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Pandemic Marketing? — How Brands React (Best Practices)


COVID-19 crisis is a real threat to (almost) every business.

The US National Retail Federation expects a 20% decline in sales within the U.S. retail sector over the next three months, putting 1.7M jobs at risk. Amazon, on the other hand, is hiring 100,000 new workers to keep up with the pandemic boom.

Restaurants, bars, and cafés get replaced too, by a few apps with a handful of trusted partners. Attempting to silently hide away during the next months, many traditional offline businesses may never reopen.

Here are five practical marketing actions that smart companies are already taking to survive the pandemic, and prepare for a successful reopening when the time comes.

Communicate Promptly & With Empathy

As most customers are already anxious, worried, or at least concerned about the global situation, external communication becomes particularly challenging.

Smart brands promptly publish all their updates on the relevant social media channels and try to keep a positive attitude in all their messaging.

Prada, for example, has kept its Chinese customers in the loop regarding any changes in store operations since day one. They used WeChat, the main social network in China, to notify customers about any postponed services and deliveries.

There is also a better way to communicate during crises than simple text and images that you can use. Of course, we’re talking about video! Here are some notable examples.


Thanks to Everyone Giving Their Best ❤ — Mercedes-Benz


Stay more open with video – Verstiuk Production


Our response to COVID-19 — Nestle


Searching For Properties From Home | Nicol & Co Covid19 Response


COVID Response: Calling Tech Companies to Join us with COVID-Bot


Stay Home PSA — COVID-19


COVID 19 Special Announcement — Central New Mexico Community College


A St. Patrick’s Day Message From Guinness | Guinness Beer

Live-video is, of course, the best format for crisis response videos. In tough times such as these, it’s particularly powerful to see chief executives and business owners providing clarity and reassurance for customers and partners.

On the flip side, if you are producing a tutorial or a short promo, animation can be a good alternative. And, in case you want to achieve a deeper human connection, but don’t have a great spokesperson available or lack the necessary filming equipment, stock footage can be used.


Videos can wait…

But your competitors will not! Make sure you don’t fall behind by skipping video marketing.

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Proving & Reinforcing Employer Brand

The inevitable economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will also disrupt the job market. Brands need to facilitate transparent internal communication and live up to their proclaimed corporate values.

One negative example here is Virgin Atlantic asking 8,500 workers to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave. For years prior to this, its CEO and billionaire Sir Richard Branson used to repeat that “clients do not come first, employees come first”.

Still, there are also companies that we can look up to during this ongoing COVID-19 crisis. For instance, Apple, Levi’s, and Lush committed to pay their employees despite global store closures. Amazon established a $25M relief fund for its seasonal workers and delivery drivers. Walmart now provides two extra weeks of paid sick leave for affected employees.

The next question that employees ask after “will I lose my job?” is “will I get sick at work?”. Official government guidelines can be out of date, confusing, or simply unknown to them. Your workers will have to adapt, but you need to instruct them first – clearly and consistently.

China has achieved such a success fighting the outbreak in part thanks to its proactive support of workers. For example, the largest local kitchenware manufacturer, Supor, issued strict practical guidelines for interactions across its facilities, instituted health checks, and prepared emergency plans just in time to prepare its employees.


Optimizing Marketing Budget For Long-term

All the best practices described above are good, but they will get your business nowhere if you spend the whole marketing budget too early.

For many companies now, that ‘whole budget’ is already slashed due to the market crash. Smart managers optimize it and invest in brand-building media.

There is an insightful article written by Joshua Spanier, Google’s global marketing VP for media, on how their team is optimizing marketing budgets for Google brands during this crisis.

Here are some of their ideas you might want to try in your marketing:


Creating & Expanding Online Channels

Most major events are being canceled or postponed across the globe. Customers disappear from the streets and instead flock together online more than ever. That’s where clever brands are reaching them now – with virtual events and e-commerce.

Adobe Summit has already been streamed as an online event in March. Google decided to go virtual with its Cloud Next conference too. And a few brave brands even started completely new events, such as Virtual Commerce with their answer to the ShopTalk retail conference.

However, before holding any virtual events, make sure that you have a website ready to handle and monetize the surging web traffic that those events might generate.

Les Petits Joueurs is a great example of a luxury brand in a highly affected region (Italy) taking a proactive approach to the rising popularity of e-commerce. They launched a digital showroom in Augmented Reality (AR), where clients can now try any product from home.

In China, one public company, Evergrande Real Estate Group, went as far as to use VR and offer full refunds to its online customers. They retrained their salespeople to work online, and in three days, they received 47,540 online house reservations, each with a down payment of $431. As a result, the company reached a $6.4 billion sales mark in February.

When improving your digital channels, it’s also crucial to create a comfortable online environment for your employees. At Verstiuk Production, we’ve been working remotely most of the time for three years already. In our experience, having a robust document sharing and collaboration system (in our case – GSuite), and a professional communication platform (e.g. Slack) is essential for operating online efficiently.

This COVID-19 crisis presents us with a unique opportunity for businesses to embrace digital transformation. Make good use of it!


Championing Cause Marketing

In perilous times like these, great brands make sacrifices and focus on customer loyalty, rather than quick cash. They are not boosting sales or launching sophisticated marketing campaigns. They are building trust by supporting relevant social causes.

Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, among many other companies of all sizes, are making efforts in support of the global COVID-19 response.

Apple committed to donate $15M to healthcare organizations in the U.S. and Europe, in addition to their two-to-one corporate matching for the donations coming from their employees.

Microsoft has made it’s Teams software free for all the national healthcare staff in the UK, and Adobe gives away two months of Creative Cloud access to students. In Singapore, a ride-sharing startup called Grab offers free rides for healthcare workers. Vauxhal and Airbus are now producing medical ventilators on their manufacturing lines.

In China, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) donated $2.2M and Richemont contributed its $1.1M to the Red Cross. Hubei Huanggang Agricultural Development Co. gave away 220 tons of vegetables to the families in Hubei Province. Alibaba Group donated $144M worth of medical supplies to hospitals.

Such acts of kindness can also be financially beneficial for your business in the long term. Studies done by The Academy of Management show a correlation between corporate philanthropy and financial performance.

There are no quick wins during a crisis, so your best shot is to aim for the long-term results.

Final notes

Every crisis eventually ends, and this pandemic will also pass. By being proactive in helping both your company and the general public, your brand can gain a strong reputation that will continue serving you years down the road.

Finally, we want to encourage you not just to follow some best practices, but to aspire to become an example that others will want to emulate.

Stay safe and successful!

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