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COVID-19 So Far: Lessons Learned for Marketers

By: Dwayna A. Haley, Senior Vice President & Practice Director, Brand Innovation & Impact, Porter Novelli

June 8, 2020

Admittedly, the idea of serving best practices in a global pandemic feels ambitious. Most of us have never experienced anything quite like this in our lifetime so a healthy level of trial and error is to be expected.  Additionally, the psychological complexities inherent in managing productivity at home certainly affect the process. After all, businesses are run by people and the events of this pandemic have us all under duress.

Even still, it’s encouraging to witness how quickly brands have responded to the change in times with content that offers a peek behind the curtain. From quick service restaurants to CPG, essential to nonessential businesses, there have been more than a few trends worth exploring when considering one’s own marketing strategy.

We’re In This Together: You’re likely feeling that you could play COVID-19 bingo from the “we’re in this together” messaging ubiquitously integrated into brand social media accounts. Many have published inspirational ads showing community-driven content in an effort to demonstrate empathy and signal their ability to respond quickly to change. Porter Novelli’s recently published  COVID-19 Tracker aimed at documenting American behavior, expectations and perceptions of companies fighting the crisis found that “66 percent of Americans have a better opinion of business overall because of how they have stepped up during the pandemic.”

While it may feel like a bandwagon play, it is important that your brand shows heart during this time. No matter your business vertical, the audience you serve appreciates the acknowledgement of our shared challenge and expects to see your support. Doing so creates deeper connection and stronger preference for your brand.

Activate Your Purpose: How is your company taking this moment to contribute positively during the pandemic? Whether you’re donating funds to COVID-19 relief efforts, finding organic opportunities to support essential workers or merchandising your efforts to keep your own workforce employed, now is the moment to proudly fly your purpose flag. Our data tracker reports that “71 percent of Americans feel better about companies that publicly announce what they are doing to provide support” and that deploying a multi-channel strategy is equally critical.  Today, activating purpose is both a business and moral imperative unlike ever before and will be a market differentiator for you post crisis. One word of caution: Audience radar for disingenuous opportunism is also high.

Data Is Your Friend: I’ll never forget the moment when Carla Harris (vice chairman, managing director and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley) stood before attendees at the 2015 Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit and said, “Data is your friend.” While she was addressing the politics of internal relationships and building roads to employment opportunity, the idea also birthed a whole new awareness within me. Uncovering audience specific data today will absolutely contribute to business sustainability tomorrow. The pandemic necessitates investment in data capture and insight reporting so that you can organically connect messaging and programming to the mindset of your audience.

Time to Reset? Many times as marketers, we find ourselves traveling down a road that isn’t yielding the behavior change anticipated from our audience. At times, we double down. Other times, we scrap it and start over. In my humble opinion, the pandemic crisis has actually gifted the opportunity for many of us to reset. The world will never be the same again after COVID-19. As such, with data informing new understanding of the audiences we serve, this moment could be the best time to scrap what’s not working within your marketing strategy for a whole new value proposition. I’m not suggesting you throw out the baby with the bath water, but if ever there was an opportunity to pivot with intent, this is it! Test and learn. Include your audience in the process. The connected community mindset birthed from the crisis affords us all the flexibility (albeit carefully and strategically) to pave new roads and lead our organizations into the future.

The most important reminder as each new day presents unexpected challenges is that every communicator is experiencing the same challenges. The mark of our success must move beyond being first and being best, but rather getting it right; and, that may take time. Rarely does marketing and communications take the lead function within any organization receiving the proper priority. What to say, when to say, how to say, if to say and where to say is now critical to all more than ever. My advice: Move with intent, pay attention and trust yourself. After all, we’re in this together.

At The Social Shake-Up