By Jeff Bradford
When a crisis comes along to threaten not only your business but the economy at large, it’s a natural reaction to sit back and attempt to wait out the downturn. Many are doing exactly that right now.
But about those hanging back, I wonder if they have a plan to ramp up momentum when the crisis is over? Many of them probably don’t, but they definitely should.
This is the idea behind what the Boston Consulting Group has termed a “rapid rebound.” Business leaders need to be proactively planning for the inevitable changes that will come when the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic are fully lifted. It is an opportunity to excel, not just survive, because if your business is prepared to rapidly get up to speed following the pandemic, you’ll have a big head start on those companies — which is likely to represent the majority of your competitors — that wait until the crisis is over to make plans.
Here we are, five months in, and it very well may still be the beginning. Businesses have time to act early, but they must do it soon. Now is the time to kick planning for your post-COVID marketing into high gear. If you’re ready to leave the gate as soon as the smoke clears, then you have the potential to take the lead.
Here are a few strategies to do so:
Take notes from others
A surefire way to give yourself a leg up is to know what your competitors, and brands you admire, are doing. What has their marketing looked like over the course of the pandemic? What have they changed over time or stuck to as a tried and true tactic? What do you think worked well, or conversely, what did not work at all?
It is important to observe what other companies are doing and taking cues from them about how to make your marketing as effective as possible because there isn’t much time for trial and error. Companies need to move with the utmost agility to even just regain lost ground, let alone move ahead.
You don’t need to copy other brands, but mimicking what they do well and finding a way to make it your own is a way to get your feet off the ground. If you combine their best practices with your own proven strategies, and you’ll be off to a good start.
Leverage the opportunity to differentiate
The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity for resourceful business owners to reset the competitive landscape. That is, an economic disruption of this scale has the power to effectively level the playing field in many industries, and businesses now have a chance to establish a new standing in the market very quickly, if they take advantage of the situation.
The way to do that is fairly simple: 1) Offer great products or services, and 2) Flood the market with well-planned and creatively executed marketing strategies before your competitors. Consumers who may not have had your brand on their radar before,may now be open to your offerings, just because you are the one breaking the COVID-enforced mold.
While sales are crucial, they aren’t everything. Your company’s reputation is also critical to maintain. One way to keep a positive reputation through a global crisis is to practice empathy with your consumers. When so many people are affected by COVID, the chances are high that at least one of your customers has had a personal experience with the pandemic. Taking extra steps to be considerate of this can separate you from the competition.
However, being empathetic doesn’t solely apply to external stakeholders. Your employees and coworkers matter, too. Especially in dire times like these, maintaining a united front and positive company culture is hugely important. Without in-person interactions, you have to really go the extra mile to nourish your company’s culture. In turn, your team will continue to represent you well.
Yet, if you practice empathy in the same way every other company does, you lack originality. Whether you’re partnering with different organizations in the fight against COVID or starting your own foundation, there are plenty of ways to help. You must think to yourself, “What can we do to stand out? How can we be the leaders?” If you can find a way to do this, you’ll be admired by customers and competitors, alike.
Align messaging with the “new normal”
Keep in mind that when the pandemic no longer dominates every waking thought, your customers and prospects will be hungry for non-COVID news and information. However, that does not mean dropping the “health first” focus. People will continue to be wary of getting sick. We won’t return to “normal” for some time, potentially more than a year.
Even after the worst of the pandemic is over, many people will still be spending more time at home, so they’ll have plenty of time to consume content. This will be a good time to test new digital formats, new creative and new messaging. Not to mention “contactless business” will still be the norm, so make sure it is easy to do business with your company without physical contact.
This begs the question: Is your business actively seeking new ways to stay connected to your customers? Many businesses are already using tactics, such as increased social media use, partnering with organizations and creating new delivery options – just to name a few.
You need to figure out how to do these things in your own way. Increase your business’ posts on social media, or inform your customers of how you are actively changing your business to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Just stay connected as best you can while social distancing.
With all of this in mind, you can start preparing your marketing strategy and tactics now for use later. For example:
- Blog posts: topics could include lessons from the pandemic; stories about heroic and/or inspiring work done by employees during the pandemic; how to institute information management protocols; what the pandemic has taught your company about working remotely
- Marketing Collateral: which could include a financial wellness kit, a financial planning kit (if your company is in the financial industry) or a post-COVID litigation kit (for law firms).
- Publicity: before and after member survey; stories about new products, new locations, new technology, new markets; bylined columns by C Level executives about the post-COVID era; how technology can prevent or mitigate future crises; how to sell your business in a post-COVID economy
- Social media posts: launches of health-related products; information about financial wellness; photos of employees in newly social distance configured office space; reminders to continue COVID safety procedures
- Videos: messages from CEO; customer testimonials; how to work productively from home
- White Papers: how to design offices for the post-COVID era; how to crisis-proof your estate plan
It can’t be stressed enough: Don’t wait until the coast is clear, or you’ll be left in the dust with the rest of the slowpokes. Take the time you have now to be ready for what will come later. The sooner you plan, the more robust your marketing strategies, the better shape you’ll be in when the time comes to welcome this new normal.
Jeff Bradford is the president of public relations and digital marketing agency The Bradford Dalton Group, heading up the Nashville office. He is a former journalist and has over 30 years of public relations and marketing experience.