A Guide to Digital Marketing During the COVID-19 Crisis
Many businesses agree that we are in uncharted waters, facing an unprecedented crisis that is constantly evolving. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but there are a few things we are recommending for our clients that we’d like to share.
Some of the Biggest Opportunities Right Now:
- If you are a brand that has recently had to cancel bookings / shows, etc. you are more than likely going to want to be in crisis communication mode vs. direct response mode. (More on this below.)
- If your brand is being leaned on to supply high in-demand goods and services (e.g. egg delivery or cleaning supplies), this may be a good time to lean into your direct response marketing efforts.
- The world is going to look different on the other side of this thing. This is the time to marshal your resources, work on your marketing plan, get your foundational marketing right, and get ready to hit the ground running once the virus starts to abate.
What Brands Should Be Doing: Our Experts Weigh In
During any crisis, it’s essential to evaluate which digital marketing channels you should be leveraging and which you should be pulling back on. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all strategy. However, there are some areas most brands can quickly evaluate to determine where you need to put time and energy.
Here are a few channels that offer quick insights into how you should approach this crisis:
- Social Comments & DMS: What kind of feedback are you getting on social media? What are you seeing competitors get on their feeds?
- Social Listening: What is trending on social, especially around your brand or industry?
- Paid Search: Since the crisis started, how do your metrics look? Any areas or product lines doing a little better? Anything doing a little worse and should be scaled back on?
- Email Marketing: Do you have automated emails going out? Are you seeing a decrease in subscribers or other adverse actions?
- Google Analytics: How is your website content performing? Are you getting more traffic to specific pages that provide insight into how your audience is thinking right now?
If you find yourself needing to do crisis communication online, here are a few guidelines we recommend. A big thanks goes to Michelle Ellis of Ellis Communications for collaborating with us on this list!
First things first: it’s time to launch your Crisis Communications Plan. If you have a crisis communication plan in place, it’s time to update and implement it. If you don’t have one, try to take the time to create one while doing this. Think about the worst-case scenario when you are developing this. Below, we share some steps to help you create and execute your crisis comms.
- Establish your crisis communication team: There should be people in charge of the official communication. If you don’t have a team in place, some roles need to be assigned, including:
- (1) strategist
- (2) analyst
- (3) content specialist
- Create communications guidelines: What are the company’s mission & values? All content going out needs to stay true to those values. What communications make sense in light of those values, and what does not make sense?
- Avoid COVID-19 information if possible: We’re having an “info-demic” (there’s too much information on coronavirus at this point, and it’s confusing). If you want to curate content about the virus, you need at least two reliable sources and you have to keep tracking the information throughout the day for any changes in data.
- Be very careful of your promotions: We recommend content that is sensitive, tasteful, and avoids heavy advertising. For example, this is not a great time for a COVID-19 19% off sales.
- Stay positive: Try to keep your messaging as updated and as positive as possible.
- Internal collaboration: Sometimes, a team member isn’t as up to date on what’s happening. Try to establish collaboration mechanisms, so the digital team knows the latest on industry updates and the company’s stance. This makes for easy updates and fewer mishaps.
- Process for monitoring: In this environment, information is becoming obsolete within a few hours and negative comments are rampant. Regular monitoring is critical, so make sure you have chosen team members who are on it.
- Review ALL content: Review your outgoing content through the lens of a person who is reading it in today’s climate and be empathetic to how they are feeling right now. Even the most well-intentioned posts can miss the mark now.
Here are some significant messaging guidelines for the next few weeks:
- Don’t be tone deaf – this is the time to get away from business as usual and marketing as usual.
- Tone – This situation has escalated quickly and is very serious. Try to be empathetic, helpful, sympathetic, and positive. Try to avoid being light-hearted or comical about the seriousness of the situation. There are still opportunities for tasteful humor if that is a core pillar of your brand.
- People over Profit – The general sentiment on social media currently is that this isn’t the time to focus on making money; it’s the time to focus on helping people. If you are going to continue to run ads and promote your brand, you should review your messaging through a people-first lens.
- Give People Something to Do – A lot of people are heartbroken to see businesses being devastated in their communities, and they are panicking about “community spread” of the virus. Anything you can do, whether it’s asking people to buy gift cards to save your store or sharing resources that help your customers get through these trying times, is invaluable.
Tactics to be Wary Of For the Next Few Weeks
Again, this isn’t one-size-fits-all, however, here are some tactics that can go wrong quickly.
- Email Marketing – Email communications need to be carefully evaluated at the moment. There are a few types of emails that should go through greater scrutiny, including promotional emails, unnecessary COVID-19 update emails, humblebrag emails.
- Paid Ads – A lot of people are in a state of flux and concern right now. A lot of brands are gearing back their paid media spend for the next few weeks, based on how their ads are performing. Regardless if you decide to scale back or not, it probably makes sense to at least keep a branded campaign running for people who still need your services or product.
- No-Change to Social Content – It’s probably not ideal to go dark, but suffice it to say that all of the content you were planning on posting in March likely needs to be pulled and re-evaluated. For example, those once safe posts about eating out or the NCAA tournament aren’t a good idea anymore. For the next few weeks, you should be evaluating:
- Post Content
- Post Tone
- Hashtags you are using
- Post Frequency
- Conversion Rate Optimization – In general, CRO is a fantastic way to improve and work on your website fundamentally. However, in the next few weeks, your data will be very skewed and likely not what you want to make long term decisions. If you can review old data to make small improvements, that may be a good idea. However, this isn’t a great time to launch a CRO campaign where you will be actively A/B split testing content and looking for winners.
Tactics to Lean Into For The Next Few Weeks
Assuming you aren’t a food delivery or essential good brand, there are a few tactics that make sense to work on right now. There are some big opportunities to get the foundation of your market in better shape so that you are ready to hit the ground running when the crisis begins to fade. Additionally, we are seeing a huge increase in research-based search. Focusing on creating and promoting educational content can be a potent tool right now.
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Reviewing Analytics & content stats
- Beef up your educational content
- Optimize content based on trending keyword opportunities
- Perform a technical review of your website & address red flags
- Incorporate advanced optimization techniques on top pages (e.g., Featured Snippets)
- Review & beef up your Google My Business Profile if you haven’t done so recently
- Ask your best customers for reviews
- Content Marketing
- Set a content strategy & editorial calendar for the rest of the year
- Find gaps in the content on your site (e.g., case studies or testimonials) and create a plan to fill in those gaps
- Quick publish any content that is relevant, useful and timely for the crisis
- Stockpile additional content for publishing once the crisis abates
- If you have been thinking about launching an educational webinar series, this might be the time to put some energy here.
- Social Media Marketing
- Use this time to refocus on lifestyle marketing
- Increase social media monitoring and inbound engagement (responding to DMs and comments)
- Publish content about the safety of your employees and clients and real-time information about important things like store closings.
- Marketing Automation
- Review how your automated programs are performing and make tweaks
- Create drip program templates for when the crisis abates
If you need help with any aspect of digital marketing, please connect with us – we are happy to help.
More than ever, we wish you a ton of success with your marketing efforts in general and please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or to bounce ideas off us.
Stay safe, stay sane and hang in there, we’re all in this together!