From Quarantine to 'Back to Normal': Navigating the 3 Periods of the COVID-19 Marketing Environment
In the current COVID-19 marketing environment, there have been drastic shifts with some brands cutting their budgets or forced to close their doors, while others are increasing their marketing efforts, while working to ensure their messaging is relevant and appropriate during these unprecedented times.
As a marketer for over 30 years, I’ve seen many good and bad times, but nothing so dramatic and life-altering as the COVID-19 global pandemic. So, in the past weeks, I have immersed myself in reading research studies and various articles, taking time for reflection, and talking to clients.
Here is what I have surmised as to how consumer-buying attitudes will unfold in this new COVID-19 marketing environment over the three periods of the pandemic, and what we as marketers and business owners might expect.
The Fear and Quarantine Period
The first period started in early March 2020 and will continue through the lift of the quarantines. With this, came uncertainty and panic.
There are three marketing hurdles that the majority of businesses – especially those that offer non-essential products and services – must overcome and address in their current advertising when communicating with consumers:
- “Right now, I only need the essentials (food, water and shelter), so tell me why I should buy your product now?”
- “I fear I may catch the COVID-19 virus during any unnecessary interactions, and my primary concern is protecting myself and my family from being infected. So, tell me how you’re going to make my interaction with you safe, and how you’re going to take every precaution?”
- “I fear spending any money now, especially on non-essential products and services as I am not confident my income stream will continue, so tell me how you’re going to address that by offering me deep discounts, value, free delivery, deferred payments, no interest, etc.?”
It’s important to note, if you do persuade consumers to make a purchase during this period, adding a relevant, humanitarian layer to your communication and offer can strengthen your brand and build post COVID-19 loyalty.
Communicate often and in the right places with messages that clearly demonstrate your understanding of the crisis and how you are addressing it. Offer relevant and truthful content to establish yourself as a compassionate and helpful brand.
During this time, what would ordinarily be considered excessive posting on social media platforms is acceptable, especially for essential businesses such as food outlets, etc. Create relevant and informative posts that are timed strategically throughout the day to keep your customers informed daily and often. The tone of your communication should not be depressing or have a doomsday feel or sound – it should be positive and optimistic.
As for platforms to consider, digital media and live TV is where you’ll find people during this period. With everyone quarantined, people are glued to their phones, browsing for any tidbits of good news they can find in articles and on websites. People that ordinarily didn’t participate in social media are finding it as a way to stay connected and informed. When people are watching TV, they’re watching news and live programming or viewing app-based programming (OTT) and escaping into their favorite on-demand shows.
Companies that market effectively, strategically, and compassionately during this period will be the big winners when this nightmare is over. This takes a strong stomach and a solid backbone, but staying in touch is a true sign of a great friend – and treating your customers as valued friends is a great marketing strategy in any environment, and even greater now.
The Reprieve Period
This next period will begin once the quarantines start to lift and people can gradually resume normal activities. This period could continue for up to six months once it starts, and barring any resurgence from COVID-19, will diminish with each day.
People will continue being fearful and anxious, causing them to behave in a leery manner and to be reluctant to put their defenses and fears aside. Businesses will need to continue to use the same marketing strategies outlined in “The Fear and Quarantine Period,” with slight modifications based on the business levels they are experiencing during this period – especially when it comes to giving consumers the greatest value with any payment deferments for large ticket items.
The marketers that build relationships and trust during this period will be the winners when normalcy returns. Use this period to build your brand and demonstrate to your customers that you care, and you will go to extreme measures to help them regain trust by creating unique offers with high value.
Continue with sincere, authentic, and altruistic messaging and do it often. This is your opportunity to build an unbreakable bond with your customers. Show them you care more about them and their families than you do about your company’s bottom-line. And mean it. This is not a time to pay lip service.
Begin to shift your communication away from COVID-19 and to messages that demonstrate value and your brand. The consumers you’ve created trusting and caring relationships with during the previous months will repay you with their loyalty and their pocketbooks.
The Back-to-Normalcy Period
At this point, business levels will have resumed to normal or better, and by this point, all COVID-19 messaging should be abandoned. People will not want or need you to remind them of the darkest period in the modern world.
Be sure to work with your team to put a robust and strategic marketing plan into place that plays well into the new post COVID-19 marketing environment. What that is, remains to be seen …