In just a few weeks, the whole world has changed, perhaps even permanently.  What appeared to be a wayward virus in a remote province of China is now impacting every single country, business and person in the world.

Almost every business, therefore, is faced with a very tough dilemma – they need to continue selling their products in order to survive the tough economic environment that is already revealing itself. Looking at close to 30% drop in the stock market over the last few days and the recent unemployment filings of 3.3 million, almost every business and individual will be financially impacted. This takes a rethinking of how marketers should message. For brands to continue to message the same way they always have will appear at the very least insensitive and quite possibly will be viewed as being tone deaf to the disruption around them.

I was asked this question by our own marketing team: Should we continue to market to our customers to buy our product, should we simply go quiet, or should we say something different?  I must admit I was torn. On the one hand, it appeared to be the worst time to reach out to prospects to offer them our product when they are challenged on the business front (with the possibility of budget cuts, layoffs etc.) and the personal front (working from home, dealing with kids as schools are closed). On the other hand, I knew we also needed to continue to see how we could continue to add value or at least empathize with the likely buyers of our product in the hope that they would in turn remember us favorably when they decide to buy a product like ours.

It became clear we had to quickly change our sales and marketing strategies to reflect what was going on in the market.

There was an interesting irony here because we at Jivox sell digital marketing products and in fact one of the biggest pieces of value our software provides is the ability for a brand to change their messaging dynamically across all communication channels very quickly and inexpensively using Dynamic Content Optimization technology (DCO). 

I also quickly realized that perhaps because we as a company work with and often provide a lot of strategic advice to some of the world’s largest marketers, we are in a very unique position to not only know how these marketers are thinking but also assist them with that thinking and the technology to adapt to this change.

In our observation, the general response by marketers to the COVID-19 pandemic has been in two distinct phases. The first was what I would call a “crisis messaging strategy.” The idea here was to quickly respond to what was happening and change messaging to reflect the mood and sensitivities of the consumers and then to follow that up with “recovery messaging” that would allow them to get back gently to selling again. 

For example, a brand that sells shaving products decided with the help of our platform to quickly change their messaging from one driving consumers to retail stores to purchase their products to instead encouraging them to remember to follow a set routine while working from home and of course remembering to shave! 

Another large hospitality brand decided it was insensitive to be trying to sell hotel rooms when people couldn’t even leave their homes let alone travel to a destination and decided to stop advertising hotels in destinations affected by COVID-19.  Yet another decided to quickly change their messaging from specific hotels to broader areas and offer future travel discounts.

An auto company decided to change their message to express empathy – a messaging saying the brand wants to support their “family” of car owners. 

A sports apparel maker quickly responded with messaging about “playing at home” vs encouraging outdoor games.

As marketers weigh these kinds of changes to their messaging one thing that quickly became evident to them was that a “one-size-fits-all” message would not work, especially considering that they wanted to get back to driving sales as quickly as possible and yet did not want to offend or appear insensitive or tone deaf to what was happening in a particular market or region.  The problem was that each country and in fact even within countries the messaging had to be different – for example in the US, messaging had to be different between states with high infection rates e.g. CA and NY vs states with lower infection rates e.g. Minnesota.  In China for a while Wuhan was off limits while the rest of China was okay. 

Brands who had already deployed our DCO technology were further ahead of the curve as they were able to do so immediately and maintain “differential messaging” by market and constantly make changes to markets and messaging without incurring significant creative and production costs.  These kinds of changes within hours or days would be almost unthinkable or at the very least incredibly expensive without DCO technology.

Rishad Tobaccowala, former Publicis executive and one of the advertising execs I respect the most in the industry, recently said marketers have three options in this environment:  “One is to pretend the world has not changed; two is to cut all marketing; three is to continue marketing but change your messaging, recognizing the world has changed.”

“Smart people do No. 3,” he added.

Definitely great words of wisdom that all marketers would be wise to take to heart for some time to come.

By Diaz Nesamoney | March 27th, 2020