Marketing in (and out of) a crisis

At the recent VE Day celebrations we were reminded that, among other things, Winston Churchill had the gift of the quip. Funny, serious, sometimes both, he could sum up a situation with a few well-chosen words – like “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

Over the last few weeks it’s fair to say we’ve all been living through a crisis and trying to make the best of it. While home life is now full of sourdough and Joe Wicks, work has gone through rapid changes too, in its day-to-day operations and in how we think about the future.

But Churchill also said “When you’re going through Hell, keep going” and that’s important. The crisis will end – we’re seeing green shoots even now, so let’s take a look at the changes we’ve seen, and how they might play out in future.

1. Revisit the art of listening

One effect of this abnormality has been to show us how ‘normal’ things used to be. As businesses we work hard to serve existing clients and attract new ones. We try to keep things fresh, staying mindful that the most expensive words in business are “we’ve always done it this way”.

But it’s surprising how quickly we get comfortable. We slip into dangerous habits, we assume we know what people want, we stop listening. Times change and people’s circumstances change too, so listening is important – not just listening to respond, but listening to understand so our responses are relevant and helpful.

With families enjoying virtual catch-ups, reconnecting is a bit of a theme, and there’s no better opportunity for us to do the same. It only takes a small shift in focus to achieve it. Stay active on social media, but pivot towards an approach that asks questions. Remember people are experiencing something completely new, so it’s important to understand how they’re feeling, how it’s changing them, who they’ll be when it’s over, and who they’ll expect you to be.

2. Stay visible and reconnect

We often hear about the importance of staying visible – beyond connecting with clients it’s important to maintain visibility in our industry too, to be seen and heard, to be respected for our ideas and noted for our innovations. But visibility can easily become a bit of an obsession at the expense of ‘relevance’, and ‘being seen’ isn’t really that important if you’re not doing anything worth seeing.

It may feel like a bit of an ask to get your innovate on in times such as these, but innovation can come from small steps and often from asking questions. LinkedIn has just launched its new polling feature, which means we can now ask clients, colleagues and the industry at large anything we like, and we can use that feedback to understand how people’s experiences and expectations are changing. It’s a great engagement tool and a good way to quickly and easily share ideas that spark debate and result in actionable feedback. Importantly, it also stops us from approaching the future based solely on our own opinions.

3. Embrace technology

Technology is of course one of the most visible features of our time in lockdown. Homeworking and its associated video platforms have become mainstream, which raises two questions – what will the effect be on our organisations, and what will clients expect in future?

The jury is still out on whether working from home will be the norm, while Twitter has announced employees can work remotely ‘forever’, others are keen to get bums back on swivel chairs. But the genie is out of the bottle and the role of technology isn’t just our decision, because new ways of working might be driven by clients.

After all, they’ve been Zooming too, upskilling en masse, so as organisations we must respond. Clients may come to prefer the digital-first option and that’s something we should run with. For example, the virtual meetings we’re becoming so adept at can easily morph into individual client meetings, or informal seminars for a wider audience. With more of the public now comfortable with live video, it’s a great time to explore its potential along with established technologies like podcasts. If you don’t have the in-house resources, but you’re not in a position to fully outsource, online platforms like Udemy are a great place to start.

4. Be there, but proactively too

Reaching out may sound like buzzword bingo, but for once it’s coming into its own. People are spending more time on social media, trying to fill the gaps left by ordinary interactions. One recent study shows that since the onset of COVID-19, people have spent 20% more time using apps.

They’re reaching out for content, for answers, for things to do when all this is over, and as marketers, we need to reach back. Up to now, a lot of our activity has been reactive, in response to what’s going on. We’ve been telling people what we’re doing, telling them how we’re playing our part and telling them critical information about their products and services.

But while times are hard and people are worried, they’re also looking to the future, to what they’ll do next – recent research shows UK holiday firms have seen a 40% rise in traffic. As much as people need to feel secure, they also want to envisage and plan. We should reassure them, but inspire them too. As counterintuitive as it may seem, now is a great time to be sharing more content – lead magnets, videos and more. Being present can be reactive when people need answers, but should also be proactive where they want help visualising the future.

5. Give yourself an audit

It’s important to be visible to our clients, but we’re also living through a rare opportunity to look inwards and spend time reassessing what we’re all about. There’s been a lot of talk about being ‘reminded of what really matters’ and it’s true. Brand values, visions and manifestos – they’re all essential and what better opportunity to review them?

Harvard Business Review found 64% of consumers feel shared values are a primary reason they have a relationship with a brand, and we know that brands that present themselves consistently are three to four times more likely to experience visibility. But just from a human viewpoint, brands that understand what matters to their audience will do a much better job of getting it right.

As we look to the future, it’s a good time to review the nuts and bolts of your brand. Your values set the tone for everything you do, so that tone still needs to chime pleasantly with you and your audience. It may be that an audit reveals your values are still bang on, but you’ll never have a better chance to give them a closer look.

We’ll meet again

As I write this, the choruses of “We’ll meet again” are a few weeks behind us, but the words have never seemed so appropriate. We will meet again – with clients, with suppliers, with peers and colleagues. But while some faces and situations will be familiar, others will be new. Just as the human brain’s plasticity allows it to rewire its way around a trauma, so should we spend this time looking both inward and outward, to assess the part we’ll play when business returns to normal.

But what will ‘normal’ be? We’re not going back to where we were, and we won’t be picking up exactly where we left off. Instead, we all face a future that’s unnerving and exciting in equal measures. We’d like to think regular clients will be back and that new ones will join them, but to make sure, they need to know we’re asking questions, listening to their answers and understanding what they’ll need from us.

It shouldn’t take a crisis to flag up complacency, and it may be that a review just serves to show we’re already getting it right. But since its here, let’s not waste this crisis – let’s use it to refresh our understanding of who we are and of the people we serve.

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