Marketing During an Outbreak: 6 Dos and Don’ts to Survive Coronavirus

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To market, or not to market: That is the question when it comes to marketing during an outbreak.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have already been so profound that many businesses have been questioning whether it is worthwhile or appropriate to continue with their regular marketing activities.

Their concern is understandable. But we’re firmly of the view that the right kind of marketing remains essential, not just for the good of businesses but for wider society as well.

That said, it’s certainly more important now than ever to pay close attention to the type and tone of your marketing campaigns.

So we’ve put together some simple dos and don’ts for marketing during an outbreak that may be helpful.   

Dos and Dont’s for Marketing During an Outbreak

1. Don’t – Profiteer

By now we’ve all seen the pictures of supermarket shelves emptied of many of the necessaries of life – scenes that just a few short weeks ago were unimaginable in the developed world.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 8: Supermarket bread aisle is sold out at a local grocery store.

Some of this panic buying may be understandable, albeit unnecessary, but it’s much harder to forgive the behavior of those who are buying in bulk in order to resell at a quick profit or those businesses who increase their prices to exploit public anxiety.

Like the wartime black marketeers, individuals and businesses found to have done this will incur the deep and lasting contempt of the public.

And in the age of social media, the reputation and goodwill of a business, which may have taken years to build, can be irrevocably destroyed in an instant; making irrelevant any short-term profits that may have been made.

So, quite apart from any considerations of morality or social conscience, this behavior makes very little sense from a business point of view.

2. Don’t – Use Fear-Based Marketing Campaigns

Fortunately, blatant profiteering of this kind is probably relatively rare. But more sophisticated attempts to exploit the crisis are also best avoided.

For example, while it’s true that successful marketing requires the stimulation of an emotional response in the prospect, and that fear can be one of the most powerful motivators, it should only be used ethically, and in relation to relevant products and services.

Use the fear tactic sparingly while marketing during an outbreak.

Making reference to the pandemic to try and stimulate a general sense of anxiety in the hope that this may lead to “comfort buying”, may bring some sales in the short-term, but it is likely only to irritate and drive away your prospects as they become accustomed to the new situation.

3. Do – Show a Social Conscience      

This public health and economic crisis is also an opportunity to position your business as a caring and socially responsible brand.

Marketing during an outbreak

If you’re a brick-and-mortar business that has remained open, how about seeing if you can arrange to deliver to customers who can’t make it into the store. Or setting aside some opening hours for particularly vulnerable groups.  

Subject to your own financial position, you might also be able to offer some free bonuses, giveaways or discounts. And for online businesses operating a recurring payment or subscription model business, you could consider offering payment holidays to customers who may be having difficulty meeting their commitments.

This might mean a temporary reduction in your monthly income, but that’s preferable to having customers cancel and then incurring the cost of trying to win them back.

Word of mouth, moreover, remains one of the most cost-effective of marketing methods, and a little consideration for your customers will go a long way towards building the reputation of your brand.

4. Do – Step Up Communications

One of the most important aspects of marketing during an outbreak is communication.

The success of all of the above measures depends on communication with your customers. And at a time of drastically reduced direct contact, it’s all the more important that you take all possible steps to stay in touch by other means.

For online businesses, this ought to be straightforward.

Now is the time to make the maximum possible use of your email lists of customers and prospects and continue Marketing during an outbreak, albeit a little differently.

Not to send out a stream of sales messages, but to explain how the coronavirus has impacted your business, the measures you are taking to keep your staff and customers safe, and to provide any other valuable content you may have to offer.

For bricks and mortar stores and services, the task may be more challenging. But there are still things you can do. Depending on your budget you could put out good old-fashioned fliers, place local newspaper ads or even try local radio.

And if you don’t yet have a presence on the major social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, now is definitely the time to start building your profile.

5. Do – Carry On Marketing

Let’s face it, marketing often gets a bad rap at the best of times.

So marketing during an outbreak can be tricky.

Dubious ethics, over-hyped or even downright false claims and annoying pop-ups are just a few of the obvious ways in which the industry so often alienates customers and prospects. And saturation levels of promotion can make even the most appropriately targeted and high quality online and TV commercials a source of resentment rather than sales.

So it might seem that a time of unprecedented international crisis would be just about the worst time to be talking about marketing strategies, let alone launching new campaigns.

But this would be a mistake.

The pandemic now seems likely to cause a slump on the scale of those of the Great Depression and the financial crisis of 2008.

So, intelligent, ethical and appropriate marketing is needed now more than ever to ensure the survival of the high-quality businesses that will power the economic recovery when it comes.

6. Do – Take the Long Term View

That said, you may not be able to carry on marketing in exactly the same way.

In anxious times it’s natural for people to cut their spending on all but essentials.

And there’s already evidence of substantially reduced returns on pay-per-click and other direct marketing campaigns. So it may not be sensible to continue with these kinds of short-term activities, particularly if your marketing budget has been substantially reduced.

Conclusion: Marketing During an Outbreak

The Coronavirus crisis is a great opportunity to deploy more general, brand-building, content-led campaigns that position your business as a socially responsible concern. To keep your brand front of mind with your customers, without pressing for sales, is a difficult trick to work.

But it will be worth the effort.

This recession is likely to be one of postponed rather than inadequate underlying demand, and the recovery when it comes will offer well-positioned businesses some spectacular opportunities.

    Jeramy Gordon is the founder and Chief Content Officer at the Lorem Ipsum Company. He has been creating successful content strategies for almost two decades and believes in the power of high-quality content. He lives in Orange County, California, with his wife and two children.

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