Marketing | Opinion

How to ensure marketing teams remain productive during COVID-19

As marketing teams around the world are adapting to the new 'normal', our Strategy Lead, Henry France, gives some practical advice on what marketeers should be doing now to be in a strong position post COVID-19.

An unprecedented situation – it’s not BAU!

Business as usual cannot continue, even if you’re unaffected by the COVID-19 virus now, it’s likely you will be at some point down the line. It will affect your business directly or indirectly and so now’s the time to stop, reassess and prioritise where effort is best spent. Whilst physical and mental wellbeing is clearly the most important factor, businesses must come to terms with this new reality quickly. And, as the majority of people get comfortable in their new versus old surroundings, there is a certain amount of inevitability about what happens next.  I see this in three distinct stages.

Stage one: “S**t! What do we do?”

For the next few weeks and possibly months, the headlines will be dominated by the pandemic, its effect on industries that will see a boom (food and grocery delivery, remote working software, video games) and a downturn for most others (the retail, leisure and travel are areas I really feel for in particular given my background in each). Markets are terrified, cautious and anxious. Added to this, an economic downturn has been predicted for the UK since August 2019, and some economists predicted the weakest growth outside recession since the second world war last December. Add COVID-19 on top of this and doom and gloom reign supreme it would seem.

With this inevitable first hit, will come a downturn in sales for most, which will lead to the inevitable marketing budget cut, which in turn will lead to further sales slumps. It’s a double hit in that sense but only if we lean into it by thinking we’re doing the right thing in pausing or cutting our marketing spend. We need to arrest the slide by putting in recovery strategies now.

Source: Blue Array Facebook - showing how pausing spend is likely to impact clients (from an SEO perspective).

Stage two: Adaption to life online

We all have a new normal to get used to. The transition to ‘being online’ will be steep, but within a matter of weeks people will be used to working, home-schooling, shopping and socialising online. Whilst marketing budgets are cut, online spend should increase. We’re already seeing big traffic increases across the web:

  • American content delivery network - Akamai reporting a 50% increase in web traffic ​
  • 20-50% increases in Reddit and sub-Reddit traffic ​
  • No surprise that SEMrush reporting Amazon is hugely up, but so are alternatives, particularly in fashion, such as Onbuy.com and French men’s wear site Celio.com reporting unprecedented increases in traffic​
  • Social networks could also a large benefit; “77% of UK and 70% of North American marketers predict an increase in social media activity.” (source: econsultancy) ​
  • E-sports will get a huge new following with sports fans turning to video-gaming for entertainment which could be the major pivotal point for the industry. We already saw over 5m people tune in to watch the virtual Grand National aired last Saturday lunchtime

​There will be opportunities

In this new semi-temporary world, there are opportunities online to put brands in front of people and, as people start to buy non-essential items as well as their essential items online, brands will need to move quickly whilst staying true to their vision and values. Now is not the time for a misjudged, hard sell that is overtly trying to take advantage of this unprecedented crisis. Brands must put their customers’ needs first and adjust their messaging accordingly because they will be judged on how they react during this time and irreparable damage could be done to their reputation once we come out of the other side. We’ve already witnessed the backlash to Sport Direct’s CEO, Mike Ashley and his ill-judged response to COVID-19. Brands that adapt their strategy, budgets and resources accordingly to react to their customers’ behaviour online and serve them even better will be the ones that end up thriving after the inevitable recession.

You’re likely to have some extra time on your hands. Time that may not come now but will do so a week or two from now. This time should be used as effectively as possible. All those things that you’ve put off because you’ve prioritised billing, business critical events and general BAU, you can iron out and attack now. We all know that ticking off your to do lists is incredibly rewarding. After all, authors Sarah Knight (Get Your Shit Together) and Brian Tracy (Eat That Frog) have been preaching this stuff for years.

Here are just a few things you can be doing with this free time.

Stop writing about COVID19

Writing about COVID-19 has already been done to death and the amount of "a word from our CEO" emails and other comms is getting ridiculous. Unless you are a global health or economist expert, then what business do you have putting your slant on how it’s going to affect us​?

There is more to marketing than just promotion via genetic communication.​ There are plenty of examples of brands focusing on the other three Ps of marketing (product, price and place) at this point to provide additional value to their customers, rather than pure promotion.​

Get recording videos

If you’ve been putting off creating videos, now might be the perfect time to work out how video can work for you. Start off by interviewing staff and customers, they are the easiest videos to shoot and edit and can be done remotely. Good videos will not only give you a new medium and open up new channels to you but should provide you with content that will last a long time and can be ‘cut up’ to use in other formats (social media posts, whitepapers, testimonials, case studies, blog posts, etc).

Do your (marketing) admin

Do you have an inbound marketing process nailed down? How about an agreed way of doing marketing during a project? What about a content and social calendar? This is a great opportunity to work on and roll out your internal marketing processes. Write them down, revise them and flesh them out so they are crystal clear for all. It will have long term benefits to how efficiently and effectively your marketing team runs, new starters will onboard quicker and you can guarantee quality of work through a unified approach.

Exploratory SEO

Target different types of SERPs (search engine page results) outside your regular optimisation. Ever wanted to have a rich search snippet? How about an indexed video or image? Of course, you should be working on long term SEO goals around topics you want to be clearly identified as experts on by Google. But now could be the time to work on those parts of SEO that have lived on the periphery of your strategy that will become more critical as search engines become more sophisticated and look to provide a user with the most relevant answer to their query, however that answer is provided. Here are some other SEO tasks you could be working on.

Evaluate your imagery and language

Avoid visuals of crowds or people touching. Reframe marketing language that describes close interaction. ​ Adjust marketing campaigns and scheduled content timelines – decide what should be paused immediately and consider what to prioritise or pivot. ​

Highlight how your brand can help: ​

  • Communicate the benefits of your brand’s service/products. Does your product give people things to do at home? Does it help around virtual working? You need to be crystal clear what your brand’s unique value is during this period and communicate it. A lot
  • Create useful and helpful content. It makes no difference whether your brand helps people directly during quarantine, you can still provide value to people with content that entertains, educates or motivates

Work on your strategies

Did you get to the end of 2019/start of 2020 and believe you had plenty of time to finalise your strategy for this year? Did that time come and go, and you were left with half-baked ideas as BAU continued to dominate your days? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even if you did work on and complete your strategy, you need to revisit it now and reassess the marketing tactics you’d planned to deliver your business goals. Your marketing activities inclusive of reviews, video, SEO, content, email, social, etc., all need to be readdressed for the short, medium and long term. ​​

In truth the short term (around 6 months) is going to be very tactical. This should be viewed as a strategic time out (according to the excellent Mark Ritson) in which you have time to assess what is going to be done in 2021 when we the inevitable recession comes. It must be seen as an opportunity to plan accordingly. ​

Take up the offer of free resources

The COVID-19 crisis has given brands a rare opportunity to show their human side, leadership and generosity. There’s a sense of community and a realisation of the true impact this situation is having which has caused some wonderful responses:

  • LOOM has halved their rates – get good at video!
  • Moz academy is free until May 31st – get your SEO team up to scratch with these wonderful resources from one of the world’s most renowned SEO companies
  • Audible has made hundreds of kids’ books free
  • LinkedIn has opened up 16 of their courses for free – courses that provide tips on how to stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools and balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way
  • We use the wonderful Zoom and Microsoft Teams at Distinction for external and internal comms but Jamm is offering their software for free for the foreseeable future You can record videos or live call with your teams and it integrates nicely with Slack
  • Want to supercharge your PPC efforts? Our friends over at Adzooma are offering their platform for free until 1st June
  • Filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his documentaries free worldwide – one for your creative teams

Show your site some love

Without looking, how many of you can guess the simple, quick-to-fix, easy wins that your website has needed forever? Metadata that’s too long/too short, alt tags on images, page speed, broken links, missing resources, typos, etc. All these things always get pushed to the bottom of your list. Getting them done means getting your site into a position of complete strength, it will help users and search engines alike.

Stage three: Recovering and back to (the new) normal

With global recession now all but a certainty, how can we hope to recover effectively as businesses (and people) after what will surely be viewed as one of the greatest disasters of our time? In all honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question and I’m not going to sit here preaching that we all need to go out and spend like we did before. I’m not an economist, nor an expert on the global geopolitical ramifications that COVID-19 is causing. ​​

But I do remember the financial crash of 2008. I remember the mass panic, long-lasting effects and businesses that went under, I remember the distinct media coverage that painted the bleakest of pictures and shared stories of utter depression. However, we’re still here and, as the world recovered over the last decade from the 2008 recession, it will do so again. We will emerge and adapt, even thrive, once this crisis has passed. ​

Keep calm and carry on

As a marketeer and someone that wants the best for my peers and the clients we all work with, I want to see effort put into really really good marketing, great messaging that is tone appropriate (seriously BMW!?) and smart targeting. Now more than ever, we need to keep calm and carry on, be more flexible and fluid with our marketing and I’m convinced businesses that survive will come out the other side of this stronger.

There is a fine line between wanting to show our human side and opportunism. In these early weeks it’s not appropriate to target new prospects with cold emails (unless you believe they are expecting it). You must balance keeping it as much BAU as possible whilst reassessing tactics for each situation you may find yourself in. Be positive, but not ignorant. ​

Coronavirus will pass. When it does and the dust has settled, make sure you look back at the decisions you made without regret. You may get some decisions wrong, but action will mean you made the utmost effort to best serve your clients, save your staff and your business. Don’t wait for the crisis to affect you, plan for it now. Work on your plan A but have a plan ‘B’ and ‘C’ ready so you’re on the front foot when it comes to marketing in recovery.

If you would like some free marketing advice during the COVID-19 crisis, then get in touch with me at henry.france@distinction.co.uk, I’d love to help you.

Henry France

Written by:Henry France