Marketing in a Time of Extreme Uncertainty: Dos and Dont’s

We’ve been pretty quiet while the corona pandemic has been unfolding. We haven’t scrambled to post helpful work-at-home tips and tricks. We haven’t posted inspiring calls for unity. We haven’t posted pictures of funny hat days on Zoom. Maybe we’ve been remiss in being quiet, but the scope and scale of what’s going on is enormous, emerging and still uncertain.

Our instinct has been to listen rather than speak, spending time with our customers, hearing their challenges and learning how to be of service. What we’ve learned from our customers may be of value to others, so here’s our list of Dos and Donts for marketing and sales teams adapting to this disruption.

Things to DO

  1. Talk to your customers. Find out what challenges they’re facing, and where you can help
    As the first stage of the lock-down rolled out and many workers went home, we just talked with customers about what they were seeing, and where they needed support. Some companies are focused on getting every employee on VPN. Others are questioning whether employees should be connecting to the corporate network at all, or should be routed to cloud collaboration tools and kept off the corporate network. Everyone debated which collaboration tools to use, and how to safeguard security. In a short time, our customers developed their own posts and resources to help their own customers address these questions.
  2. Find out where you can stretch to help your customer solve a key problem
    One of our customers that provides managed IT services quickly realized their standard support policy would not be sufficient for remote working. They offered unlimited office IT support, but it didn’t extend to machines at a home office. They created a waiver for all customers and extended their support policy to cover home office workers, and immediately got busy helping their customers get their employees settled online. They also got support from HP to provide deferred financing for new computers for situations where existing equipment wouldn’t work for remote offices.
  3. Repackage the new services to offer to new prospects
    Several of our customers in the managed IT space made similar adjustments, and packaged up a new offering for Remote Office solutions. We’re helping them create landing pages for this new offering and get it added to their website. We’re also helping them create appropriate advertising for social media to make their new offering available to businesses that need that level of service and support.
  4. Share ideas across your customer network
    One of the biggest ways to be of service to your customers is to share ideas and insights. Be a resource for your customers in figuring out what works. We spend a few minutes on each call just polling customers about what they’re trying and what’s working for them, and we share those insights around. Obviously we’re careful to avoid sharing any sensitive information among competitors, but there are a wealth of tactics and ideas that many are ready and willing to share, and they value being part of an insider’s network.
  5. Share what you’re doing
    If you have a relevant or creative way to help in the crisis, by all means share about it. If you retooled to produce needed healthcare equipment, or you created a new service to support struggling workers, then certainly that’s a great thing to share and promote. Just don’t overstretch to seem relevant. Suggesting to customers that their new time at home is a great time to shop your product is not such a great idea–and yet it happens a lot.

Things to NOT DO

  1. Don’t continue running drip campaigns on autopilot
    Carefully consider and adjust your message on all communications. When headlines everywhere are dire, it is jarring to get prospecting emails that seem clueless to the crisis. Several threads across social networks have picked up on this disconnect, with people posting the worst examples of tone deaf campaigns. That’s not a list you want to be on.
  2. Don’t put your pitch in a pandemic frame
    Most people are wise enough to avoid the panic-exploitation messages, but also avoid the trite ones. I got an email this morning from someone I’ve never met claiming she was praying for me and my family in this difficult time, before immediately pivoting to whether I would like to buy customer loyalty data and could she schedule a meeting. I’m sure she is under pressure to make quota this month, but that kind of opening isn’t going to help, especially as what she’s selling has no relevance to the urgent problems most people are trying to solve right now.
  3. Don’t load your messages with pandemic keywords
    References to COVID, coronavirus, pandemic or other related keywords or hashtags are not a good idea. Social networks, search engines, and even some ISPs are aggressively tamping down exploitative ads, and they’re using more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel. When you use those words or hashtags, you stand a good chance of getting your content blocked or dropped in the spam folder.
  4. Don’t feel you have to be part of the Hot Take bandwagon.
    Just because everyone seems to be doing a concerned CEO video, or “open office hours” on Zoom, doesn’t mean you should—particularly if you haven’t yet exhausted the list of customers you need to check in on. Talk to your customers, let them educate you on what’s relevant and important, and if there’s a good way for you to share what you’ve learned with the world then do it. That approach will resonate more than if you’re casting around for something to look relevant on LinkedIn.

If you have more ideas on Dos and Don’ts, we’d love to hear them. Everyone is struggling to adapt to what’s happening, and there’s no better time to listen and learn.

Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard

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