How to Navigate Marketing During a Crisis

Stuff happens. Just when you think you’ve created a brilliant marketing/sales/development/business plan, a black swan torpedoes your plan. In 1999, we had the beginnings of the dotcom crash. In 2001, it was 9/11. In 2008, the credit bubble derailed many. And in 2020, we got a pandemic. As ones who have been in marketing and technology through all these horrific challenges, we’ve learned a few lessons about how to navigate marketing during a crisis. It isn’t easy, by any stretch, but with the right approach, you may find yourself on the other side of the crisis in a better, safer place. Here are twelve ‘best practices’ to consider.

1. Enable your survival instincts.

We recently triaged our marketing. Stop everything you’ve been doing, and add back based on a new & revised plan. What you’ve been doing most likely won’t work in crisis mode.

2. Monitor closely.

Pay attention to your key performance metrics, especially Google Analytics. Most likely website traffic dropped, conversions plunged, and leads became sparse. You’ll have to keep a closer eye on KPIs throughout the downturn.

3. Always. Be. Marketing.

Although it may be harder than hell to convert a lead, don’t stop marketing. For years, we’ve watched companies slash marketing in a downturn — as if it’s a non-essential service. Conversion is harder, but the long-term effect is better. That is, you can get more opportunities later by filling the void where everyone else disappeared. And advertising costs are lower when there’s less competition. Test and measure on all channels.

4. But don’t be tone deaf!

A corollary to ‘survival instincts’ and ‘always be marketing’ is to check your messaging. Your customers are facing a crisis, so you can’t be business as usual. That surf brand that sends three emails a day about the season’s new board shorts is tone deaf. The company that continues running ads about what your kid should take to school missed the memo that schools are closed until fall. If you SELL SELL SELL, you’re acting without empathy, and that is a poor message during a crisis.

5. Connect with empathy.

The way to avoid being tone deaf is to adjust your messaging to suit the situation. There’s a meme going around about a car brand — their messaging went from “Buy a Brand X car” to “During these difficult times, buy a Brand X car”. TONE DEAF.

6. Think long term.

The crisis won’t last forever, so the work done during the crisis is “special”. The strategy should still be aligned to the brand’s long-term value: being a community supporter, saving money, going the extra mile, being the best… Don’t change the leopard’s spots in the interim. For example, if you cut costs, you may not like the residual impact after the crisis.

7. Emphasize current customers.

Retention of existing clients is critical. Look to them first. What could you do to help them survive the crisis (think add-on, not cost cutting). Long term thinking applies to your existing customer base too.

8. Don’t be greedy.

If customers and prospects think you’re profiteering on the crisis, your long term planning is flawed. Raising prices on ventilators will certainly hurt reputations of equipment vendors. Large corporations taking relief money at the expense of small businesses will probably come back to haunt them later (if not already).

9. Help others.

We know a credit union that repurposed their own marketing budget to support marketing for businesses in their city. EMPATHY. “We support our community” is a strong message, and many of those businesses, or the folks who hear about the program, will take a look at the sponsor. Associate your brand with good.

10. Teach.

We’ve always been fans of educational content marketing, but this is especially good during a crisis. Share techniques, best practices, and useful articles (ahem!).

11. Adapt.

Don’t panic. Assess your plans to see what was working and what wasn’t. Learn from the situation. Make business process improvements. You’ll be a better business on the other side. Learn from THIS pain. How can you make your business more resilient to problems in the future?

12. Optimize.

Similar to adaptation is optimization. Review your search engine rankings. Execute SEO techniques (again). Review ads. Overhaul PPC mistakes. Look at conversion rates. Build a new experiment backlog and start new tests.

Why You Must Navigate Marketing During a Crisis

There’s an old adage: “you can’t do more with less. you can only do less with less.” With an eye on TRYING to do more with less, you can do more. The crisis will pass, and new opportunities await those who survive. Panicking doesn’t help, and going into your turtle shell not only hurts in the short term but also in the future. Stand up, be transparent, show empathy, and offer to help. You’ll navigate the crisis with smarter marketing and a brighter outlook, and you’ll most likely be more resilient for the next one.

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