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There is no doubt that right now, we’re all navigating through a completely unprecedented time—both personally and professionally. As marketers, we spend a lot of time thoughtfully planning campaigns in advance: our content calendars, product launch outlines, and coordination across teams and channels. But what happens when those plans and priorities become unclear, as they are now during the COVID-19 crisis?
Marketers are always thinking from the perspective of their audience. We craft personas and actively try to envision the people behind our messages. What are their motivations, fears, hopes? We conduct focus groups to hear feedback first-hand. We carefully consider and A/B test word choices and designs, as we understand the impact subtleties can have on emotions and actions.
Here’s the thing—you cannot communicate with a faceless business or unknown consumer. People are not “users” or “buyers”—they are actual people. Behind all the campaigns and metrics, you are engaging with others who share the same human experience as you, especially during a trying time like we’re all going through together now.
So how can marketers continue to do what they do well and keep their businesses moving forward, while keeping the human experience close in mind? Here are 4 tips for how to adapt brand strategies and communications to navigate this time:
1. Be customer-first
At the core of being “customer-first” is leading with empathy—understanding someone else’s emotions and perspectives. Think about who your audience is, and how they might be feeling now: Are they looking for more deals? Do they need an uplifting distraction? Are they maybe buying online for the first time, when they’re used to making purchases in-store? It’s important to consider how you can help your customers navigate through this time, as well.
Brands are actively adapting their tone and messaging strategies to be more aligned to their customers’ current lifestyle changes. Some businesses are focused on offering more convenience—like free shipping or creating new subscription services. Others are engaging with their audiences by offering some much-needed inspiration. For example, online swimwear retailer SwimOutlet helped inspire their audience of swimming fans who can’t get to the pool to practice right now by sharing inspiring messages from Olympic swimmers via text messaging.
2. Stay agile
Marketers need to stay flexible to be able to adapt to this ever-changing environment. Analyze your data to see if you can shift your structure or communications to focus on different products or offerings during this time. We’ve been monitoring online sales weekly here on our COVID-19: E-Commerce Trends & Tactics microsite.
E-commerce sales overall have gone up significantly in March and April, compared to the beginning of 2020. Shoppers are turning to e-commerce now due to store closures, and are purchasing certain products online for the first time that they typically would have bought in-person. The variances in the types of products that are in-demand can fluctuate weekly. Initially in March, consumers were gravitating towards more “essentials” product categories– such as food and beverage, home and kitchen supplies, pet food, basic personal care items. However throughout April, online sales for what could be considered more “discretionary” purchases have been on the rise—beauty products, home decor and furnishings, and electronics.
3. Create a positive impact
Now is a time to think about how your business could help the greater good in some way. It’s been inspiring to see companies who have quickly pivoted to produce products that healthcare workers and the general population need, like masks and hand sanitizer. Companies are also actively launching new philanthropic initiatives, like Brands X Better which is a coalition of e-commerce brands like GREATS, M. Gemi, and LIVELY who have pledged to donate at least 10% of their proceeds to charitable causes during the COVID-19 pandemic. No amount of support is too little.
4. Plan for recovery
When you’re in the middle of something, it can be hard to remember that it is not going to last forever. But, there is hope, and we will come out of this. What could your business be doing now to prepare for that time? We’ve seen a lot of brands focus on customer loyalty initiatives at the moment. Also, many companies are starting to grow a list of messaging subscribers so that when it’s time to announce that new spring collection or share that stores are reopening, you can get the word out more efficiently to those who are most excited to hear from your business.
The biggest tip of all is to remember that we’re all navigating this together… as individuals, and as marketers. It’s all human to human, and always has been.