As if struggling with COVID-19 wasn’t enough, earlier this month, 2020 threw yet another unprecedented event at businesses across the Midwest. A land hurricane, a.k.a. a derecho, with winds exceeding 100 miles per hour wreaked havoc across Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana. Cedar Rapids, less than 30 miles from our offices, was particularly hard hit.
Once again, marketers, brands, and businesses in these areas are being forced to pivot their marketing strategies and plans—some of which had only recently been updated based on the COVID outbreak.
We know adapting your marketing strategy yet again can be overwhelming. So, whether you are in charge of executing marketing in your organization, or are the glue that connects your company to an outside marketing partner, we hope this advice will make your job just a little easier right now.
Do I Need to Adjust My Strategy?
This is a question many businesses may be asking themselves right now. The answer is yes. The question is merely to what degree. Marketing (social media included) doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Both are heavily influenced by the world around you and your brand. Changes in your local community, state, or industry call for changes within your brand’s marketing and social media strategies in response. For example, continuing to post events and sales when people are going through a crisis can easily be read as insensitive, negligent, and even tone-deaf.
How to Get Started?
The most important thing is that someone steps up and leads. Whether that means taking your thoughts to your leadership team or reaching out to your marketing partner, don’t wait. It’s important to get a plan in place as soon as possible.
How to Adjust Your Strategy
As you work toward formulating a larger plan, your first action should be to pause your ongoing social media, promotional plans, and other marketing so you have time to evaluate and determine whether your upcoming content could be perceived as insensitive to the current situation. But then what? When should you hit unpause, and what happens when you do?
1. Know when to be silent on the topic at hand. Sometimes, saying nothing is better than saying something at all. Know when your brand can helpfully add to the conversation and know when to stay respectfully silent.
2. Know when to make a statement. Of course, there are times in which you should speak up. If you do, be sure you’re actually making a meaningful contribution to the conversation. Also, check that you’re contributing for the right reasons – i.e. not just jumping on the bandwagon because other brands are doing it and you feel like you should. Trust me – your consumers and followers can spot insincerity from a mile away!
If you do feel it is appropriate to say something, be sure you’re providing empathy, useful information, or both. Before posting, sending, or publicly releasing your statement, ask yourself, “If I was a customer, how would I react to this?” If your gut reaction is negative, it’s probably best to reevaluate.
3. Just because the competitor is doing it doesn’t mean you should be doing it, too. The first thing we often do in a time of uncertainty is look to those around us to see how they’re handling the situation. For businesses, that often means looking to competitors. The instinct is, “Oh, they posted something/released a statement – we should, too!”
Remember the old adage “If your friend jumps off a cliff, would you jump, too?” That applies here.
Instead of leaping ahead, we encourage our clients to take a step back and think about their response. Because we know at the heart, your brand is very different than your competitor’s brand. While it may seem like the competitor is “doing more,” that doesn’t mean they are doing it better or even right. Take the time to create something that is well-thought-out instead of just posting for the sake of having a presence. In scenarios like this, rushing often does more harm than good.
4. Regroup and build a revised strategy. Whether that means meeting internally or looping in the agency you partner with, building a revised plan is a must. Perhaps some of your old ideas, themes, or strategies can be adapted, and perhaps they need to be scrapped entirely to make way for a new approach. Readjust deadlines and brainstorm ideas for new content. Keep your brand pillars in mind so as not to lose sight of your brand identity.
The timeliness of the situation often calls for a sense of urgency when creating this plan. Every crisis has a different timeline – a few weeks for the derecho, a few months for the pandemic – so plan accordingly. Of course, no one can say with certainty when a crisis will end, so ensure your plan is flexible. A good plan can be stopped at any time or easily extended if the situation continues for longer than expected (looking at you, global pandemic).
5. Be relevant to the current situation, but don’t use the crisis as a selling point. It’s a fine line to walk, and it’s one you’ll be forced to walk as you create and execute your new plan. The pandemic provided all of us with many examples of what not to do. From KFC to Lysol, brands of all industries were accused of being insensitive or of profiting off of the pandemic.
This is where a system of checks and balances can come in handy. Run the proposed strategy or content by a handful of trusted people internally for a gut check. While this can’t prevent all gaffs (we’re amazed at some of the insensitive advertisements that still managed to make it to the light of day), it does help reduce the chance of a misstep.
6. Execute and evaluate your new strategy. Like any piece of marketing, it’s important to monitor your new strategy. During a time of crisis, however, the focus usually shifts from “Is our strategy generating traffic/clicks/ROI?” to “Is our strategy timely, helpful, and well-received?” For example, are your social media posts resonating with your audience, or are you getting backlash in the comments? Crisis plans are always changing, so be sure to adjust based on public feedback.
7. Keep the lines of communication open. Marketing is an ever-changing beast, especially during a time of crisis. Communication between marketers and their leadership teams or with your marketing partners is more important than ever. For those who work with an outside partner, a trusted marketing partner should act as an ally, using their expertise to help you navigate uncertain times with grace. They should help your brand avoid missteps that may open you up for backlash. And at the end of the day, they should keep your best interest at heart and your business goals in mind.
8. Return to your pre-crisis strategy with care. Feel like it’s time to ease back into your regular content? Check in with your leadership team and let them know your thoughts. Or, if you’re working with an agency, you should expect them to check in with and provide guidance. As the pandemic (and now derecho) has worn on, we touch base with each of our clients to gauge their comfort level with slowly returning to pre-crisis content themes. Some are more than ready to jump back into regularly scheduled programming, and some are more cautious. It’s our job to adjust accordingly. Of course, as the marketing expert, we can provide valuable insights and recommendations. But at the end of the day, client’s wishes should always lead the way.
Every crisis is different, so your brand’s response should be different, too. Need help adjusting your marketing or social media strategy during difficult times? Want help creating a strategy in the first place? Reach out and let’s chat!