Many of us are starting Week 4 of the Corona-imposed social isolation. We are managing without a playbook outlining what we are supposed to do and experiencing unprecedented changes in our personal lives as well as at work. The transition into our new (ab)normal entails not only the interruption of our daily routines and setting up semi-permanent home offices (which, for city-dwellers, often means claiming one corner of the dining table). It also forces us, Marketers, to reconsider the mission and the goals of the companies we represent.
Looking at recent marketing emails, social media posts, paid and TV ads, there appears to be three approaches as to how brands communicate with their customers nowadays:
- Shift to the consumer: Brands implemented a profound change in tone that shifts the focus of their ads from themselves to the consumer and her safety
- Opportunistic: Brands acknowledged COVID-19 and are aggressively taking advantage of the disruption it created to drive revenue
- Business as usual: Brands haven’t changed their strategy in light of COVID-19
Brands that are making consumers their focal point are investing in the future. They are taking a stand by humanity, even if that means losing out on immediate revenue. And while the opportunistic approach seems lucrative right now, there is only a thin line separating self-serving marketing messages from downright selfish ones. Consumers will remember which companies brought them reassurance and value and which ones made them feel like they’re being taken advantage of in times of need. In the Customer Era, brands need to be customer-obsessed. We, Marketers, don’t need global turmoil to remind us to put our customers first and avoid tone deaf messaging.
What do we make of the third approach? It would be easy to say that ignoring the pandemic and conducting business as usual is tone deaf. But we might want to give these brands a break for the time being because, in reality, we don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Maybe they don’t see the gravity of COVID-19. Maybe they don’t want to pour fuel to the existential fire we are all experiencing. Maybe they are also struggling to keep their businesses running and don’t have the bandwidth and capital to revise their strategies. These brands still have an opportunity to make a good impression on consumers, should they decide to adopt a customer-centric strategy. For starters, they could disable unfortunately-timed reminder messages (because nobody’s trip is coming up in six days) with minimal effort.
As a final thought, let us share our very own example. At the beginning of the year, we were outlining our plans for taking our SMS solution to market. A significant chunk of our value proposition revolved around using SMS to reach consumers on the go, like at airports, and when they’re offline. Today, we are spending nearly all of our time in the confinement of our homes, like we should, and we’re unlikely to be offline…and we’re sure as heck not on the go or at the airport. So we decided to reframe our positioning and focus more on how shoppers are even more likely to be on their phones, instead of overlooking the pandemic permeating every aspect of our lives. We wanted to join those brands who turned their use cases around to reflect life and people as they are right now: Immobile, easily distracted, needing comfort, and looking for hope and the opportunity to make the best of a bad situation.
All too many companies are using shameless plugs for their products and bating consumers with offers that come across opportunistic, transparent, and callous. While our brands might be suffering too, we need to make sure that our messaging doesn’t translate to “Give us your money” but to “Let us help you. Let us ease the discomfort you’re feeling now.” Let’s try to do our best, not just for our brands, but for each other.