The Importance of Digital Marketing During a Crisis

Categories: Resources

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City recently shuttered its doors due to COVID-19. In the wake of this decision, the museum asked its head of security, Tim, to take over some of the marketing team’s responsibilities—including social media postings. 

The museum did this because leadership understood the importance of still marketing during these uncertain times. In fact, digital marketing is more important now than ever before. So continuing social media was absolutely the right call on the part of the museum.

But the museum’s decision to entrust its social media campaigns to someone without experience was a bad call. Tim’s posts on Facebook are full of novice mistakes that could have easily jeopardized the museum’s standing and ranking. With 75,000 followers, the museum has a well-established presence—which could easily be undone by a mismanaged campaign. 

Fortunately for the museum, Tim’s inexperience is coming off as relatable and even endearing, but that’s a one-off. You can’t expect the same results if you put an inexperienced person in charge of your marketing at such a crucial time. What you can expect is the exact opposite: loss of customers, loss of ranking, loss of reputation. The same will result if you stop marketing in general.

Because so many people are stuck at home, screen time has gone up. Now is the time to focus on your digital marketing, as counterintuitive as that might seem. Why should you market, when people aren’t buying right now? Because marketing isn’t about right now; it’s about six months from now, three years from now. I know it might be hard to think that far down the road, but the truth is, the smart play right now is to focus on long-term brand building.  

Your decisions at this point have to be made with recovery in mind. Other economic fluctuations tell us that this situation will end, and when it does, it’s the companies that have eschewed short-term profits for long-term brand recognition that will be best positioned for growth. It’s possible for your company not only to survive this crisis, but to come out ahead, so long as you make smart marketing decisions, instead of responding with knee-jerk reactions that threaten your relationship with your customer.

Your clients need to see you’re online during this time, engaging with them via all your social channels. This helps you stay close to your audience, and keeps you front and center in their minds, so that when this is over, they turn to you. This is why it’s crucial for businesses to engage with their customers in ways that are authentic and meeting customers’ current needs in ways that don’t seem opportunistic. While this situation is scary, it’s also a chance for your business to thrive in the future.

When outdoor retailer REI made the decision to close its 162 retail stores, it posted a message explaining that while the physical stores would be closed, its online shopping option remained. Further, it offered free shipping for all on-line purchases, and made a commitment to increase communication through its co-op journal and Outdoor Forum. 

Then the company went one step further: it instituted the #REIChallenge, a call for followers to show how they were staying connected to the outdoors during this difficult time. The results were a slew of social media postings across all the company’s channels, showing people camping from home, walking their dogs and throwing up hammocks in their backyards—all of which REI employees replied to. Now REI isn’t directly profiting from sharing lists of indoor games you can play while social distancing or showing folks how to build a DIY hangboard for indoor exercising, but they are generating brand loyalty, and that will generate revenue in the future.

During slow times, you need a strong online strategy. Remaining active and relevant will safeguard your brand’s significance and integrity. You don’t want to be forgotten, which is exactly what will happen if you think you can pause your social marketing and just pick it back up in a few months with no loss to your ranking or reputation.

How companies react in times of upheaval says a lot about their corporate values. In today’s world of cancel culture, all it takes is one misstep to be named and shamed by your customers. Both Virgin Atlantic and GameStop are scrambling to recover from mistakes they made in their responses to coronavirus. 

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who helms the airline, was requiring his employees to take eight weeks of unpaid leave in response to reduced flight schedules. GameStop had remained open long after most retailers had closed, making the specious argument that because its products “enable and enhance...customers’ experience in working from home,” the company was providing essential services and should remain open. Both companies have subsequently changed their stances, but the damage is done.

On the other hand, smart companies know that right now is a chance to build brand equity in an unprecedented way. Companies who are reaching out to their employees and engaging in positive community relations are garnering priceless goodwill. Fireball Whisky is organizing the World’s Biggest Tip Jar to assist displaced service industry workers, through groups such as the USBG Bartender Emergency Assistance Program. Wegman’s Food Markets, a Rochester, NY-based grocery chain, is actually increasing pay for its employees during the COVID-19 outbreak as a way of recognizing its employees' hard work. 

While these sorts of gestures may be beyond your business’ scope, it’s important to let your customers know what you are doing. If you’re operating business as usual, or with reduced hours, you need to let people know. Make sure your Google My Business listing accurately reflects your hours of operation. If you’ve transitioned to ecommerce, send out a well-crafted email blast or newsletter. Maybe you’ve come up with a creative way to engage your customers until you can reopen. Are you a dance or music studio offering video tutorials? Are you a restaurant that’s started offering delivery services? Are you a hair salon instagramming hairstyles that can be recreated at home? Let your customers know.

At 360 PSG, we have the expertise to help you communicate with your clients in thoughtful, informative ways. Ask us how we can help your brand’s communication efforts or how to reshape your marketing strategies in this changing environment. We’ll come up with a unique strategy to help you maintain those crucial customer relationships in the present, and come out ahead in the future.

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