7 Non-obvious coronavirus implications for marketing

coronavirus implications for marketing

As of this writing, the world is teetering on coronavirus calamity. Entire countries are shutting down, economies are stalling, households are imperiled. There are a lot of obvious implications for consumption, travel, eCommerce, and advertising. But here are seven non-obvious implications for marketing I am considering right now:

1. Are you relevant in this moment?

Please take a long, hard look at the goods and services provided by your business. If you are not absolutely relevant to the world as it is RIGHT NOW, simply putting your business online or holding a webinar isn’t going to help the situation.

This is the right now:

  • Many people are in, or will be entering, a state of shock and panic.
  • They are trying to figure out how to manage the kids at home and entertain them for hours on end. Unexpected time with kids produces new psychological and financial stresses.
  • They are isolated and bored.
  • Their routines are disrupted.
  • Thousands of people are being laid-off.
  • They are experiencing deep anxiety and even depression.
  • Important symbols of normal life — sports, festivals, concerts, conferences — are gone.
  • Millions of people no longer have viable businesses right now. They are losing their financial buffer quickly. For many people, the focus is making ends meet.
  • Our customers fear for what is next.

Here is a quote from The New York Times trying to capture the nation’s mood right now:

“This is life in a pandemic, when the emergence of the potentially fatal coronavirus has spawned strains of uncertainty: about the progression of the new virus, about the government’s response, about the open-ended nature of our altered lifestyles. About one another.

“The collective mind whirls. Will my mother in her quarantined nursing home be all right? Will my children get sick? Will there be enough hospital beds? Will we see the same high death rate as Italy’s? Do I just have a slight cold, or is it a sign of something else?

Now, that is our world and those are your customers. Ask this question with icy cold precision: “Does my business still matter in this environment?”

My guess is that for many of you, the answer is “no.”

I think this is among the most important coronavirus implications for marketing — your customers may not be interested in you right now no matter what you do. Working harder may not make a difference.

The world is sliding into a collective retreat, with tens of millions of people waiting for solutions to the problems caused by an invisible threat.

The next step is to dig deep and figure out what skills you can apply to the current situation and help find those solutions. How can you help people in an insanely helpful way with the resources at your disposal? I have some ideas below.

2. Safe, familiar, comfortable

In a time of unprecedented global stress, people will reach for the familiar to soothe themselves. As the psychological stress sets in, people will reach for comfort. Look for marketing opportunities in:

  • Baking, cookies, candy, and comfort food
  • Nostalgia
  • Blankets, pajamas, sweat pants, jigsaw puzzles, board games
  • Comedy
  • Old television shows and movies
  • Hobbies
  • Gardening
  • Crafts
  • Food and grocery delivery
  • Anything that represents a small, affordable luxury that can be delivered to the home

Examples of businesses that are re-framing to meet these needs of comfort and safety:

  • Concerned about our ability to keep the pantry stocked if we become locked in, we’ve subscribed to a service that delivers ready-to-cook meals through the mail. An affordable luxury that solves a problem!
  • A grocery store in Canada is making special accommodations to keep seniors safe.
  • U-Haul is offering free storage for college students who are being suddenly displaced.
  • A Portland distillery is turning their waste alcohol into free hand sanitizer.
  • A local ranch is losing business as restaurants shut down so they are offering to deliver fresh steaks to our door.

3. Content babies

Somebody observed that with so many people locked in, we will probably have a big surge in children being born nine months from now! Well, I see a similar thing happening with content projects that have been on the backburner.

With more time at home, one of the coronavirus implications for marketing folks is that a lot of passion projects that were on hold — a book, podcast, or video series — will become a priority. Look for a swarm of significant new “content babies” in the next weeks and months.

I’m not telling you to NOT pursue your passion project, but I think this is probably the worst possible time to launch something new … because everybody will be launching something new. I would consider it this way:

  1. Is this core to my business (and if it is, why didn’t you do it before?)
  2. Is this sustainable once everything goes back to normal?
  3. Is this the best place to devote considerable resources right now?
  4. I am producing a product of substance or a product out of panic?

My friend Tom Webster of Edison Research studies podcast consumption trends and wrote this:

“I’ve seen people assume that podcast consumption will go up as we have all of this time at home. I wouldn’t make that assumption.

“COVID-19 represents a giant disruption in people’s patterns, and those patterns include how podcasts fit into their typical day, which for now doesn’t exist. If you used to listen to podcasts on your commute, well, many of us aren’t commuting. And while we now have all of this time at home, many of us (myself included) now unexpectedly have kids at home, which doesn’t exactly leave much time for podcasts.

“As we’ve seen with other significant world events and disasters, media patterns disrupt in unpredictable ways, like a snow globe being shaken up. 

4. Dressing down

As soon as the virus reality took hold, people were posting photos and videos saying “Look at me! I’m working from home!”

And they all looked … to put it politely … disheveled.

Working from home provides permission to not groom or wear makeup. To wear sweat pants and t-shirts. To celebrate unkempt. I recently posted an Instagram story about how I did not bathe that day. And it showed.

One of the coronavirus implications for marketing is that consumption of make-up, hair products, and grooming products luxury will take a big dive. But I wonder — coming out of this crisis, will there be some new fashion sensibility based on practicality and comfort?

I recently posted about this new trend of “cottage core” driven by celebrities who have escaped the city for pandemic-free country living. Their Instagram pictures are inspiring a bucolic sensibility that is extending to food, fashion, and design.

Who would have thought that the coronavirus would inspire a significant design and fashion trend? Be on the lookout for more ideas like this?

5. A desperate rush to produce

There are millions of speakers, meeting organizers, event planners, hospitality professionals, and consultants who suddenly, and dramatically, have no work.

Among my friends in this industry, there is outright panic right now. Survival mode is kicking in and there is a desperation to produce something — anything — that can be sold online.

Over the next few weeks, there will be an unprecedented number of online classes, webinars, and virtual conferences designed as patches for the problem.

We’ll be entering a period of online meeting overload. This will be very good for companies like Zoom and GoToMeeting!

So think through this carefully. The world is about to be inundated with classes, webinars, and online conferences. What is your role in a world of too much? How do you cut through this new clutter?

Another important thing to think through: People are accustomed to receiving content and webinars for free. With so many people suffering or out of work, will people pay for your content?

6. Explosion of innovation

As I was heading home on what will probably be my last airline flight for a very long time, I overheard a man on his phone. “We are going to have to re-think everything,” he said.

Indeed.

The beauty of our capitalist economy is its endless fortitude and inventiveness. When faced with business disaster, the most creative and competent will survive and thrive with new business models and services that will become part of a new post-virus way of life.

Pay close attention. In the next few weeks, people will combine online technologies in interesting new ways that will make you say, “Wow! I never thought of that.”

This is going to be exceptionally interesting as it relates to ads. Big ad shoots are being canceled. How will brands get their messages out through a stay-at-home creative workforce?

Don’t just use technology to do the same thing in a different way. Use technologies in creative new ways to dispense unique value.

7. Dispensing hope

Fear is contagious. So is hope.

One of my favorite leaders from the corporate world had a little sign on his desk that said “Leaders Dispense Hope.” He told me he thought this was the most important aspect of leading his organization.

A world of dramatic change and uncertainty will certainly spawn anxiety in an organization. It’s important to provide a steadfast vision and encouragement in that environment to get the most from your team. Being a great marketing leader might mean dispensing hope in the face of a constant hurricane.

I think being an effective leader in this environment means committing to a message of hope.

And with that, I’d like to share with you what is on my whiteboard today:

coronavirus implications for marketing

What I mean by “be the hand” is, don’t just “lend” a hand. Sometimes you have to BE the hand. You have to be the change.

The coronavirus implications for marketing professionals are daunting and scary. Be well and let’s stay connected. We’re all in this together.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and COO for B Squared Media. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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