Jeff Keleher

The world has come to a virtual standstill in response to the novel coronavirus: Governments have issued quarantines, businesses have closed up shop and people have stopped going outside for anything beyond the bare essentials.

With so much disruption and uncertainty, businesses might consider scaling back their marketing efforts, if not putting them on hold entirely. That is the wrong move, even as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the globe. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that businesses maintain an online presence and continue to practice customer outreach while this crisis carries on.

Traditional marketing channels suffer in the wake of a public health crisis

With life as we know it quickly changing, marketing strategies need to adapt to maintain brand awareness and customer engagement. Many traditional marketing channels have dried up as government agencies, businesses, organizations and consumers do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Billboards, bus stop ads and other forms of signage aren’t going to be terribly effective if no one’s on the street to see them.

Event marketing is also largely out of the question. Many of the leading B2B conference organizers have cancelled their 2020 events. HIMSS, Cisco Live and the Gartner Marketing Symposium are just a few of the heavy hitters that have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. Some conferences are pivoting to virtual experiences to replace their live events, but it remains to be seen what marketing opportunities they will present.

Print ads could also be a non-starter for businesses: Consumers may be more wary of handling direct mail, brochures and flyers during a pandemic. And that’s to say nothing of sales teams that carry out much of their work on the road, relying on face-to-face meetings to win over prospects and close deals.

Digital marketing offers a way forward for those who have seen their 2020 marketing plans go up in smoke.

Why digital marketing can help businesses during critical times

These are trying times for businesses, and we all need to remain flexible to continue running effectively while the coronavirus spreads across the world. Digital marketing enables brands to stay connected with existing customers and prospects, and keep their sales pipeline stocked with leads.

With millions of people confined to their homes, online and digital touchpoints remain the best ways to connect with target audiences. Several internet providers have reported significant network usage increases over the past few weeks. Verizon, for instance, saw a 20% spike in internet traffic within a 7-day period in mid-March.

Social media platforms have also experienced an uptick in user activity during the coronavirus crisis. Twitter recently reported a 23% increase in monetizable daily active users in the first quarter of 2020. Many quarantined people are flocking to Facebook and its associated apps to stay in touch with friends and family and keep tabs on the developing situation. Facebook officials stated that Italian users are 70% more active on Facebook applications since the country was placed in a nationwide lockdown.

People are looking for ways to connect with the outside world, and savvy brands can help deliver the kind of meaningful engagement digital users crave.

What types of marketing activities should brands be using?

There are a wide variety of digital marketing strategies businesses can employ during this crisis:

  • Social media marketing to engage followers and share lighthearted content to keep their spirits up.
  • Email marketing to let customers and prospects know what your brand is doing to address the coronavirus.
  • Blogs and articles to educate readers about the impact of COVID-19 on a particular industry.
  • Videos to highlight brand support for local businesses, communities, essential employees and health care workers.
  • Virtual webinars to reach out to prospects, keep them engaged and give them some thought-provoking content to digest while they’re confined to their homes.

From what we’ve seen, a lot of people and businesses are trying to stick to their normal routines as much as possible. Companies are still humming along even as their employees work remotely. Consumers, meanwhile, are looking for diversions while also seeking reassurance that we’ll get through this and life will go on.

Brands can be a stabilizing force, provided that their messaging and tone is on point.

What consumers expect from brands during a crisis

Effective marketing during any crisis – and certainly during a public health emergency – requires a deft touch. Tone is everything, and you don’t want to appear either too glib or too grave while the pandemic continues.

Review your marketing campaigns and tweak any activities that might appear inappropriate given the current circumstances. Content that might have been innocuous just a few weeks ago might appear tonedeaf and out of touch. Ignoring coronavirus entirely is definitely not the way to go.

You should assuage any fears your customers may have about service delivery and product safety. Being responsible and transparent now will pay off in the long run as businesses build trust with their customers.

That being said, don’t oversell your response to the coronavirus. Not all industries are going to be as heavily affected as others, and exaggerating your efforts will come across as self-serving and self-aggrandizing. Promoting your brand’s support for essential workers, local businesses, charities and health care workers is a good idea, but make that content all about them and not about you.

Above all else, listen to your audience. Hear your customers’ concerns and take actionable steps to address them. Let people know you’re working to make whatever small contributions you can to help slow the spread of COVID-19, even if that means business suffers in the short term.

Digital marketing is not a panacea for businesses struggling during the coronavirus crisis. But it will help brands stay connected to customers and prospects, minimize the fallout from COVID-19 and weather the storm.

How is your business responding to the coronavirus crisis? Share some of your successful strategies in the comments section below.