Let’s be honest: Things have changed dramatically for marketers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At least in the short term, the outbreak has significantly changed where and how we interact with customers. And it’s easy to feel powerless when so much is shifting so quickly.
But we’re not powerless, not completely. In fact, there are several things that marketing teams can do now, today, to put themselves in a better position to adapt and, more importantly, be ready to thrive once the worst is over.
1. Be ready to react nimbly, but not rashly.
Responding to COVID-19 has been challenging for marketers because we haven’t really experienced anything exactly like this before. It’s difficult to react well because there’s so much we don’t know.
One way to solve this problem? Apply the OODA Loop to your planning. It’s a four-step process — Observe, Orient, Decide, Act — for quickly making decisions in a changing environment. The loop was originally developed for aerial combat, but it’s been successfully employed in a range of other activities, including business.
When you use the OODA Loop, you …
- Observe: Use data to accurately observe current conditions — rapid, data-driven reporting has never been more important. Because COVID has disrupted so many things that we used to take for granted, you also may need to look at data sources you haven’t used extensively before, like social sentiment. Maybe you need an increased focus on geographic data if your market area includes locked-down cities or states. (Our friends at Tinuiti have some good ideas about this here.)
- Orient: Once you have the data, you need to analyze it and adjust your position accordingly. In some cases, you may need to re-evaluate the goals and KPIs that you use to judge performance. As the team at Nina Hale writes:
Focusing on historical ROI goals will set many brands up for failure while diminishing the brand’s visibility in the marketplace. Instead, shifting your goalposts towards awareness and brand perception will help keep your brand in front of audiences and maintain – or even grow – your brand equity while your sales goals are adjusted.
- Decide: Once you’ve gathered the necessary data and put it in context, choose the best course of action and …
- Act: Speed is important here. It’s also crucial to measure the results of your actions, so you can go back to Observe and start the loop again, constantly adjusting your approach so that it matches the current environment.
2. You can’t always generate revenue. You can almost always create value.
There are entire industries where it’s basically impossible to make money right now. Even businesses that are still open may struggle due to supply chain issues or reduced consumer demand.
So what should companies do to keep the lights on? Look for ways to create value for clients and prospective customers, so that when everything bounces back and they’re ready to buy, they come to you.
You can create value with:
- Customer experience: Go above and beyond to help your clients navigate the next few months. A lot of restaurants have spun up delivery and carryout offerings from scratch — not just for items on their normal menu, but covering everything from produce to bulk goods to toilet paper. For agency analytics teams, it could mean specialized reporting tailored to COVID-related impacts on clients’ business.
- Content: Create blog posts, ebooks, webinars and other information that helps your target audience solve their problems. Many companies already have some form of content strategy, and now’s the time to emphasize it, especially if you’ve got expertise that’s applicable to the current situation. People are hungry for useful, reliable information — your marketing and audience data can help you identify what’s most important for your customers.
- Discounts: A lot of us are cautious about spending right now, but for customers who have enough cash on hand, a good deal might be enough to spur them to make a purchase. The flying public is almost completely grounded now, but airlines are offering deep discounts on tickets for trips later in the year.
- Trials: Not everyone has a product or service that can be easily trialed. If you do, though, giving prospective clients a trial run of your service, especially when they’ve got a little more downtime and may be feeling restless, could help set up a sales opportunity in the near future.
3. Start planning for what comes next.
It’s going to take time, but at some point, the current crisis is going to pass. So it makes sense to start thinking about and preparing for that future. Gartner, for example, suggests that brands look at securing media placements for the fall now, before the fall elections, a rebound in consumer demand and competition for ad inventory make it harder to get your message out.
Because COVID-19’s impact has been so severe and so quick, a lot of people are thinking that things will never be the same again. And while some things may change, once the crisis passes, it’s more likely that people will resume many of their typical habits.
We like how Clayton Reid, the CEO of MMGY Global, an agency dedicated to travel and tourism, put it in this post.
But just as with past promises of virtual reality vacations replacing the real thing or Second Life becoming a surrogate for meetings, we do not believe many short-term trends will remain as structural. And those suggesting that tools such as webinars are suddenly going to replace real in-person interactions, undervalue the fatigue that is already growing with virtual platforms. We fully expect face-to-face meetings, visiting new places, cruising, socializing in restaurants, and yes even getting back to better personal hygiene, will be the norm before Q4.
It’s a unique time in our history, but things will change. The steps you take now will put you and your team in a better position to seize the advantage when they do.
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