Your Brand Isn’t COVID-19

Your Brand is NOT COVID-19 - 3 Steps to Marketing Success During The Pandemic

I’ve seen them, heard them, read them and can’t get away from them… marketing campaigns that have shifted to COVID-19. You know exactly what I’m talking about. The typical TV spot that shows the mother doing yoga with her child in a zoom interface. People sharing meals together with headphones sticking out of their ears. Video of hastily built home offices where their employees are still working hard for you. 

Enough is enough. 

If your company is caught up in COVID-19 advertising and marketing, take my advice – STOP.

Why We Use Marketing

I get it. The temptation is strong to show how your company or organization has made the pivot to working from home. You want to show how your delivery option is safe or contact-less. You want to tell people that we’re all in this together. 

The problem is it’s the exact opposite of what they audience wants.

We use marketing to illustrate points of difference. Your product or service:

  • Solves a key problem your customer has
  • Is better / faster / cheaper 
  • Makes your customer feel amazing
  • Is something you can’t get anywhere else
  • Is something your customers actually need

Nowhere in that marketing playbook is COVID-19. So why, suddenly are companies showing how they’re helping during these “trying times”?

Unprecedented Change

You’re right, these really are unprescedented times. But that’s a marketing opportunity to be different, not the same as what every other company is doing. Right now I could take any ad from nearly every major brand in the United States and swap out the logo and a few words and it would fit with the new company. That’s a total marketing failure.

Here are my three steps to marketing success as we navigate the pandemic

Step 1 - Ignore COVID-19

Yes. I mean it. Ignore COVID-19 as part of your branding efforts. The fact is, anytime you put out a piece of marketing that speaks to Coronavirus, your message is immediately lost. It is a total waste of airtime, budget and effort.

The reasons are simple:

  • Everyone else is already marketing to COVID-19
  • The changes you’re making to your business are the exact same changes every business makes because those changes are largely legislated.
  • Your audience already knows about COVID-19

Let me explain some of this a little further with an example. In some regions it’s been illegal to open on certain holidays. If that was the case, would you put out an ad campaign that says, “hey everyone, we believe in people, so we’re closed on the day we are not legally permitted to be open.” Same idea as marketing to Coronavirus.

Let’s be clear though, there is a difference between ignoring COVID-19 it and being ignorant to it. Ensure your message isn’t flippant or disrespectful to the experience people are going through. If you’re a nightclub, maybe don’t market much at all right now. 

Your Brand is NOT

Step 2 - Become Aspirational

Marketing is more than truth – it is often selling a lifestyle, a perception and an aspiration. 

During COVID-19, marketing has lost that edge. It’s no longer been about where we’re going, it’s about where we are and that things will be brighter together. It’s as if the ads all say, “Sorry for the constant reminder that you’re stuck at home and one day you’ll be able to go out for a nice dinner with your friends and actually make real eye contact, but our brand will help now and FOREVER!”.

Not a single person you’re marketing to needs to be reminded that life is different, they’ve been stuck at home or our front line workers are to be endlessly thanked. (They are – but this post isn’t about them).

Blah! I can’t stand this stuff. Do better by helping your customer see and feel the escape. Are you sending email updates to your customers that say “COVID-19 UPDATE”? If so, are you kidding me? You can include information about what your pandemic response is, but making it the major focal point of your messaging is selling out to the pandemic. 

Step 3 - Engage Your Customers

I almost wrote enrage your customers – that wouldn’t work as well. What does engaging your customers look like? Well on the communications side, it means learning about what pivots you may need to make to help serve them better during the pandemic. That makes the conversation about your customer, not about the pandemic itself. 

Being vulnerable as a brand can be a benefit to you if you play it correctly. If you’ve done Step 1 and Step 2 correctly, then you’re in good shape to learn and grow by asking thoughtful questions of your customers. 

This time is a great opportunity to learn and think about the long term success of your business.

Bonus: Change Your Attitude

Through change comes opportunity and the “get through this” attitude serves no one. The idea that your business and your customer will come through this to go back to normal is absurd at this point. If you make the attitude shift to pandemics such as COVID-19 being apart of doing business rather than the biggest interruption to business in generations, then you’ll face the day in a more positive way. It seems counterintuitive but it’s true. If you know that pandemics are part of the game, you’ll be a better player in it. 

More on that, (I dislike the word moreover), it helps create a attitude of abundance which is an entirely helpful perspective change during times of great change. 

There you have it. Three, plus a bonus step to kicking butt in marketing during this pandemic and any pandemic in the future.

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C.J. Wilkins, BAC, MA, CEC  is a Kelowna, British Columbia-based certified executive coach. Prior to being an Executive Coach, C.J. was an award-winning sustainably business entrepreneur having built a thriving sustainable sign company out of a dirty industry during a recession. He has extensive experience in entrepreneurship, marketing, communications and leadership development.