Advertising legend Bruce Barton is attributed with coining the phrase that many in the advertising world are turning to these days to advise their clients on how to navigate the coronavirus crisis.

“When times are good,” Barton said, “You should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.”

With businesses all but halted in many industries and sharply down in others, companies large and small are looking to cut costs. Often one of the first places to get the axe during a downturn is the advertising budget. No sense in urging cash-strapped consumers to spend money they don’t have, the thinking goes. Just take a look at the Great Recession of 2008-2009, when advertising spend declined 13 percent across the industry.

And yet, study after study has found that pulling back on marketing and advertising in the middle of a downturn is always the wrong move. On the contrary, downturns, though painful, provide opportunity for businesses to cut through the noise while the competition retreats.

Coronavirus has presented a unique set of business challenges that will require businesses to adapt. Those that seize the opportunity to stand out from the crowd will emerge stronger than ever.

“I have yet to see any study that preserves timidity is the route to success. Studies consistently have proven that companies that have the intelligence and guts to maintain or increase their overall marketing and advertising efforts times of business downturn will get the edge on their timid competitors.”

-J. Welsey Rosberg, Senior Vice President, Meldrum & Fewsmith

Understanding that marketing efforts must be maintained in a downturn, the question becomes how to reach your customers and with what message.

One certainty of Covid-19 is that many people are spending a lot more time at home. Online engagement and television viewership – both traditional TV and connected devices – are spiking. Already, hundreds of companies have slashed their digital marketing budgets as they attempt to weather the storm of forced shutdowns and economic stagnation, but smart marketers are ramping up their digital strategy to take advantage of the shift in consumer behavior.

As the U.S. begins down the road to recovery from the Coronavirus shutdown, new clients or customers may be more receptive to a digital introduction than a face-to-face meeting. Businesses that have been slow to adopt digital marketing tactics will do well to increase their voice online now, and to implement a digital-first customer acquisition funnel that doesn’t rely on face-to-face interaction.

Need a digital marketing strategy that works? Get in touch.

When it comes to messaging, step one is to review all your channels to make sure what you’re saying is appropriate given the current crisis.

You don’t need to try to inject yourself into the crisis or pretend to be something you’re not. The recent slew of “disastertising” has left some companies looking disingenuous. Las Vegas came out early with an ad that got the tone just right, but as more and more brands have piled on the wagon, the cacophony of “We’re here for you,” ads have grown tiresome. Work to make sure your customers don’t forget about you. Let them know how you’ve adapted, what you’re doing to keep everyone safe and how you plan to conduct business as the economy opens back up.

Clayton Reid, CEO of the multinational advertising giant MMGY Global summed it up like this: “I think by connecting what you really are as a brand – not pretending to be something else – and at the same time showing empathy and creating some kind of mechanism whereby you’re giving back in some way, gives the customer permission to feel better about your brand but also gives you relevance, as opposed to inventing something of empathy that isn’t really relevant or tone-appropriate.”

If you’re not advertising at all in hopes that things will return to normal sooner rather than later, ask yourself when that right time will be? Though some states have begun to reopen, no one know how long this virus will be with us not when life will return to “normal”. Wait too long to let your customers know what you’re doing and they’ll move on without you.

It’s possible that normal as we once knew it is gone and we’re all going to find ourselves conducting our lives and business a little differently going forward. Digital marketing is already the best way to effectively identify and reach your target demographic. If post COVID-19 world is one where more people shop, work, and relax from home (it will be), that will be even more true. Are you going to be there to meet them?

About Will Isern

Will Isern began his career as a journalist, working eight years in Pensacola media before joining the Appleyard Agency in 2019. Now he works daily to help agency clients craft and share their stories with the world.

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