March 2020: not quite what we expected. You probably don’t need us to point out that this month has been unique… and not in a good way.
A number of previously unimaginable things happened – and fast. The WHO declared a global state of emergency. Borders closed. Most of us were ordered to go home; to work from home, to teach from home, to just stay at home – indefinitely. We went from talking about a virus to talking about a crisis.
So, what do we do now?
After the first shock, most of us are hopefully able to stop and take a couple of deep breaths and ask ourselves some crucial questions like, what do we do now? How do we carry on with marketing in a health crisis that is threatening to become a financial crisis? And does marketing even have a role to play moving forwards?
We, as an industry have a societal commitment to do our part.
The most important thing is to not become paralyzed by fear. We, as an industry have a societal commitment to do our part. One could argue that we may actually have a pivotal role to play in getting our society through this crisis – while standing as strong as possible when we get out on the other side.
The crisis’s three phases: Understand your brand’s role and plan accordingly
The key thing is to break this crisis down into phases. The emergency phase - where we are right now; the recovery phase, which will come next; and the new reality phase, which will be a result of the structural changes that the crisis has brought with it.
It is crucial to understand your brand’s role throughout the three phases, and plan accordingly. It may seem absurd, but it is critical to already now be thinking about and planning the short- and long-term repercussions. This may turn out to be pivotal in how you get through the crisis, and what state your brand is in once we are out on the other side.
Let’s break the three phases down.
Phase 1: State of emergency phase – Demonstrate citizenship
We are now in a state of emergency phase. Your brand’s role is about demonstrating citizenship. Ask yourself how your brand can contribute and how you can help solve some of the issues that the crisis has brought with it – small, as well as big. This is not only a duty as a brand, but also as a citizen. Set aside your commercially driven instincts for a little while. Actions speak louder than words at this point.
We have already witnessed the first handful of inspiring examples in this crisis. Look at LVMH, for example, who restructured three of their perfume production facilities to produce free hand sanitizer for French hospitals. Or the small group of Danish IT companies, who within under a week have created an app to help over some key statistics around the COVID-19 virus.
There is a need for speed to market at this point, but without forgetting to show kindness and consideration.
Weigh up your commercial messaging extra carefully during this time, but continue to think in compassionate and creative solutions that support the new needs that have arisen amongst your audience.
Agility is a must during this phase. There is a need for speed to market at this point, but without forgetting to show kindness and consideration. Remember, this is NOT the time to put your brand at the center, this is about community and good citizenship.
Phase 2: The recovery phase - Optimism and increased focus on customer orientation
It’s crucial that you and your team start planning the next step of the crisis. Crises come in different shapes and sizes - will this be V-shape, U-shape or L-shape? Nobody knows if the health crisis will turn into a full-blown financial crisis – or for how long it will last. But we can see from China that the crisis (thankfully) does have an end.
Once the Western world opens up again, that’s when we enter the recovery phase. People will probably have been isolated for at least 6-8 weeks. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We’ll want to go out, and we’ll want to express ourselves. We’ll want to eat, send flowers, and maybe travel to the places where we were supposed to spend our missed holidays.
If the health crisis turns into a financial crisis, it will be essential for all brands to increase their customer orientation.
RIght now, companies within the experience economy are especially impacted. But they will have a greater possibility to regain some of their losses - if they have planned ahead accordingly, that is. The less optimistic thinker predicts a fight for a smaller market, where the most well-prepared wins. The recovery phase can be a crucial moment for many companies.
If the health crisis turns into a financial crisis, it will be essential for all brands to increase their customer orientation. Comprehensive research from the past five major economic crises shows that brands that have clear value propositions, invest in their brand position and customer experience, win.
Many brands might be tempted to only focus on lower-funnel activities, such as price promotions to regain some of what they have lost. Generally speaking, that’s something to hold back on. Partly because lower funnel activities will be less effective (and more expensive) as there are fewer buyers. Partly because it can harm your brand’s position, which is essential in order to get through the crisis – and stand stronger on the other side.
Phase 3: A new reality – what does the world look like and how do we secure our relevance?
When we get to the other side of this crisis, the world and social order will be re-established - but that doesn’t mean things will be the same. We will probably have to adapt to a new normal – a new reality. New business models that can threaten your brand might have emerged as a result of the crisis. It’s important to be aware of start-ups and newcomers - especially right now. What do they see that you haven’t seen in the market?
Where the past decade has been about self-realization and self-affirmation [...] then the next decade might be about security, love, safety.
It’s also a possibility that a long-term crisis can change user behavior for a number of years. When our very existence has been threatened, both health-wise and economically, then norms and values can change radically. Where the past decade has been about self-realization and self-affirmation (the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), then the next decade might be about security, love, safety, and the more physical needs at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Of course, it’s way too early to start predicting what the world will look like after the Corona crisis, but the message from us is unambiguous and clear: The ones who look ahead - and think, plan, and act based on the three phases, will win.