Marketing and Advertising through COVID-19

As Coronavirus continues to take hold across the globe, marketing and advertising seem like the absolute least of the worlds worries. But to the marketing and business world decisions are having to be made about how they trade through this crisis and come out of the other side intact.

The first and obvious reaction is to panic. Pull everything. Anything which isn’t currently committed and immovable gets stopped. And even if it is planned, booked, even paid for questions are asked about the penalty for cancelling it. Every company is looking are their cost base with forensic attention to detail.

In the agency world every phone call and email from clients over the last month was met with dread as clients rushed to cancel campaigns or planned activity.

I’ve seen marketers challenge this approach. ‘Businesses should be marketing through this crisis!’ And whilst this might be true of some, it takes no account for broader considerations. Supply chains, stock availability, customer cancellations or payment defaults, logistics, management of services during a lockdown, not to mention cashflow.

So, what should businesses be doing?

Broader considerations aside, and assuming a business has the facility to market through the current coronavirus epidemic, how should they go about it? 

One factor to base decisions on which is applicable for all industries is demand. Demand will have been affected in some way across the board. The extent to which though will vary, and the demand after this is through will also be different for all.

Rather than look at industries or business circumstances, I have tried to group business based on this impact on demand. How was it before the COVID-19 crisis, and how is it now?  By doing this we can try and put some information around how they can approach marketing and advertising in a period until the world stabilises. At this point the approach shifts again, to what demand looks like in the future.

The diagram below shows how I would approach it. I have ignored the quadrant where demand pre-COVID19 was low and during it is low because this is probably a much bigger issue to address. And then grouped quadrants where the overall approach would be similar.

This is obviously a simplistic way at looking at the challenges facing marketers during this time, but at least by taking a top-level approach you then have something to apply on a channel by channel basis.

How are you approaching marketing and advertising during this uncertain time?

2014: have we forgotten the art of storytelling?

In days gone by, before mass penetration of television, advertising was more restricted to print and posters and the format was very, very different.  Press ads were more like the advertorials of today.  Text heavy, copy written, and informative pieces which proclaimed the product benefits and were meant to be read.  Mad Men’s Don Draper famously said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” And advertising at this time it was very much about a dialogue.  You portrayed your product through textual conversation and positioned it as you wanted in the readers psyche.

Is storytelling a forgotten skill?

Lazar Dzamic suggested that storytelling is the Advertising agencies what hammering is to Blackmiths.  That storytelling and the ability to do so, “(is) in every fibre of every successful agency, historically and today.”  I would argue it is something that has diminished significantly as the world of advertising has become more focussed on numbers and data.

Advertising has moved from the story board to the spread sheet.  The modern day advertising agency employee spends the bulk of their time with their head in a spread sheet either planning, or measuring advertising campaigns for our clients.

Partially driven through evolution of the available tools for measuring advertising effectiveness, and partially through an increased clients need to justify advertising spend it is a reality of our time.  And in an age when the effectiveness of a campaign is measured by the numbers it produces, whether an effective story was told through the campaign is quickly forgotten, if it was ever considered at all.

It’s time to start telling stories again

Whatever us media men like to tell you people continue to be less and less affected by advertising. To stand out and gain share of a consumer’s mind-set you need increasing amounts of coverage.  The barrage of advertising we face in 2014 makes us less effected by each piece of advertising we might see.  So advertisers have a choice, advertise more, or advertise more effectively.

More and more advertisers choose the former option.  Increase frequency of adverts to give them a greater chance of you noticing them.  Others try the later through quirky executions whilst ignoring product.  Most evidently in the world of finance where competition is fierce and the product is boring.  Whether “you’re so MoneySuperMarket”, comparing meerkats or singing like an out of work opera singer advertising is less about the product and more about standing out and sticking in your head.

But for the brands who can’t afford to increase frequency, or pay a ‘creative genius’, is it time to revert back to the story telling days of old?  Purveying the values of a product and taking the viewer on an experience through the advertising.  I believe it could be, and this extends from not just to paid advertising in mainstream channels, but incorporates all touch points a consumer has with your brand.  We live in a world where everything is connected and the message you put across in your advertising needs to be backed up everywhere else a consumer engages with you.  Whether it is through social channels, PR initiated content, search, or your own website.  A user will interact with your brand in many ways before making a decision whether to purchase from you, so all of your channels need to be telling the same story.

Taking the consumer on a journey at every touch point they have with you and nudging them along the road to purchase and yourself into their consideration set.

How you do this is not so straight forward, and due to the changing nature of our current media landscape, there is no blue print to follow.  You need to use a balance of media types which suit your particular audience or brand.  This will include both broadcast and ‘direct response media’ as nothing exists in a silo.  Paid and earned media need to work in tandem so make sure they are planned together.

Joining the dots between the channels you use is going to be the tough part and sometimes you just need to have faith in what you are doing.  But having a consistent story running through them all is a must.  Its time us advertiser got a little jackanory!