COVID-19: An Online Marketing Survival Guide

March 18, 2020 By Marketing

It’s an interesting time. For the first time in most people’s lives, we’re living through a global pandemic. Is it the end of the world? No, but things are complicated—especially for business owners and marketers.

And, whatever your outlook is on COVID-19, it’s clear that this isn’t going away any time soon.

Even if everything is being blown out of proportion and things settle down in a few weeks, what’s happening right now will affect the economy and companies worldwide for weeks, months and possibly even years to come. Here’s what you need to know.

COVID-19 vs Your Business

The stock market has been tumbling. In China, five million people lost their jobs during January and February. As of March 14th, 18% of American adults reported that they had been laid off or had their work hours reduced. 25% of people making less than $50,000 a year said that their hours had been reduced or they’d been let go.

And keep in mind that this poll was run on Saturday—before President Trump recommended that people avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

Clearly, even if this all blows over soon, COVID-19 will have long-term repercussions. Will there be a recession? Maybe. Will more people lose their jobs? Probably. Will businesses close…possibly forever? Almost certainly.

So, how do we respond to all of this? What do you do if you’re a local business with no customers? How do you market in the current socio-economic climate? Should you even market? How do you get value from your employees when they’re stuck at home? Is it time to close your doors…or should you hunker down and try to ride out the storm?

We don’t claim to have all the answers to these or the many other questions businesses are struggling with, but while a lot of this situation is out of your control, there are a lot of things that you can control. This pandemic will affect your business, but much of how it affects your company is up to you.

Marketing During a Pandemic

The world is not the same place it was 6 months ago. Heck, it’s not the same place it was 6 days ago. Governmental and expert recommendations seem to change by the hour, people’s opinions and predictions are constantly changing, and it’s almost impossible to plan for the future.

I mean, a run on toilet paper? Who saw that coming?

As a result, now is not the time to put (or leave) your marketing campaigns on autopilot. Strategies that worked even a few weeks ago may not work today. Those social media posts you spent so much time crafting weeks ago will make you seem insensitive and out of touch.

It isn’t “business as normal”—even if your business is largely unaffected by the Coronavirus. Your audience has changed. People who were happy to spend money on impulse buys are now worried about their financial futures. Customers who idly scrolled through their newsfeeds are now agitated and engaged…and much less likely to pay attention to your ads.

Rethinking Your Marketing

While this crisis brings a lot of challenges, it also offers opportunities for savvy marketers and business owners.

Your audience’s interests and pain points might be different, but there is also a good chance that they’re stuck at home. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they’re looking for relief from all the stress they’ve been feeling. Maybe they simply have more free time to spend on projects.

As a business, it’s your job to figure out how to market to your audience in any situation—including a global pandemic. People might spend most of their time thinking and talking about COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean that their other needs have gone away. There’s plenty of opportunity to be had—especially online—if you are willing to go back to square one and think about your audience like a marketer.

So, instead of ignoring the Coronavirus, take a step back and re-evaluate your marketing.

Some ads may be fine. Other campaigns may need to be reworked and some might need to be paused. New ways to appeal to your market may appear. But, you’ll never figure out how to effectively market in the current situation if you don’t take the time to rethink your strategy from the ground up.

For example, if you sell ladders and tools online, now might be an ideal time to run an ad along the following lines:

Stuck at home? It’s finally time to knock out that to-do list! Click below to get the tools and supplies you need—delivered right to your door!

A campaign like this is much more likely to get results than a standard, “Check out our tools ad” because it directly addresses a very real pain point for many people right now: figuring out what to do when they’re not supposed to leave the house.

In fact, the blog post you’re reading right now even falls in line with this approach. Marketers and business owners like you (our target market) are in a tricky situation right now. Offering relevant, timely insights is a great way to provide value and prove that we know what we’re doing—which will all hopefully help businesses get excited about working with us in the future.

Smart marketing addresses needs. Right now, the needs, pain points and problems of your audience have changed. Your online marketing needs to change, too.

What Not to Do

As you rethink your marketing strategy, you’ll want to be careful about how you handle the whole COVID-19 situation. For years, when something is trending, marketers have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.

This is not the time to do that.

Unless you have something truly meaningful to contribute, hijacking Coronavirus to market your business is a good way to get burned. Everyone has an opinion about the current situation and there is no clear right or wrong.

To make matters worse, people’s lives are at stake. If it’s obvious that you’re trying to use concerns about COVID-19 to make money, you can expect a massive backlash. A pandemic is not a marketing gimmick. If you do get involved in the conversation, do so in a respectful, careful way that contributes value.

The trick here is to keep a close eye on the needs and emotions of your customers. This is always an important part of marketing, but when people are dealing with something as emotionally charged as a global pandemic, it’s absolutely critical.

If you’re not certain what to say, the best course of action is to say nothing. If you feel like you need to say something, keep the following rules in mind:

  • Don’t make accusations.
  • Don’t make blanket statements.
  • Don’t create fear.
  • Don’t diminish the situation.
  • Don’t mock others.

No matter what your opinion is right now, odds are that you’re at least partially wrong. This is a complex situation with many factors you don’t fully appreciate, so taking a strong stance will almost certainly backfire. Don’t let how you handle COVID-19 today become a problem for your business in the future.

Doubling Down

So, does all of this mean that you should pull back on your online marketing? Not by a long shot! If anything, the opposite is true for most businesses.

If you’re an events planner, restaurant manager or run some other type of business that relies on in-person visits from your customers, things will be tough. You may even have to make some very hard decisions in the coming weeks. But, for most other businesses, this is a critical opportunity to refine and improve your online marketing.

If you don’t, you can bet that your competition will.

Once you’ve figured out how to adapt your marketing to the current situation, you’ll want to double down on your marketing strategy. Often, as marketers, we have a running list of things that we need to fix, tweak or improve that we never seem to get to. This is your opportunity to get on top of those things.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Ideally, you should emerge from the next few weeks ready to take your online marketing to the next level. This is a rare opportunity. The day-to-day demands of marketing and running your business may ease up a bit for a while, which gives you the chance to really dig into the most important aspects of your marketing strategy.

Conclusion

Like it or not, COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the world we live in. As marketers, we can’t ignore that fact. However, every challenge brings new opportunities.

If you take the time to figure out your strategy for handling the current situation, you can set yourself up for success—both during and after this crisis. Coronavirus doesn’t signal the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world for your business, either.

Our hopes and prayers go out to everyone who has been and will be affected by this global pandemic. Stay safe. Control what you can and everything will work out in the long run.

If you’d like some specific advice or help with your marketing, let us know here or in the comments. We’d love to help.

How do you feel about the current situation? Have any advice to share? How can marketers adapt and thrive during this global pandemic? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Aden Andrus

Director of Content Marketing
Over his career, Aden has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping Disruptive's internal marketing game. He loves to write, dance and destroy computer monitors in full medieval armor.

4 Comments

  • Excellent many thanks very helpful

  • Avon says:

    Nice article but I disagree with this “If you’re an events planner, restaurant manager or run some other type of business that relies on in-person visits from your customers, things will be tough. You may even have to make some very hard decisions in the coming weeks.”

    These kinds of Busines’ can get on to delivering service (In case of Restaurant) and other event companies can have online events and webinars etc..

    • Aden Andrus says:

      Those are fair points, but even in these situations, things will be difficult for these businesses. Even with things like curb-side delivery, with the country on lockdown, many restaurants are going to be doing a lot less business. If you’re a high-end restaurant focused on delivering a great experience, curbside delivery may not work for you at all.

      Online events and webinars are certainly an option for events planners, but not all events can easily adapt to a digital forum. For many events (like expos), the in-person experience is why people attend. They go to the event to walk through booths, meet vendors, handle physical products and discover new opportunities. That sort of experience is hard to replicate digitally, which is part of the reason why in-person events are still held.

      In addition, even if a business can adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, their business probably will still have to make some hard decisions. Attendance at an online version of an event may be much lower, it may be harder to get sponsors and personnel needs will be very different. For restaurants, dental offices and other businesses, even if they keep their doors open, they may not get enough business to avoid cutting hours or firing people.

      It’s a tricky time. There are a lot of challenges that businesses have to overcome. Even if your business can adapt, it may still be an uphill battle.

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