Marketing through changing times

There are no marketing textbooks for times like these. In every market, businesses and brands are having to feel their way through the crisis and reinvent themselves along the way. Let's explore some inspirational examples, and look at one or two steps you can take to help your business get through this.

1 Run a global marketing audit

As an exporter, you'll know the importance of adapting your marketing messages to each market. With the pandemic now present in over 200 countries1, there's a high chance some or all of your markets will have been affected, so it's important you reevaluate your materials accordingly. For example:

  • Check the language and tone of your ads and other materials. Billions of people are affected by the virus, and many are in lockdown, so you'll need to consider your customers' mindsets and be sensitive to what they're going through.
  • Is your imagery still appropriate? If your ads and other materials show people embracing, high-fiving, or in large gatherings you may want to make a few changes in light of social distancing laws.
  • Do you have events planned? Even if your market's not in lockdown, delegates may feel less inclined to attend. If you need to postpone the event, give folks plenty of notice and be clear on the next steps.

2 Be a source of truth and positivity

In the throes of a global pandemic, this clearly isn't the time to be talking about customer segmentation, product launches and marketing plans. For now, be brand-focused rather than product-focused — and explore ways to create deeper relationships with customers in each market and serve the needs of humankind as a whole1.

For example:

  • Unilever have donated €100 million worth of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to people in need across the world, with €50 million set aside for the COVID Action Platform of the World Economic Forum.2
  • PepsiCo have committed $45 million to help combat the impacts of COVID-19 worldwide, including protective gear for healthcare workers and support for food-banks.3
  • Airbus employees from around the world have used 3D printers to make COVID-19 response equipment, including headbands and frames for protective face shields. They've also transported millions of face masks from China to Europe, to be used by hospitals and health-care workers.4
  • Brewer AB InBev have manufactured and donated hand sanitiser and disinfectant alcohol liquid for frontline workers and hospitals globally. They've also donated alcohol to South African brewers, to help them manufacture their own hand sanitiser.5

3 Empathise with people and give comfort

More than ever, across each market, people value products, services and organisations that can help lower their anxiety, reduce risk, and provide a sense of safety.1

As such, reevaluate everything your business does in light of these new priorities. Ask yourself: does this action or communication deliver against these three needs? If not, don't do it — as it will likely be ignored or potentially make your audience even more anxious.2 Be mindful that values and priorities can vary by market - depending on cultural norms and where they are in the pandemic.

A great example is Louis Vuitton in China, who posted a heartfelt social media message that resonated perfectly with its audience.3

4 Go virtual

In the first week of the crisis, online car sales in China actually increased, despite overall car sales declining. In other words, although much of the world is locked away in their homes at the moment, there are virtual alternatives that can help you maintain connections with your customers.1

From yoga classes and beauty consultants to garden designers and kids' singing classes,2 businesses are creating new websites or using video call technology to repurpose their offering for a newly-isolated customer base.

Museums3 like the world-famous Musée d'Orsay in Paris, London's Natural History Museum, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam now offer a wide range of interactive 'walk-around' tours where you can often zoom into artefacts and and get closer than you ever could in real-life.

And in China, companies like Taobao and Alibaba ran a 'no meeting concert'4 where popular artists live streamed their sessions to housebound audiences. The event attracted an online audience of 4 million, and raised money for medical personnel.

5 Recognise new social norms and add value wherever possible

The upheaval caused by coronavirus is forcing people to adapt to their changing circumstances, make different decisions, and form new routines. As a business, consider how and where you can respond and add value to the new reality billions of people now find themselves in - and tailor this to each market.

For example, with so many people now spending all their time at home, can your brand or business help them feel good about the way that time is spent? A great example is IKEA, which has produced their 'Stay home catalog'1 – a printable kids' colouring booklet playfully disguised as one of their regular home furnishing catalogues.

If your business can find a way to be actively present and genuinely helpful to people in these difficult times, you stand a better chance of emerging with a more committed and loyal fan base — and in a strong position for future growth.

6 Utilise the latest consumer and industry insights

One thing is clear during COVID-19 – change is a constant. Use consumer insights to drive your learnings to guide your marketing for each region. Check out some useful resource below: