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Adapt to the Unexpected: Marketing During COVID-19

Social distancing, mask mandates, quarantining – this year has challenged us in many ways as we have all had to change the way we live every day, adapting to the new normal, all while trying to stay healthy and protect the ones we love. In addition to that, we all have growing concerns about how to avoid losing business, as we do our best to keep things on track as we navigate this new landscape.

The COVID-19 Effect on Marketing

It’s no secret that we all have dealt with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturing is just one of the many industries that have been hit hard by job loss. In fact, over the past few months, there have been more than 740,000 manufacturing jobs lost. The new normal has been a difficult time for all as we move through the seemingly endless new challenges. COVID-19 has done more than affect the job market, but it has also caused several other impacts and unanticipated hurdles to overcome.


A study completed by the National Association of Manufacturers in March found that 78.3% of manufacturers anticipate a finical impact. While that was early in our dealings with COVID-19, the clear takeaway is that we all braced for impact. Even with great anticipation for possible effects, we still fell well short of predicting the effects that we have seen today. In the same study, a little more than half of manufacturers reported an anticipated change in operations, and more than a third were already facing supply chain disruptions. As we know now, the real impact stretches well past those anticipatory numbers.

In a survey completed around the same time in March, across industries, 69% of respondents expected to have a decrease in advertising spend. When it comes to cutting budgets, marketing is usually one of the first to go, as it can feel non-essential in the grand scheme. However, marketing effectively, especially in times of crisis, can be beneficial in establishing a base for a future rebound.

Examples of COVID-19 Marketing

As we moved into the end of March, most of us were beginning our transition to working from home as the initial COVID-19 commercials began airing across the country. At this point, every company was dealt the same hand – find ways to communicate with our audience, customers, and employees our plan to keep people healthy and business moving along.

One example to highlight is Apple’s “Creativity Goes On” advertisement which features a lot of creativity. This ad, which was produced in only two weeks, does not actively sell you on anything at any point. Instead, they show the power of their products, what people can accomplish with them, and best of all, they found a way to show all of this while highlighting real things that people were doing to change the narrative of our early quarantine experiences. Being able to visually illustrate these new challenges in a positive light through real people’s experiences showcased true creativity – something we all can get inspired by.

In another example, Amazon highlighted action through their purpose-driven messaging tv-spot, showing exactly how they planned to take on the pandemic challenges. Amazon showed how quickly they were responding, adapting, and adjusting to the pandemic to provide peace of mind to their customers.

“All in this together” …Now What? 

Shown to highlight that early on, we all had to find a unique way to say the same thing – we are here for you, you matter to us – these examples highlight two different approaches for how to advertise during the pandemic. Amazon showed real action they were taking to keep employees and their families safe, while Apple reminded us there is always a way to find a positive.

Initially, consumers enjoyed hearing from companies. A recent study from the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that 43% of consumers found it reassuring to hear from brands. Also, 56% said they liked learning how brands are helping their communities during the pandemic, while only 15% said they would rather not hear from companies.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are only so many ways to say the same thing. Before long, each advertisement morphed into one single, unmemorable message with familiar buzzwords such as in times like these, unprecedented or now more than ever.

Telling your audience, “We’re there for you” was the correct first step for brands, but after everyone flooded the market with similar messages, drowning out yours, it left many asking, “what now?”.

The answer to this is simple – go back to marketing what makes your company unique. Use this time to look internally and identify things that you have always done differently, such as key competitive advantages or the thing that you hang your hat on. You can still build on these COVID-19 messages by highlighting on-going safety measures, inside looks at your company, and community involvement events that you are participating in. Ultimately, the marketing will become a mix of being sensitive to the on-going events, while reminding customers why they chose you to begin with.

As a brand, what you do today matters. Words matter. However, without action to accompany those purpose-driven statements, they are just words. Take the time to discover how to connect with your customers in meaningful ways. This helps your brand and improves your chances of being a company that does more than just survives, but one that thrives.

Refocusing Marketing Efforts, Even with a Quarantined Budget

In a year of great disruption, being nimble and resourceful is more important than ever. Marketing is certainly not excluded from that. Take this time to reexamine objectives for the new, short-term, and long-term outlook.

Again, when cutting budgets, the marketing budget is often the first to be reduced or eliminated, but at a time when you need to stay in front of your customers more than ever, this could be a short-term solution that does more harm than good in the long-term.

While marketing is an important tool for any business, the reality is that many have had to make cuts across the board, leaving many to wonder if you can still produce results with a reduced budget.  The answer depends, but we know that successful businesses are the ones that can find ways to position themselves to survive by adapting and changing their marketing efforts in turbulent times. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint, after all. A consistent presence over time delivers leads, increases sales, and builds your brand – all crucial for businesses to survive.

Historically, studies have proven this to be true. In one such study, McGraw-Hill Research analyzed 600 companies during the 1981-82 recession and found that those who continued advertising experienced significant growth throughout, and even beyond the recession – specifically, a 256% increase in sales over competitors who pulled back or stopped their marketing completely.

Before you pause marketing efforts, consider this time as the “The Great Reset” period, the time where you find new ways to adapt and refocus your efforts instead of losing your momentum. By reworking your strategy, you can plan for budget cuts and control expenses without losing your brand presence in the marketplace.

Ready to Get Started? – How to Kickstart Marketing Efforts

To be successful, especially on a limited budget, you have to be strategic in where you refocus marketing efforts. Some examples of areas to advance are email marketing, social media, and your company’s website.

Unsurprisingly, they all center around the same thing – digital marketing. Digital Marketing was rapidly growing before COVID-19. Now it is vital to adapt your marketing to be strong in this area as this continues to be the future of marketing.

With the surge in online usage, brands have to find meaningful ways to connect with their audience, and while there are many creative ways to do this, focusing on the areas highlighted can prove to be the most beneficial for the cost. Brands that do the best job of meeting their customers where they are, online, will see the best results moving forward. To do this, begin by auditing your website to ensure that it is optimized for SEO and user experience. Additionally, seek out new opportunities to create touchpoints through e-blasts or social media.

As we continue to move through the challenges presented by COVID-19, it’s important to remember the importance of staying active in communication. While it may seem like this would be a time to reduce messaging to your audience, it is the time to maintain your hard work and continue to build these relationships with your audience. Keep promoting your brand, highlighting what separates you from the competition, because the payoff of all of this hard work will be recognized.

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