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Response, recovery & renewal: a three stage approach to marketing in a pandemic

I’ve been working on two different marketing strategy plans for clients this week. Both projects were well under way for completion when the Covid-19 crisis hit. Like many businesses, we were caught initially flat foot at the speed of change, and have had to make major adjustments. In once case, I essentially started over, and in the other we modified the initial plan and then shifted it back into a later phase, allowing us to deal with relevancy in the moment right now.

You might well find the current structure I am using in both of those projects useful. The plans are divided into three phases: Response, recovery and renewal. We are very much still in the response mode right now. And it’s yet to be known exactly when we will be able to shift to recovery. I suspect renewal is also some time off.

Phase 1: RESPONSE

Phase 1 deals with immediate, in the moment concerns. This could well mean taking measures for business survival, looking at current cost structures, making adjustments, consideration of staffing needs, and applying for government financial assistance. If you’re in the enviable position of being an essential service, or being able to adjust your business to meet new demands, you are also likely making changes on the fly. It’s a time of quick change and quick response. Into that mix falls your customers. As I’ve written in previous posts, all communications need to be framed from the perspective of what is important to consumers “right now.” If you happen to have missed the last two newsletters, you can read about this approach in both of these articles:

Communications focused on storytelling during the response phase can be golden too, since it can garner earned media publicity, and connect on a very human level. All of these are great examples of that.

 

Phase 2: RECOVERY

Who knows exactly when we will shift into recovery, but let’s hope it’s sooner than later. Recovery will be the phase where companies shift to meet emerging consumer needs, perhaps tilt their core competencies, realize new target markets, the shifted needs of a former market, or simply prepare to resume business as restrictions are removed and they are able to open again and plan for growth. Companies who have remained open during the crisis will likely have put some or all of these tactics into play earlier as part of their response phase. New targets, new markets, and new abilities will all cause you to rethink parts of your marketing – be it communications (what is said, how and where it is placed), distribution (rethinking the supply chain, where product is made available, and how changed consumer needs have impacted those decisions), or pricing (new competition, bundling of product or services, changed consumer purchasing behaviours).

Throughout the recovery phase, storytelling will also be incredibly important and of course “being human” in your marketing. I don’t think there has ever been a time where it is more important to have a high sense of emotional intelligence, compassion, and connection on a very human level through your communications. Curiously, being more human in your marketing is a trend I identified earlier this year for 2020, long before Covid-19 entered our lives. Even then I thought the time had come for this. Now it’s even more so! The article below from earlier this year, has 5 practical tips, that would all work right now, with the exception of “live events” – for obvious reasons. You may well find this a useful place to start when planning your recovery communications and looking for ways to be more human in your marketing.

 

Phase 3: RESILIENCE

Resilience is all about thriving in the future and ensuring continued growth. But the future new normal is quite likely to not look like the old normal. This is where you will have to take a cue from changed market conditions in the recovery phase, and plan for growth around them. Being well connected to your customers in that recovery phases will allow you to jump on early insights. Queries your receive, online chats, social media comments, online focus group discussions and in person reactions (once those are allowed on a larger scale) all all places to mine for recurring themes and possible trends emerging.  The good news is there are companies out there who have survived wars, recessions, depressions, and even previous pandemics and each time come out the other side even stronger than they were before.

Below are a couple great examples of long standing Canadian companies (100+ years) who have always been nimble, creative, responsive, and intimately understood the needs of customers. They’ve also been very human in their marketing, realizing the power of narrative, history and story in their marketing.

  • Watson Gloves (providers of gloves for industrial and recreational purposes, they are focused on meeting the demands for medical glove protection right now and working on masks)
  • Stanfields Underwear (known for underwear and long johns by many Canadians, they are currently making medical gowns for front line hospital staff)

I suspect these “Covid days” (for the lack of a better term) could well be the dark days prior to an incredible period of renewal, creativity and innovation. So many problems are being resolved through multi-level government cooperation, public/private partnerships, innovation, and risk taking to meet immediate needs. But it is also a period that has offered an unheard of collective pause and time for reflection. To think that there will not be a period of intense creativity during this time, which will be put into action after all this would be fooling ourselves. Just wait. #WeWereMadeForThis

If you enjoyed these insights, why not subscribe to my weekly Five-Minute Marketing Enewsletter Tips? It arrives fresh every Sunday morning, and has been forever free since 2008.

 

And if you want to be the first to see videos when they’re published that support my weekly insights, be sure to subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL.

 

Mary Charleson

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