In March, 2020, we were all hit with a tsunami of incredible proportions that no one saw coming. This wasn’t a normal economic business cycle. We have all navigated through market downturns and recessions, but we’ve never had to face a global pandemic.
The good news is that the end appears to be in sight. In the U.S., we are vaccinating nearly 2 million people per day. New cases are down by nearly two-thirds and hospitalizations have dropped significantly. Now that we are on the downward side of the curve, it might be the ideal time to consider lessons learned from this treacherous journey.
What can we glean from the past 12 months as it relates to our marketing efforts? There are six primary lessons we need to incorporate into our marketing plans as we continue to recover from lockdowns that all but closed our economic engine.
1. Don’t Wait for a Crisis to Clearly Define Your Marketing Strategy
Too often, a sense of complacency can develop when things appear to be going well and it is tempting to operate under the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. However, this leaves you unprepared to weather unexpected events, let alone something as drastic as the pandemic. You should always have a defined marketing strategy that clearly outlines your objectives, markets, message and tactics. Without this baseline, it is impossible to make informed shifts to handle unforeseen events and adjust to fast-paced changes in the market. If you cannot articulate what you were trying to achieve under normal circumstances, how can you determine what adjustments you need to make in a crisis situation?
2. Marketing is a Long Game and Requires Consistent Execution Over Time.
When the rolling lockdowns began to take hold in March and April of last year, the immediate reaction of too many organizations, both large and small, was to pull back. Stop hiring. Stop growing. Stop marketing. They forgot the power of marketing and the importance of communication. Rather than working to maintain communications with their markets and clients, many companies did the exact opposite – they went radio silent.
A better course of action would have been to evaluate the various marketing efforts that were underway and determine which ones were still relevant and appropriate during the pandemic. Adjustments undoubtedly needed to be made to tactics and messages, but remaining visible to your customers should have been an ongoing priority.
3. Different Circumstances Call for Different Tactics.
Having the ability to pivot as market circumstances change is critical to maintaining a marketing program that can continue to deliver optimal results in any business climate. We saw the business models of many companies change almost overnight as consumers moved to digital solutions in order to meet their needs. Your marketing message must be able to transition just as quickly and in the same direction as your business model.
Change in and of itself can be challenging, but rapid change at the pace we experienced in 2020 requires a strong marketing vision and a cultural willingness to adapt. Exploring new tactics, communication channels and messaging strategies are all key to coming out of the pandemic in a strong position of market leadership.
4. When You Don’t Know What to Say, Then Just Say That.
Many organizations struggled with what to communicate during the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, a strong message will reinforce your brand and relate to your audience. But during the pandemic, we had no point of reference. There was no past history to rely on to tell us what to say. We knew that continuing with the current message and acting as if nothing was happening was wrong. But what to say? That was the real dilemma. In many cases, organizations chose to simply say nothing or said the wrong thing. Sometimes you simply have to admit that you don’t know what to say, and then say just that. Think back and consider how refreshing that would have been to hear instead of silence or reactionary messages. Simply a communication of support and understanding.
5. Don’t Simply Repeat What Everyone Else is Saying.
During the pandemic, some companies said nothing. Some said a lot but none of it was relevant to what was happening. A few companies admitted they didn’t know what to say. Then there were those that simply repeated what everyone else was saying. How many times you heard the phrase “these unprecedented times?” How about “back to normal?” or the “new normal?” It seems that many companies simply got lazy and rather than trying to create relevant and meaningful dialogue, just decided to follow what others were doing. It is during difficult times that leading organizations often pull away significantly from their competitors by having a unique voice and message.
6. Lead Markets Forward.
Marketing communication should be about what can be, not what can’t be. It should be about where we’re going, not where we’ve been. It should have a heavy dose of optimism rather than pessimism. Much of the messaging that took place during the deepest part of the pandemic was dark and very negative. Perhaps because of the fact that we didn’t quite know what to say or that it was easier to be pessimistic. Whatever the case was, we needed the marketing world to bring us hope. Marketing teams had a wonderful opportunity to help lead the markets forward but many didn’t fully capitalize on that chance.
While we all certainly hope that an event of this magnitude is not something we’ll need to deal with again, the lessons learned from this extreme circumstance present a unique opportunity to prepare for the future. Creativity, leadership and ingenuity can stand up against the worst of times. These traits can help us deal with challenges and setbacks. Lessons learned are lessons earned.