There is no doubt that the current events surrounding COVID-19 have changed most – if not all –aspects of our lives. But you don’t need to read another post on how you can help “flatten the curve”. There are already enough of those being churned out. The advice from medical experts may be unclear, but that doesn’t mean we should turn to marketers for health advice. So I’ll stick to the marketing.
At Upp, we’re well into our second month of working completely remotely. And thanks to Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Trello and several other programs, we’re running like a well–oiled machine. We’ve got a daily routine for checking in as a team and getting work done, plus a weekly social catch-up, which is for anything but work talk. We have had quizzes, philosophical debate and happy hour, but the social usually ends up with us admiring various backgrounds available on video calls. I’m still bitter about being beaten in last week’s Kahoot, and on the last question!
One thing is for certain, though. Things are different.
Upheaval. Change. Shifting priorities. All concepts that are ever–present in B2B marketing in 2020 – and particularly in digital. Usually, seismic changes are driven by new technology, or shifts in customer behaviour over time. But the events of the last couple of months have been quite sudden, and you don’t have to look far to find stories of businesses experiencing serious shocks, whether they’re cancelled orders or customers putting activities on hold. Like many other agencies, we’re seeing this too, and it’s bloody tough. But we’ve also seen many clients press ahead as planned. In some cases, they’ve actually accelerated their marketing comms activity.
So what should you do? Stick or twist?
Before I dive in, let me just be clear: I am an advocate of seizing an opportunity to gain an advantage, but I’m definitely not into wanton exploitation. I saw examples of this early on, as global events were unfolding. Covid-19 ‘experts’ – who a few months ago were blockchain or GDPR experts (you know the ones) – popping up on LinkedIn offering quasi-knowledgable advice and angling for a quick sale of their new course.
You might question whether discussing your brand, customers, products or pricing right now is too opportunistic, but ask yourself: what will happen to your business if you sit still? In B2B, businesses large and small are coming to terms with the fact that they’ve lost live events, face–to–face meetings, and other staple ways of engaging customers. This poses a huge challenge, particularly in industries that are less advanced in their digital capabilities but still need to drive business.
Digital transformation has been a buzzword for years, but by and large has been pretty slow to catch on. 2020 should be the wake-up call that we need to get our digital house in order. If you’ve not updated your website since it was built in 2010, or your Facebook page is looking like the flour aisle in the supermarket, then you need to shake things up.
Short term, it’s about keeping yourself going, keeping customers informed and, where possible, coming through the door. Long term, it’s about a diverse strategy for your digital infrastructure and marketing.
Five ways to deliver responsible digital marketing during and after Covid-19
1. Don’t exploit people’s fears
I mentioned above that I’m an advocate of creating competitive advantage – after all, that’s what marketing is all about – but I am dead against exploitation. During the Covid-19 pandemic, or any other kind of tragedy, you should not seek to profit from people’s fears.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to carry on as normal with your marketing efforts. Just be aware of the message you’re sending. Some consumer brands landed themselves in hot water over new product ranges, such as a “fashion face–mask” that was hammered by the public on social media.
2. Be mindful of the message you’re sending
Imagery and words are very powerful tools. A message can be overt, or it can be subtle. Now more than ever we must pay attention to the messages in our campaigns. For example: try to avoid using images of crowds or groups that do not reflect the social distancing advice.
Language too, is vital to your marketing. It’s easy to miss, as sometimes things can be so subtle as to seem meaningless. For the time being, check and rephrase wording such as “get in touch”, or anything that, again, doesn’t fit with social distancing advice.
These are seemingly small things, but they may be deemed insensitive or inappropriate by some of your customers. When it comes to your brand, perception is everything, and it’s within your control to manage your use of imagery and language.
3. Re-evaluate your plans, regularly
You’ve probably spent days, weeks or even months planning your marketing for 2020, and the good news is that these plans needn’t end up in the recycle bin. You should, however, re-evaluate and decide what should be put on hold, and what can continue or be repurposed.
If you have a new website to launch, do it. If you have a message that can help people, spread it far and wide. If you have a big brand–launch planned, consider pushing it back until things subside. If you’ve planned an event, consider how you can move it online.
Looking to the future, agility is key. A core principle of being agile is an ability to handle change. Strategic objectives must remain, but your digital capabilities must allow you to adapt quickly, scale up or down, and where possible allow your team to work from anywhere, seamlessly.
4. Consider your technical capabilities
The way we work has changed very quickly. Shifting from office-based (with ad-hoc remote working) to 100% remote working has not been without challenges. I’ve spoken with a fair few people, all of whom have had different experiences. For some the shift has been seamless: they literally switched on their computer at home and off they went. For others it wasn’t so easy. They’ve had difficulties accessing and sharing files, meeting with clients and customers, and general problems liaising with colleagues.
I mentioned earlier about digital transformation being a buzz-phrase. It can sound a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Transforming the way you work – by introducing a platform such as Microsoft Teams – allows your team to operate from anywhere with an internet connection. And embedding a video–meeting platform in your business opens up a new channel for you to interact with customers. And that channel can remain open long after current events have subsided, providing key support to the more traditional channels of events and face-to-face meetings.
Cloud file–storage, digital–marketing channels and data analytics are further ways you can transform your digital capabilities without having to do embark on a large–scale, complicated infrastructure shift.
5. Be positive and helpful, but be aware
People are very uneasy right now, whether through fear of Covid-19 itself, or uncertainty of what the future holds. The last thing you need to do is add to your customers’ unease. A key value of ours at Upp is “be human”, and this feels relevant now more than ever.
Keep your personality in your comms – you don’t need to become a robot during a crisis. Tell a story of how you can help. This could be a simple case of entertaining people. Or perhaps you can offer some educational content that helps people develop their understanding of a subject you possess valuable insight on.
These are things you could and should do anyway, but right now they’re even more important. As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And if you can help people feel good right now, they’ll remember it.
Balance the short-term and long-term
B2B marketing has two sides: short–term lead generation and long–term strategy. Right now, businesses are having to adapt quickly to a new way of doing things. This can be tough. But with a little thought and sensitivity, you can continue communicating with both new and existing customers.
This is also the perfect opportunity to plan for the longer term, and to develop a strategy for embedding technology and digital marketing into your business. By doing so, you’ll open up new comms channels with your customers, and empower your team, too.