The Role Of Marketing During The COVID-19 Crisis

Marketing team executing initiatives via virtual meeting during COVID-19 crisis

Marketers exist to create demand. How do we reinvent ourselves when a once-in-a-century event brings uncertainty and the looming potential of an economic downturn?

This article originally appeared on the Demand Gen Report.

If you're a marketer and you're feeling out of your depth these days, you're in good company. Marketers exist to create demand, but for most of us today, unless we are promoting face masks or hand sanitizer, priorities have shifted and demand has changed. How do we make ourselves relevant during a period of uncertainty?

No one has all the answers, and the impacts—from personal and professional to business, economic and global—are still largely unknown. But one thing is certain: We need to keep moving forward.

During the past two weeks, we have had countless conversations with clients looking for help pivoting and re-orienting themselves to the new reality. We’ve conferred with trusted advisers and peers that are also seeking answers and solving problems, and we’ve looked to our own team members to develop guidelines to support marketers’ decision-making. While no two businesses are affected in the same way, the core recommendations below are approaches that every marketer can benefit from.

Practice Customer Empathy

This may be the single most important thing marketers can do right now, and the good is we've been doing it all along.

What's changed is our customer's state of mind. We may be marketing to the same buyer, but that buyer's reality today is very different from the reality they inhabited just a few weeks ago.

Now is the time to put yourself in the customer's shoes. Visualize their world and ensure that every communication that reaches them is calibrated to their new reality. If your customer personas aren't in apple-pie order, pull them out, polish them up and remind yourself of what's important to the customer. Project that persona into the current pandemic to understand some of the extraordinary pressures your customer may be facing right now.

Keep The Conversation Going

We're all struggling to find the right tone and messages for our marketing communications right now, but we need to push past the discomfort and keep the channels of communication open.

A global survey of 35,000 consumers conducted by Kantar found that the vast majority of your customers, prospects and community want to hear from brands, with only 8% believing that brands should stop advertising. Ensure that your communications are motivated by a genuine desire to improve people’s lives, not grow your revenues.

Companies that attempt to use the crisis to generate more sales or market share risk doing irreparable damage to their brand. A recent article from Gartner laid out the ground rules for communicating ethically and effectively during the pandemic, recommending that companies ask themselves these questions before pressing "send":

  • "Am I telling customers something different from other brands versus saying the same thing as everyone else?
  • Am I telling customers something they don’t already expect of my company or brand?
  • Is the WIIFM conspicuous in the subject line and opening paragraph?
  • And, most importantly, is the WIIFM attuned to your customers’ needs right now?"

In addition to crafting new communications carefully, don't forget to audit your existing campaigns. If you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to nix any overly aggressive email campaigns that waste people's time and attention. Be respectful. Be courteous. Be helpful. Keep the message simple and sincere.

Strengthen The Alliance With Sales

While promoting the brand is critical right now, marketing still needs to drive the demand that supports sales and revenue objectives for their companies. Depending on your industry, this goal may fall anywhere between "very challenging" to "downright impossible," but now is the time to get creative and focus on any opportunities that will generate or accelerate pipeline and support your sales team.

Early-stage sales teams, including inside sales or business development reps, will be looking to marketing for new ways to reach and engage with prospects, which will mean new messaging and maybe new channels. Field sales will be looking for ways to maintain a personal connection with prospects and customers in the absence of in-person meetings and events. Marketing can help sales identify the right digital tools and strategies to fill in the gaps.

Sales enablement efforts will need to shift heavily to a digital focus, including social selling and ABM campaigns. Consider moving in-person demos and meetings to virtual lunch 'n learns — with “lunch” being a gift certificate for meal delivery. The upside to trying new ways of moving the dial is that many of these digital options are less costly than traditional, in-person techniques, which builds a little leeway into the budget.

It could be a golden opportunity to forge a strong relationship between marketing and sales that will set you up for continued success.  Now is also a good time to plan for the long game together and think about how you will shift tactics once markets open up again.

Build And Increase Trust

As the world becomes a much more frightening place, it's even more vital to do what you can to make it better. You should always be looking for ways to build trust with prospects and customers. How can you be there for your community now, when they need you most? 

For inspiration, check out this Forbes list of B2B and B2C companies that are finding innovative ways to give back. This regularly updated list by Ad Age also includes some great examples.

Plan for the Future

It's hard not to get swept up in the here-and-now these days. Most marketers have their work cut out for them just coping with the next 24 hours, but if you can, carve out some time to plan for the recovery.

Take some of the time you might have spent on promotional campaigns and spend it on tightening your marketing strategy. Lay the groundwork for deeper customer insights by integrating Google Analytics with your marketing automation platform, develop your content strategy or revamp your email nurture programs. If people aren't buying your solutions now, know that they will in the future. Be ready to take full advantage of those future opportunities.

It's hard to step outside of the daily routine and check things off the "really important but never gets done" list, but if you can do it, you'll be ready to hit the ground running when the world goes back to normal—or, at least, the "new normal."

Marketers do not have it easy today. As budgets freeze and wallets snap shut, many of us are facing the greatest challenge of our careers. But if you can take this time to strengthen your focus on customer empathy, build a strong brand and refocus on your critical role in supporting the pipeline, you will emerge from this crisis in a stronger position.

About the Author

Rhoan Morgan

Rhoan is DemandLab's CEO and Co-Founder. She is an award-winning digital marketing professional with more than 15 years of expertise and a strong track record of generating results for B2B and B2C marketing and sales teams through advanced integrated marketing automation campaigns. She is also the host of the Revenue Rebels podcast on SLMA Radio and the author of Change Agents: The Radical Role of Tomorrow's CMO.

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