A Marketer’s Responsibility in a Pandemic

Jameson Pitts
Managing Director
·
March 31, 2020

A question our agency has received often during these trying times is “should I even be marketing right now?” As hard as it is to change a strategy that has been in the works for months or rewrite all of the copy for a campaign, it is vital right now.

While it’ll definitely be a challenge to contribute something new on the topic of Coronavirus that thousands of content marketers haven’t already said before me, our agency’s very deep connection with growing businesses spanning industries offers a balanced view on what marketing should be right now.

Marketing decision-making in a pandemic

Something we struggled with as a team, at the beginning of this new world order, was how quickly and how much to change our strategy. While it is very difficult to predict the future and actions we take today could be meaningless next week, it would be a bigger mistake not to act or demonstrate agility in the face of crisis.

We executed these pivots more gracefully with some campaigns than others, as the full effects on buying behavior and the economy as a whole unfolded.

Joshua Spanier, VP of Global Media at Google, published his team’s principles for evaluating campaigns in the wake of COVID-19. I think as marketers, the guiding questions he proposes should be our new rulebook:

1. Is this campaign right, given the current context in a local market?

2. Though we greenlit this campaign last month/last week/yesterday, is it still right for the context and moment?

3. Are all of the creative elements — tone, copy, visuals, keywords, placements — appropriate and relevant to this new reality?

4. What are the most relevant brands, products, or campaigns our media can support right now, and do we need to shift budgets?

5. What ways can our brand — and even our owned media channels — be helpful to people and businesses in this moment of need?

Inside Google Marketing: 5 principles guiding our media teams in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak

Joshua Spanier is Google's global marketing VP for media. He leads teams around the world who plan, buy, run, and…

www.thinkwithgoogle.com

A second take that I found valuable, if perhaps a little too congratulatory to the effect of marketing in a pandemic and recession, was this article on Search Engine Journal (an SEO blog). The lesson of which is basically: don’t overcorrect. Perhaps now is a time to cut back on paid advertising budgets, but a downturn is a great time to emphasize content and SEO strategies-things that pay off in the long run.

13 Ways Businesses Can Use SEO & Marketing to Combat Coronavirus Impact

You should, at this point, be taking the safety precautions recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Many…

www.searchenginejournal.com

This means working on big content projects that take time to produce, and then even longer to rank on search engines, like large-scale interviews and testimonials. And of course, everyone’s favorite buzzword, longtail strategies. If we chip away at longtail opportunities throughout the downturn, we might be in a position to capture that traffic, and then spend on converting it, when the market turns right side up.

In summary, be careful, cautious, and self-aware, but take the opportunities that downtime offers as well.

The pandemic lottery

Quandl, a financial alternative data provider owned by Nasdaq, included in last week’s edition of the Alternative Data Weekly a chart showing the effect of COVID on small business revenue.

Chart: Quandl

This chart shows something I’ve noticed anecdotally with my clients and something we’ve all probably experienced standing in the toilet paper aisle — this pandemic-induced recession has winners and losers.

As Quandl puts it, “Travel- and hospitality-related categories such as transportation, lodging, parking, restaurants and bars are amongst the hardest hit. Discretionary categories such as entertainment, sports and recreation also contracted. Meanwhile, “essential” categories such as pet services and especially food and beverage retail show large year-over-year gains.”

At our agency, we’ve observed three main categories of businesses today:

  1. Those completely shutdown
  2. Those that have been affected but can stay the course, react responsibly, and work on long-term strategies
  3. Those that will see a (perhaps significant) uptick

The agency obligation

As marketers, it’s our job to plot the right digital course for businesses in response to changing conditions. For some businesses, the best bet now is surely hibernation. For others, scale back but don’t overreact. You can gain momentum over your competitors by working on long term strategies in the downtime.

Consumers have more time and offer more eyeballs for content than ever before. Business buyers are looking for solutions to new problems.

For those of you lucky enough to be chosen by the pandemic as economic victors, identify that you are in that group as quickly as possible and take advantage while you can. The economy as a whole, and all of us SMBs within, will thank you.

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