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React, don’t retreat. putting together a marketing strategy to counter COVID-19

Lukas Stuber
Lukas Stuber
8 min read
1 April 2021

The Corona crisis is affecting every single company in a different way. Some urgently need manpower to cope with the sharp rise in online demand, some are shifting to a Direct to Consumer model to combat the closure of stores, while the food retail and public sectors are forced to start mass recruitment drivers for short-term work in response to increased demand.

The main changes not only follow each business’s unique verticals but also its operational model. What can still be delivered and what are the restrictions in delivery logistics and the supply chain?

However, one principle applies to all businesses: putting the brakes on every marketing campaign is a major risk.

A number of companies are currently considering or have already implemented a complete stop to most, if not all, digital marketing activities. This way of thinking is understandable as should society come to a standstill, every Euro saved contributes to a company’s reserve. The issue is that in this period of crisis, consumers and clients are looking for clarity from the businesses and pausing all communications can leave your audience adrift.

Instead, businesses should be focusing on reactive strategies to deal with the current situation. In this article, we outline some key activities that you should embrace to help weather the storm of the current crisis.

Homepage: offer active information

If a user is on your homepage, they are likely wondering what your company can offer. Failure to provide individuals with an answer leads to uncertainty. Looking at the retail industry, some store websites are displaying updated information on their homepage, along the lines of: “Our branches are no longer open, but we are still able to deliver our goods/ services”. However, some brands are yet to update this important contact point, still prominently promoting seasonal campaigns and promotions of their latest product lines. This leaves customers confused as to how the business is affected and whether the services have changed.

Updated information is necessary now more than ever to prevent consumer uncertainty and, though this may seem cynical at the moment, offering an additional page with honest and current information can improve the relationship and transparency with customers, establishing brand affinity that is useful when we return to normality.

Google MyBusiness: providing a “temporarily closed” status

When searching for hair salons, DIY stores, restaurants, or smaller niche shops of any kind, you will likely still see a green “open” indicator in Google MyBusiness. This is often, unfortunately, not true, given the current situation. Thankfully, Google is currently launching the possibility to choose the option “temporarily closed” as a status.

Google Ads: name the location

Numerous companies are currently stopping all Google Ads, which is creating an information vacuum. Rather than pressing pause, companies should be looking to update their current Google Ads strategy to fit the changing needs of consumers during the COVID-19 outbreak. This reactive approach can promote the redesigned temporary business model, something that is new to your previous customers.

The free listing (or Google MyBusiness, see above) usually functions as the number one information point on a search results page, with the exception of brand ads. Unfortunately, this is rarely optimal because the free listings are neither set up for nor flexible enough to display updated and accurate information.

Social media: stay in touch!

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the current situation, many companies are currently experiencing an increased volume of questions and comments via social media but most do not have the resources to properly cope with this influx of inquiries.

For businesses, creative approaches, especially in the way of social media, are serving as viable solutions for keeping their consumers informed. Reorienting your customer service operation to focus more on social media, through increased capacity, can be an invaluable solution when the call centre model is rendered inoperable due to social distancing measures.

Other businesses are using social media to connect with the new challenges that the public are facing every day. Plenty of people have taken to baking their own bread as a response to panic buying and lockdown measures. With this in mind, the Swiss cookbook publisher Betty Bossi began using Instagram Stories to share recipe instructions for sourdough bread for viewers to follow.

First priority: what still works now should be advertised

Sales are slowing across brick and mortar retail. In e-commerce, the opposite can be observed in many cases, with certain industries experiencing a major uplift, such as DIY and gaming. In principle, what can still be delivered or offered as a service should be advertised.

Whether this is a multi-year e-commerce operation or a new D2C model, businesses should be aiming to keep sales and turnover as high as possible through reacting to the new ground we find ourselves in. Pure ROAS strategies, on the other hand, which make profitability the top priority, are not suitable methods at present as they can limit market penetration.

Continue or adapt upper-funnel campaigns

Currently, demand and transactions are accumulating in many areas. However, this does not always mean that overall interest has diminished. When the COVID-19 crisis is over, there will still be interest in the automotive sector. Focusing on the upper funnel can prepare the market for future launches, an ideal launchpad to begin growing when lockdown measures are relaxed.

The decline is logically more pronounced in the lower funnel.

This also means that anyone who now stops their upper-funnel campaigns in Google, Social Media and YouTube is taking a big risk. All the pent-up demand will be channelled through the market as soon as things get back in order, and businesses ought to be preparing as such. Anyone who now avoids contact with the target group is more likely to be ignored as soon as the transactions begin again.

Conversion reporting

The crisis is also changing the key metrics businesses use to measure their marketing and sales efforts. This is partly down to important metrics changing, but also the necessary frequency of reporting. Dashboards that were updated on a weekly basis in the past may now require a daily update.

Spending and sales are now likely to become more important than ROAS thresholds, and the transaction success of product categories can change completely overnight, for better or worse. Tools such as Google Data Studio become even more valuable here, for example. Dashboards can be compiled with just a few clicks, and if you do away with the pixel-exact arrangement of individual tables and graphs, you will be able to act faster.

Planning a return to normalcy

Nobody feels like partying right now, but life as we knew it will inevitably resume in the future. When the doors open again when people flow back to their jobs and when sales pick up again, digital marketing will be able to play an immense role. There are a number of key strategic questions that your business needs to be able to answer.

Messaging: How does a company perform in the emotionally charged days of normalization?

Behavioural retargeting: How to interact with all the upper-funnel contacts of the crisis period?

Reactivation: What to do with all the customers who cancelled, returned, got their money refunded or simply remained inactive during the crisis? Are the appropriate marketing automation routes prepared?

Actions and promotions: How to deal with the fact that the world is beautiful returning to normal on the pricing and product level?

Budgets: How to plan spending when demand picks up?

This applies to businesses that are succeeding and to those struggling in the current situation. The beneficiaries of increased online demand need a strategy to manage the numerous customer contacts of the crisis period profitably even after the crisis is over.

That every crisis is an opportunity is a cliché, but, the fact is that the current crisis brings challenges that can be better mastered thanks to digital marketing as opposed to isolating and stopping communication altogether. After all, with everyone operating almost completely from home, online communication is more important now than ever before.

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Lukas Stuber