brand to come off poorly during a sensitive time.
So how do you navigate this brand minefield and chart a successful course for you and your clients?
And that’s ok! We are in an uncertain time and anyone who tells you that they “have the answers” probably doesn’t.
However what we can do is band together, and take a look at what others around our industry are doing to reach out to consumers who are just as afraid as the business owners themselves.
Since the crisis began, many brands have changed their strategies to reflect the changing times.
Some have been more successful than others. Perhaps the best way to chart a course for your clients is to look at what has been done successfully so far during this crisis.
These brands have found the right mixture of sincerity, mindfulness, and value to market to consumers during this difficult time:
This cleverly designed Guinness ad from freelancer Luke O’Reilly is far more than just a call to self-quarantine.
The subtle imagery of the couch against the all-black background invokes the imagery of a Guinness beer, reminding consumers that the product can be consumed from the comfort of their own home.
As a brand that can still offer a product to its customers, Guinness found a way to promote a healthy message with a clever reminder to buy their product.
This Nike ad from Weiden + Kennedy was part of a larger campaign where they got many of their big name athletes and spokespeople to promote their “Play inside, play for the world” initiative.
With a simple approach, Nike was able to promote this message while remaining consistent with their brand voice and messaging.
This campaign from McDonalds from Brazilian agency DPZ&T achieves a minimalist message.
By distancing their iconic Golden Arches, they are sublty reminding people of the “social distancing” message that is being spread by healthcare and government officials.
This is a great example of an approach that isn’t too “in-your-face” or pushy while reminding consumers of the grander mission.
While any marketer can appreciate a good design or a clever campaign, this is a serious time. And because of that, companies have a social responsibility to help where they can.
Many industries will be able to help in their own unique ways. Diageo and Anheuser-Busch have shifted production and logistics to produce millions of bottles of hand sanitizer in order to aid the medical community during this time.
This act goes far beyond a simple message of support or monetary donation.
This commitment to a common goal and unity is exactly what makes gestures like these sincere and genuinely helpful during a time like this.
Facebook and Tesla have also pledged to provide tangible help to the healthcare community.
After stocking up on safety masks in the wake of California wildfires last year, both companies have pledged to donate their supply of masks to local healthcare organizations.
While these may seem like simple gestures, they go a long way in creating real impact for local communities in need of these crucial supplies.
Popeye’s took a different approach.
Trying to remain light and playful during a hard time, the famous chicken chain gave away 1,000 free month-long subscriptions to Netflix if they sent a picture of themselves eating Popeye’s chicken while staying at home.
While this campaign had little in the way of impact for the medical community, it did encourage the stay-at-home messaging in a way that grasped consumer engagement.
While looking at some of the biggest brands in the world is an interesting exercise, you may be thinking, how does any of this help my agency or my clients navigate through COVID-19?
While your clients may not have the name recognition of McDonalds or Facebook, they can learn from their initiatives.
These brands were able to walk the fine line of appearing to take advantage of the situation vs providing real value.
With these examples in mind, we can begin to break down how your agency should be marketing for yourself and your clients. Ultimately, it begins with messaging.
Ask yourself the question, how can my agency or my clients provide real help right now?
If your clients are in a position to provide tangible help to their local community, they should be capitalizing on that opportunity. Are your clients in the restaurant or healthcare industry?
Give them guidance on how they can serve their community.
For example, some local restaurants are donating meals to healthcare providers or creating funds to support out-of-work staff.
Encourage your local vendors to engage with their communities and help in any way that they can. Maybe your vendors are the ones that need desperate help.
Unfortunately, most small businesses can’t last 0-3 months without revenue. So what is your agency supposed to do if you and your clients have to keep the pedal down and keep selling?
While no one wants to be disingenuous or out of touch, many businesses have no choice but continuing to look for ways to market and sell their products or services.
And that’s ok!
However it is more important now than ever before to be weary of the tone and messaging. If your agency and your clients are in sell-now mode, here are some Do’s and Don’ts to remember.
If you’re going to be selling, give consumers an incentive to buy. Many agencies are temporarily waiving their fees, discounting prices, or providing strategic assistance.
Though this is a global pandemic, its impact is local. Every message, ad, or campaign needs to be sensitive to the context of the issues people are dealing with.
As consumers move increasingly online, make sure you are finding the right audience and speaking to them on that platform, for that platform.
Just don’t. No explanation needed.
A lot has changed in the past few weeks. Even if the goals of the campaign are the same now as they were before, consumers are not. Be sure to run campaigns that fit the current times.
Many people, agencies, and organizations are struggling right now. If you are going to sell, that is ok! Just be transparent with your customers or clients and make your messaging clear.
A great thing about our industry is that every agency is unique!
Just like the owners and teams behind the scenes, each agency has a different perspective on how to market themselves and their clients during this crisis.
We reached out to agencies across the country to hear how they are marketing right now.
“Celebrate any achievements you may have during the crisis. Let your market know you’re waiting for them to come back. Mark Cuban said it best recently.
Your market is watching how your business behaves during this crisis. And your brand will be judged by that behavior for decades to come.
So make sure to maintain the highest standards of ethics and responsibility. Find ways to help others if you can.”
“Communication is key to all of our community, customer and employee engagement.
As far as messaging goes, between the pandemic and the possible recession, brands have an opportunity to further connect with anxious consumers and focus on the true relevance of their products or services.
We have to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future.
We need to communicate in a way that combines information and need, synthesizing feeling and facts.
I feel we have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communications had the power to help society in the way that it does right now.
Words are part of the healing process and we can see which leaders and brands are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind, but also the heart and soul.
There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness. It is inappropriate now for content to appear tone deaf in any way to this crisis.
Do not ask to be paid, be too salesy, imply solidarity, hope they are doing well, etc. it seems cheesy and worse opportunistic. Everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show your humanity and compassion.”
Data-driven strategies drive our industry forward. Here are a few examples of what different agencies are doing to help their clients succeed during the pandemic.
“Our clients are pivoting to see how their offerings can be helpful during this time.
The lesson here is that being adaptable and entrepreneurial is a skill that you will always need. For example, one of our clients is in the jewelry industry and has a unique model. They buy all sorts of high-end luxury jewelry and gold.
This model allows them to do collateral loans and stay open. We have shifted our marketing efforts to support this side of their business and also promote their mail-in service.
Clients in the conference business quickly had to cancel their upcoming conferences and create online webinars and networking events.
For clients in sales, this is a good time to offer a good sale to help people during this time or allow people to defer payment, etc.
Clients in the service business should offer flexible payment options that would also be a good way to promote your services while also showing how you are being flexible during these times.
Media relations is still a great way to get third-party credibility and position your client as an industry leader.
The rules of media relations don’t change, even during a pandemic. You still need to make sure your pitch and story answer these questions:
“Our clients are responding to COVID-19 with content, resources and offerings that address what their target audiences are struggling the most with. We are fortunate to work with small to mid-size businesses that can move quickly and adapt to what we’re seeing in the market. Increase in social media engagement is also a must.”
However in order to get through this time, we need your help! We are calling on all of our fellow agencies to join the #AgenciesUnited community.
Times are tough but if we band together to share insights, ideas, content, struggles, and solutions, we can come out of this crisis stronger as an industry. Join us on the mission to Unite agencies everywhere.
See What Partnership Can Do For Your Agency