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The COVID19 Operating Manual For Every Marketer

Corona Virus aka COVID19 is the name lingering on every business leader and organization's psyche these days. The impact of this pandemic has been far worse than any recession or depression the world has ever witnessed. There is a truth disguised as a joke being circulated on social media - What accelerated the digital transformation of organizations? Well, the answer chosen was COVID19.

Let's look at some of the side effects this pandemic brought along with it

  • Canada has witnessed a million Canadians losing their jobs (Source)

  • Over 20 million US citizens have applied for unemployment benefit (Source)

  • European Union coughing up 100 billion euros to protect the jobs (Source)

  • International Labour Organization has predicted the pandemic affecting around 195 million full-time workers across the globe (Source)

Add the number of long working hours and added pressures of working remotely to this, it is the perfect mixture for migraine for every business. And I am not even going to drag your attention to the impact of the pandemic on the health of our human race. Every country is trying to flatten the curve by practicing social distancing and lockdowns.

For marketers, this is a tough time to traverse through. As we are all responsible for boosting brand awareness, generating leads, and delivering a superior experience to customers, this period can be challenging for all of us. One of the most common questions asked and debated on social media platforms these days is "Should we stop marketing".

Every marketer needs to understand certain facts before planning their strategies and tactics now. Some of them are:

  • Your customer most likely will be struggling to keep up with a different sort of personal/business challenge

  • Your product/service may not be the thing they will be looking for at the moment

  • They might be spending their time on different mediums at the moment

  • They might be spending time on those mediums with a different intent (other than entertainment)

  • You have a fair chance of pissing off a prospect/customer if you are considerate enough of their challenges

Talk about tough times, huh? So here I am presenting an operating manual for all fellow marketers (irrespective of organization size and industry) which you can fall back upon to cross these testing waters.

Let's go.

Time to Revisit Buyer Personas

The first and foremost thing to do or follow now is to revisit your buyer personas. If you don't have one, utilize the time now to build one.

Your buyer personas can help you with selecting the right channels to reach your customers/prospects, crafting the right message at the moment, and earn the respect and loyalty of your customer/prospect base during these testing times.

Why is it important to revisit your buyer personas? Under normal circumstances, the goals and challenges of your target audience will be completely different than the ones they facing at the moment. Trust me when I say this - your understanding of your target audience's goals and challenges can make or break the game for your brand.

So spend some time with your team or your sales team to understand the shift in your target audience's goals, challenges, and preferences.

Apply Brakes on Ad Spend

Another great observation recently shared via social media channels was the reduction in costs for Facebook and Google Ads during this pandemic. Some of the fellow marketers had seen a decline in the cost incurred on running ads on social media platforms. Well, this is good news. Isn't it?

Well, I will say not really as these are tricky scenarios. No individual or no organization is in a mood to procure a product or service and them completing a transaction seeing your advertisement is a distant possibility. There are exceptions though for essential items. If your product or service falls under an essential category and you can fulfill them remotely, ads might not be a bad idea.

Also, with ads, you need to extra careful since the possibility of your ad offending someone than educating them is much higher given the current situation. So understanding your audience well (Point #1) and crafting your ad messaging accordingly along with the right offer (for now) might work in your favor.

Double Down on Content

Every marketer feels the pain of developing content to complement their tactics. The dependency of other teams across the organizations and their varying schedules adds pain to the process of content creation. Well, now most of your internal teams and team members might have a breather and you can double down on your content creation efforts.

Maybe this is the time to dust off those plans to start a podcast or a live show and blow life into them. Your content efforts now can bring in long term benefits for the organization provided they are well thought and executed. So involve more people in your content ideation process and that will help in increasing the breadth and depth of your content.

Invest in New Projects

Well, for marketers in most of the industries, it is not all gloom and doom even though the challenges are high. Each one of us has several projects which remain on the backburners with a lack of time being the top reason. This is the time to take a dig at those projects. Put together a project plan or revise an existing plan and get on with it.

One thing we all should keep in mind is that our new projects SHOULD NOT cost a bomb. These are not favorable times to get budgets approved or to burn the existing funds with you. So I recommend bootstrapping your new projects until they deliver the right results.

Reach Out to Prospects & Customers

We all appreciate a kind gesture or an unexpected phone call or an email from old friends and colleagues right now. Isn't it?

P.S: I have reached out to 17 old friends and colleagues during this pandemic. Are you doing this? I highly recommend it.

One must-do thing at the moment is reaching out to your existing customers and prospects. I am not talking about the rather irritating mailers with the steps you have taken as part of your COVID19 measures at your organization - no one cares. I am recommending a personal check on your customers and prospects asking them how they are coping up with these unexpected turn of events.

This communication can be done via email, social media messages, or even WhatsApp. Make sure your intention is just to check on them (I know the hidden intention we all have).

Gather Testimonials & Reviews

I recently read an article written by the famous author and chef Gabrielle Hamilton (Article) where she takes us through the current situation she and her team are facing. Such a beautiful article - I highly recommend it. One of the important points that caught my attention was the amount of uncertainty that lingers around most of the businesses especially the SMBs.

Well, the uncertainty is something none of us can do anything about. We are fighting an enemy whom we cannot see and without any weapons. But one thing you can do right now is preparing for a future when we come out of this. And yes, I am optimistic about that. We can sow seeds now which will bring us the journey after this smoother.

One of the acts you can do now is reaching out to your customers and ask for a review or any feedback they have for your product/service. These are times when every individual understands the situation every one of us is in and they will do anything to help. A review or testimonial can help you make deposits towards the positive traction for your brand. So start asking for them.

Mind the Tone of Communication

I started this article by recommending a revisit to your buyer personas. One of the biggest reasons behind that was for this goal - Your brand communication. These are tricky times for marketers as your messaging might get interpreted wrongly by your audience. Recently I saw a message from Xiaomi about delivering mobile phones to their customer's homes. There was a severe backlash on that with people reminding the team to focus on their audience's priorities at the moment.

So we as marketers need to be mindful of the tone of our communication. As I mentioned earlier, operate from the premise that your audience is NOT looking for any purchase at the moment. Your job as a marketer is to be empathetic and be there for them whenever they need you. Read my next point.

Be Empathetic

As I have mentioned in one of my previous LinkedIn articles, empathy is the MOST important quality of every modern marketer. Without empathy, whatever you plan or do, it has a fair possibility of falling flat on the face. Empathy helps you understand your audience well and craft your messaging accordingly.

Why empathy is of special importance now? The pandemic has caused a sudden rise in a mental health crisis. Anxiety and depression are on a rise at an alarming rate (Source). As we all know, we market to people and the current state these people are in matters the most.

We have to empathetic towards our customers and prospects so that we can be there for them. Help them as a friend and they will remember you and your brand forever. It was a pleasant feeling when I saw several brands coming out with free offers and subscriptions for their audience during these testing times. Being empathetic also will help you understand your audience on a much deeper level now as each one of us is vulnerable at the moment.

Use Social to Build New Relationships

Yes, I used the word "relationships" purposely. We, as marketers, tend to leverage our social media connections as mere touchpoints for scoring a sale most of the time. The moment someone connects with us, we pitch the sale. Kaboom!!!

I will recommend you to put a halt to that habit. This is the perfect time to leverage social media to build some new relationships. Connect with your audience and utilize the time to get to know them. As one of my favorite humans, Mr. Bryan Kramer says "Even though we can’t physically interact with each other at the moment, we still need human-to-human (H2H) connections more than ever".

It is time to put "social" back in social media. Build those relationships and in the worst case, you might end up with some awesome friends (who can be your customers) once all this is over.

New Flavor to Thought Leadership

Every B2B marketer understands the importance of the term "Thought Leadership" well. It is the strongest ingredient in your marketing recipe that makes you stand out from the crowd. We all invest a lot of time and money into building our brand's thought leadership.

Well, this is the perfect time to add a new flavor or twist to your thought leadership efforts. Let me explain. Thought leadership content takes a lot of investment; be it time or money or other resources. Most of the time, marketers receive a lot of push back when they attempt this. Lack of time, funds, and gazillion other reasons are thrown around.

This pandemic time can allow you to bring in your leadership team into your content efforts. Whether it is a regular update from your CEO or your COO's views on operational challenges or your Product Head highlighting the salient features of your top-selling products, these can add a whole new depth to your thought leadership.

Final Thoughts

So should COVID19 be allowed to put a dent in our plans as marketers? Hell no. As marketers, we are primed to operate 24/7 and be always available for our audience. Having said that, we must stick to the ideas in this operating manual to stay effective. I am practicing most of these tips and so far they are working out for me and my team just perfect.

Always be there for your audience. Period.

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