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COVID-19: Marketing during a pandemic

PUBLISHED: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 11:55:35 GMT

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Image supplied by Curtin University Dubai

About the Author: Disha Laungani is the Associate Vice-President for Marketing and Student Recruitment at Curtin University Dubai. With a decade of experience in her field, her interests lie in building brands and telling their stories. She holds a degree in Media and Communication and a Master in Business Administration.


Marketing during COVID-19 – how to not make your audience hate your brand

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. Replacing the word ‘species’ with ‘brands’ in this quote by Charles Darwin will aptly summarize the rest of this piece.

In just two months, the world has transformed with the COVID-19 pandemic. With this virus impacting lives and economies, we are currently living in a unique time that even seasoned professionals have not encountered before.

Brands around the world are also struggling to cope with these trying times. The global challenge is industry agnostic; every brand manager is currently dealing with the same dilemma of, “how do I save my brand from being impacted?”  The truth is, you can’t. 

Resisting or ignoring the current situation and its impact on businesses is fatal. As brand custodians, our harsh reality is that change is imminent. There is an urgent need to respond to this pandemic with an effective marketing strategy – one that will continue to engage our audience, the brand’s believers, and avoid actions that lead to angry rants on public platforms. 

While we don’t have a fail-proof set of instructions on how to effectively implement a novel marketing strategy for this novel virus, in times like these it’s best to use your emotional intelligence with your expertise – a juxtaposition of your gut feeling with concrete industry data.

Messaging Matters

Every brand knows that it’s important to relay the right message to its target audience. Your audience right now is crying for help, and are either looking for solutions, reassurance or just some positivity during this tumultuous period. They want to trust you and your product.

Your brand’s content needs to be relevant and reliable, like Nike’s brilliant social media post which encouraged social distancing through their campaign “play inside”. The witty headline was followed by an equally gripping copy that read “If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance”, which resonated with Nike’s followers who applauded the brand’s creativity and appreciated its concern for the world. 

Customers want to experience empathy

Consumers are quick to distance themselves from brands that lack empathy. A donation towards a good cause or a display of genuine concern will help you strike a chord with your intended audience immediately. 

Think about what your audience needs right now and how you can help them achieve it. Fitness centers and gyms have been forced to shut down for an indefinite period but continue to run free classes through live videos, hence reinforcing their commitment towards their clients’ wellbeing, leading them to attract a wider audience. At Curtin University Dubai, we are providing generous financial aid to students to help them continue with their education. This simple act has been met with positive responses and sighs of relief. A thoughtful gesture that shows compassion and concern towards the customers will boost brand loyalty as well as awareness.

Make smarter decisions 

A change in strategy and making wiser investment decisions is crucial to help you combat the drop in sales. For instance, budgets assigned to mass media advertising, can be reallocated towards services that allow your audience some ease of access. Introducing a web-store, setting up easy installment purchases, or offering contactless deliveries will encourage your audience to continue using your product or service from the safety of their homes. 

 “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife” – David Ogilvy 

It is important not to undermine the intelligence of your audience.  Make sure your content and messaging is genuine, do not fake a show of solidarity. Several companies have faced flak for being opportunistic while failing to add value to the society and communities that surround them. Brands need to conscientiously invest in the well-being of people, instead of wasting resources on unnecessary gimmicks. Such efforts don’t have to be grand, just genuine. We must not use the pandemic as an excuse to prey on the consumer’s fears to boost sales. Encouraging panic buying or creating a FOMO factor wouldn’t be a wise move right now. 

Your marketing strategy during this time can sink or seal your relationship with your consumers. This is a period that will be talked about for years to come, hence it is crucial to use this time to strengthen your relationship with customers by giving them something to remember. This is the time to invest in goodwill, uphold the brand image and retain your customers, because as the age old adage goes, “this too shall pass.”


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