How to Come Out Ahead

In the past seven days, search queries around “Marketing During Coronavirus” have gone up 300%, and “Coronavirus Marketing” has gone up 100%. With the COVID-19 situation changing almost hourly, it’s difficult for businesses to know how to respond amidst this uncertainty. With every new headline it’s evident that this uncertainty is having a staggering impact on world economy, supply chains, and market demand. For business leaders, this is uncharted territory.

How should you respond?

Your answer to this question depends on how COVID-19 is impacting your business. For many, public uncertainty (and self isolation) is significantly depreciating the demand for goods and services. This holds true for the travel, hospitality and leisure industries to name a few.

For industries facing this situation there are some opportunities:

When demand is down, you probably want to reduce your media spends. But this doesn’t mean that you should suspend all marketing during this time, because let’s face it, every one of your competitors are likely doing the exact same thing.

Warren Buffet was quoted saying, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”.  Stated another way, this is a great opportunity to pull away from the pack. Zig when they Zag.  Find ways to differentiate yourself.

While seemingly counter-intuitive, this is the time to get scrappy with your marketing. We know that once the pandemic subsides there will be pent up demand for vacations, hotels, and restaurants. Knowing this, scrappy marketers in these industries could try offering discounted vouchers, creating a win-win scenario. Consumers who know they will continue to travel once it’s safe to do so will get a discount, and companies will continue to get injections into their cash flow. Restaurants, shops, salons, spas, etc. could be actively promoting give certificates (even in a period of shut-down or reduced hours) so that loyal customers can still support the business and be first in line when concerns de-escalate.

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Another important thing that you can do with your marketing dollars is invest in your website. Work on your site’s ability to convert traffic to visitors or customers. Strategically invest in content and SEO to capture search queries that are freeing up. And if you are a local business, turn to experts to help you improve your Google My Business (Maps) results.

History has shown us that companies who smartly invest in marketing during recessionary times tend to come out on top. This Forbes article gives several examples of brands that profited from doubling-down on their marketing investments during economic downturns.  For example, Post cut back on their advertising during the Great Depression while rival Kellogg’s actually doubled their investments. As a result, Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% and they emerged the category leader.

McGraw-Hill Research found that in a study of 600 B2B companies during the 1981-82 recession, those who maintained or increased their advertising expenditures averaged higher sales growth during the recession and in the subsequent 3 years. Furthermore, by 1985, sales of the aggressive advertisers had increased 256% over those who had reduced spending.

In 2002 McKinsey found that one of the most significant differences between winners and losers during a recession period was with respect to their spending on marketing and advertising. The best performers increased their spending in these areas, not just relative to their competitors, but also compared to their own spending in better times.

So, while this may be uncharted territory for today’s business leaders, we can learn from how past leaders navigated the upturns and downturns of a recessionary market. The key learnings are to spend wisely, be scrappy and find ways to differentiate, because as author Tom Peters says, “you can’t shrink yourself to greatness”.

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