Reframing relevance

The last two weeks have been quite a shock, and will continue to challenge our ability to adapt for the foreseeable future. Amidst the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic, and business models being completely upended, is the very human element – fear, livelihood, and health of family, friends and loved ones.

I’ve done a couple “virtual happy hours” these past weeks (a number of you have attended – so fun!), and have been in touch with many more colleagues, clients and friends by phone. What has become so apparent is that for businesses to survive now, they need to “reframe relevance”. Overnight, some offerings have become irrelevant in the new consumer reality.

Tossed into that is our collective grief for the “time that was” in our very recent past. We, along with our customers are moving through stages of grief: denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. Grief isn’t always linear, but ultimately acceptance is the place we need to reach in order to begin to reframe. The same goes for our customers. Marketing that worked 2-3 weeks ago, is out of touch with the current reality. It’s like trying to sell at the funeral.

The marketing industry is catching up, but normal cycles of creative production and planning are much longer than two weeks, so the mistakes out there are sometimes comical, but also damaging, since by default companies are essentially advertising how insensitive they are right now with old messages.

PLEASE, if you have scheduled content on a platform like Hootsuite, or scheduled ads on Facebook and Instagram, STOP THEM now! Go in and see what’s there, then evaluate it daily for appropriate context in a shifting environment. And while you’re at it, perhaps view your planned creative from a future tense. Will that message still be appropriate a couple weeks from now? If not, perhaps consider revising it, since campaigns remain live past their launch, and will always be viewed from a current context. Here are some examples of what I encountered this week:

  • Two dating sites started showing up in my Facebook feed this week. I thought it was weird, but maybe it’s in response to thinking people will feel isolated and lonely. Or maybe they think we’ll be ready to ditch our spouse after isolation together! One promised to show me who’s “nearby” and the other boasted that “every 14 minutes someone finds love here.” The irrelevance of being shown this as a happily married person aside, I’m thinking this is likely not the best time to be meeting a new stranger?
  • An accounting software company had this pitch: “makes working on the books fun”. I’m thinking business financials aren’t going to be fun for anyone in the foreseeable future.
  • A realtor showed a multi-million-dollar home with a beautiful courtyard and a party in it, encouraging the new owners to celebrate their lifestyle with friends.
  • A senior’s residence radio ad highlighted community and connection. They are currently in lock down.
  • “Cruise Addicts” promoted a post titled “Drama unfolding at sea as countries turn away corona virus hit ship”. This one defies logic, so all I can think is they have a standing promotion of blog content that they forgot to check.
  • Then there was the cruise magazine that arrived in the mail the week Princess Cruises passengers went into quarantine. Planned well ahead no doubt. Very expensive to print and distribute, but now totally out of context.
  • A Marketing Academy for Small Business ad started out well with the headline acknowledging frustration and overwhelm, but then it became painfully obvious that the frustration their webinar and course would help with is how to deal with new Facebook and Instagram changes – a minor concern amidst everything else right now.
  • A Masterclass training on how to start and grow an email list – offered by a well known and respected social media marketing leader, highlighted problems as “symptoms” – not a good word choice right now, and clearly spoke to a business environment of yesterday. The comments below were caustic. I suspect that one was in a follow up funnel sequence.
  • A luggage company promoted suitcases for March Break holidays with a couple pictured at the airport. This ad ran while governments advocated against March Break travel, and airlines cut their services.
  • A travel blogger (likely an influencer with scheduled content?) posted “Another country down, so glad to be staying at XXX hotels.” Meanwhile governments were restricting travel to the destination and flights were cancelled. It was shallow and out of touch.
  • But my absolute favourite was the Money Mindset Coach who was selling a course on “how to not feel icky selling right now”.

As you can see, many of these have been caught out of context, likely scheduled weeks ago, while others are just blind to the new environment and appear desperate in their sales efforts. Still others are clearly based on a business model that is now out of date – at least in the short term.

What was your core competency, and was serving your customers a week ago, may not be relevant to them today

We need to rethink our core competencies, and be relevant in this moment of crisis. Some businesses will actually be in greater demand: medical related, first responders, grocery, food delivery, remote entertainment and learning. But many won’t easily transfer. It will be a challenge to rethink and apply competencies to new targets and new markets.

Is there a way to “tilt your competency” to be relevant right now?

Here’s a few examples I’ve seen of this:

  • A bakery doing delivery to homes every morning
  • A farmer delivering eggs, milk, and fresh beef
  • A builder making boxed wood gardens and delivering them to homes and condos with seed packages
  • A storage company offering pick up/delivery packaged solutions for students suddenly caught moving from university residence before the end of the year
  • Yoga studios streaming live sessions for at home workouts, and catering classes to parents who have kids at home
  • A cottage brewery doing home beer delivery
  • Sit down and take out restaurants quickly adapting menus and delivery options
  • Numerous distilleries switching their alcohol spirits production to straight alcohol, to distribute as hand sanitizer, but also ensuring medical facilities are well stocked. Even home distillers are getting in on the action – “I was a moonshiner, now I make hand sanitizer”
  • Fitness clubs maintaining their member communities through online workouts at home
  • Custom design face masks & sewing patterns (this made me cringe a bit, but there’s likely a market for it)
  • Bands doing virtual performances for a private party, and the host then stream it with friends online
  • Then there’s the lady who arranged a “birthday drive by” for a 7-year-old, which made me chuckle. Two weeks ago, this would have sounded like a shooting, not a creative way to see your friends for a party. And then there’s the “hockey stick mic extender” used by CTV interviewers, to distance themselves from people they are interviewing. It’s a solution that could only be a made in Canada!

Ingenuity and creativity will be rewarded in these times of change. And the world we find ourselves in once we view all of this from the rear view mirror, will be forever changed – and likely for the better. Just think of what is being forced to happen at scale with university education going online, people working from home, and the environment impact of dramatically reduced travel.

Now more than ever, relationships matter

Those that support you now, will win your loyalty later. We need to be caring, human centered and relevant to our customers. People will remember that once this is all over. This is not a time to be greedy or opportunistic. Now is the time to treat people in a way that creates loyalty. Do the right thing, even if it hurts.

I’d like to thank those that joined me on our last two “Virtual Happy Hour” Zoom calls. I’m hoping we can still use the phrase “happy” by next week without feeling weird about it, since this is all moving so fast, but I’m always keen to keep the glass half full and share time with friends.  If there is continued interest, I’d love to host another one on Friday March 27 at 4pm. I’ll post out a Zoom link invitation later this coming week.

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Stay well my friends. Now is the time to come together by being apart.

Mary Charleson


  1. Very thought provoking during this period of Covid-19 crisis. Thanks as always Mary, for your continued insights, and sharing broadly with others. I’ll be sharing this out to my team.

  2. Hi Mary, this is Teresita taking a break from marking exams. It is heartening to note from your article that nurturing emotional relationships is now considered as one of the best marketing strategies, Come to think of it, as teachers we are also doing marketing. Failure to do effective marketing of knowledge results into little learning or no learning at all.

    Insights from this article are greatly appreciated!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Teresita. I’ve been on the “be more human” and view customer interaction and delight as part of marketing, for some time now. Adapting to our new reality with the impacts of Covid-19, just magnifies it even more. Feel free to share the post with others. Marketers and business in general are struggling to adjust their approach right now. The reality is, many were made irrelevant overnight, at least in the short term. But as my article points out, there is hope for those that can view things from their customers perspective, tap their core competencies, and redirect their ability to meet customers “where they are right now” with their current needs. Thanks for chiming in, and being part of the community that cares.

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