Messaging in the Age of Covid-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous challenges for all business owners; that includes those of us in the advertising industry. Amidst the huge human toll and ongoing suffering that the pandemic has and continues to cause, we are having to change the way we operate, as well as the way we market our products and services.

The gravity of the current situation and the worldwide panic surrounding it makes it easy for advertisers to make critical mistakes; blunders that could stay with us long after the coronavirus crisis has passed.

First and foremost, we need to know where people are coming from and what they are focused on, because their needs have understandably changed with the current situation. For the time being, people are rightly concerned about their health and the health of their families, and everything else is taking a back seat.

As we adapt to the new reality during Covid-19, there is uncertainty about how to advertise sensitively as well as effectively. Here are some tips based on research, industry guidance, and recommendations from customers:

Be authentic
It’s incredibly important to create strong connections with customers, particularly if you’re going to get them to engage and interact with you and your brand. The brands that will excel during this time are the ones who will be authentic and remain true to their brand and values.

Revisit your creative often
It is important to watch, listen, and learn to continually update your creative and messaging to meet the demands of the quickly changing market sentiment. Currently, we’re seeing many top brands being nimble in making changes to their creative and messaging to take advantage of these shifts dynamically. Ford, for example, in March pulled down its previously planned ads and replaced them with ads about their COVID-19 car payment relief program; this new campaign delicately reminded customers that they have experience responding to disasters in the past, emboldening their goodwill and stature as a trusted brand.

Here is a quick checklist to assess your creative assets:
• Is your ad well designed and professionally created?
• Does the copy explain what you are doing to look out for your customers during this crisis?
• Does the copy indicate how are you helping or thinking about the larger communities beyond your clients that are affected by this crisis?
• Does the ad provide useful information for safety precautions?

Consider segmentation for new campaigns and messaging
We know in times of crisis, customer attunement is not just a best practice; it’s a must. Think of how you can segment further based on inputs like site behavior or psychographics to get the right message in front of a smaller, but more targeted audience.

Monitor your web analytics closely so you can figure out what the different shifts in customer behaviours reveal. For example, you may find out your customers are now looking for answers and support rather than engaging in their usual conversions. Take note of these shifts, segment your users accordingly and adapt your strategy, messaging and landing pages so you provide the information customers are looking for concisely, clearly and readily, for a better customer experience.

Since everyone is spending more time at home, it’s more than likely that segments will change based on their new streaming behaviors and lifestyle changes.

Pay attention to the media channels where your customers are spending most of their time,

Currently, stay-at-home and Work From Home (WFH) behavior is influencing the way media is consumed across the world. Coupled with this change in consumer behavior, CPMs have decreased as much as 5-10%. Additionally, there has also been an increase in the number of ad-buying opportunities.

Opt for the premium options
Premium options have more credibility with consumers as they deal with today’s uncertainty; consumers need sources they can trust more than ever right now.

Don’t assume your audience is consuming content as usual
It has become evident that our standard media patterns are changing dramatically with live sports cancellations, box office closures and extensive WFH policies. Yet, it’s imperative you assess these shifts to still reach your audience.

Don’t restrict your ad placements
We’re in a sensitive time and many brands are restricting their ads from appearing on COVID-19 content. This is not unusual during a crisis. However, because of the considerable mindshare and the unprecedented amount of coverage that COVID-19 is receiving, blocking ads on this content is a mistake since it may lead to you not being able to get exposure with your prospective customers.

Don’t share anything insensitive that could cause a backlash
Many consumers are of the view that brands should not exploit the Covid-19 situation to promote their brand, so ask yourself:

• Is it insensitive (e.g., ads for cleaning or sanitary products that are hard to come by)?
• Will this ad provoke a negative reaction?

If you’re unsure, it would be wise to get feedback from customers outside your business.

Don’t stop marketing
It’s important as a business owner that you do whatever is necessary to stay top-of-mind. Recessions tend to be stressful times for everyone and it’s easy for a business to be forgotten as so much stress is a huge distraction. Out of sight, out of mind.

Your website is therefore one of the most important ambassadors as well as a crucial component of a marketing and branding strategy. So, continue to budget for marketing (also the cost to create a strong online presence) and do your best to stay in front of customers.

Here are a few tips to get started:
• Send regular, content-rich emails to your current customers.
• Follow up with prospects who you have not heard from in a while.
• Check-in on past customers whom you haven’t heard from in a while and make them a compelling offer to win them back.
•  Place online ads retargeting prospects.
• Post consistently on social media and consider holding online contests, sales, or events.

However you choose to reach out to your audience, be sensitive to the times we are living in and ensure you show the real benefit you offer in this current context.

And most importantly, DON’T push a hard sell. Keep in mind money’s tight for everyone during a recession.

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