Marketing during a global pandemic. There’s no playbook, no one you can go to who has done it before. You and everyone else in the world are trying to answer the same million dollar question: what’s the right way to do it?
We sat down with marketing professionals Sydney Roe, CMO of b atomic; Dani Kimble, CMO of O’Neill Insurance; and Olivia Schmitt, Director of Marketing and Communications at Total CSR, to see if we could get somewhat close to an answer.
But before you can even begin to answer that question, you have to break down the basics of marketing.
“There’s a lot of different stories you’re telling: you’re telling your own story, you’re telling the agency’s story, and you’re telling the industry’s story,” says Syd Roe. Pointing out that marketing in an industry such as insurance is completely different compared to that of a company like Facebook. In insurance, you have to compete with that stigma that insurance is old, it’s boring, and it’s not “sexy.” You’re not telling a new story, you’re refreshing an old one.
So, how do you begin retelling a hundred year old industry’s story? Let us explain.
The specialists all agree on one key thing: knowing your audience.
“Every audience is going to be a little different for every company, even if they’re in the same industry,” Olivia commented, “if you don’t recognize that, you could tell your story to the wrong audience. You need to understand who they are, what their pain points are, and what you can do to help. What you can do to share their story.”
Once you know your story and the audience you’re trying to tell it to, you want to focus on your messaging. People are looking for the human connection they now lack in their everyday lives. Now, more than ever before, it is important businesses bring their messaging down to that human to human level.
“Oozing authenticity allows people to better connect with you and your brand. An audience can sense BS easily and will instantly be put off,’ Olivia explained.
Dani added, “You have to unify your team around a shared vision. Your culture will become your brand; when your culture is weak, your brand is weak.” You market to your people as much as you market to the community. If your fellow employees aren’t brand ambassadors within your business, how can you expect others to be?
Now let’s get back to the idea of doing all of this messaging and branding during a global pandemic.
Obviously, not all your pre-pandemic marketing strategies will work the same in the current environment.
Dani re-evaluated past marketing strategies to see what didn’t work before, but could maybe work now. While their past postcard campaign didn’t impress their target market at that time, we’re in an age where people are home all the time. Customers are checking their mail more, they don’t have as much interaction with companies and are looking for those personal touches to make them feel normal again. Postcards might just work.
Syd’s overall strategy didn’t change, but the biggest change came from the inability to go to conferences. Which circles back to the importance of “beefing up” your digital marketing with that human touch.
Reading the audience well is a strength of Olivia’s: right now is not the time to be going in for the hard sell. It’s a matter of being able to bring consumers information that is useful or entertaining. Something that says, “We miss you and we’re here to support you.”
Businesses recognize that there are different paths you can take for messaging during a time like this: you can ignore what’s going on in the world all together, you can provide empathy and address that it’s a hard time, or you can try to be funny and take consumers minds off of the current situation. Where should businesses fall in this?
People’s emotions are very complex right now. The only way to pinpoint all of those feelings is to reflect some of that complexity into your marketing. Syd highlights that you shouldn’t be tone deaf to what’s happening around you, but instead touch certain emotions at different times that you, and everyone else, are feeling.
“Giving people a chance to take a break from COVID-19,” says Dani, “keep it positive, light, and not directly referencing COVID-19, but sensitive to and acknowledging this is the life we are living right now.” Show them how you are going to get through this together.
“You have to look through the lens of the audience: would this make me feel better, would this offend me, would I see this as flat, or would I see this as meaningful?” That’s how Olivia has viewed all of her marketing decisions throughout this pandemic. “The information you provide them should be accurate and helpful.”
Our own Marketing Specialist, Alex Eisenhardt, made a good point, “people like to know that a company is a person too, not just a logo.” People might connect with a logo initially, but people are looking for people. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, it is more important now than ever to find ways to build those deeper relationships that people crave.
With the discussion centered around crafting the right message, we had to address a huge missing element from our marketing strategies: conferences. How we feel about them being canceled, or turned digital, and how our marketing and messaging has changed because of it.
While you might wonder how to get those people the same amount and quality of information and educational content, Syd has a different view on it, “People care about the information download, but what they care more about is being inspired to act.”
We agree that while educational content is a huge component of conferences, the arguably bigger value is networking. Olivia believes that recreating that same socializing environment is going to be a challenge, but trying different things and seeing what resonates with your audience is the only way you can find the method to succeed.
One way to gauge what resonates with your audience is being aware of your analytics. The ability to dig in and understand your analytics will allow you to learn so much more about what it looks like behind the scenes. You’ll find out what your audience actually wants and what you should do more of.
So, what is the answer to the million dollar question? Well, I think Dani said it best.
“We’re all in the same boat, and nobody knows the right answer. We are all taking risks, chances, and trying things. And it’s okay to fail.”