Three Pandemic Marketing Lessons to Take into a COVID-Free World

by Debra Andrews | December 17, 2020

There’s always something good that comes out of bad situations, right? In March, I shook my finger and said, “Not this time.”  In June, I gave an empty stare and just searched for what that good thing might be.  In September, I took a deep breath and gave a slight nod up and down. It’s December, and with a mini fist pump, I say, “YES!”

Over the course of an unprecedented year, we learned a lot about marketing during a pandemic. But beyond that, we gained new insights about marketing that are much more universal. Here are three lessons learned about marketing during a pandemic that will make your marketing program that much better in 2021 and beyond.

Mastering the Pivot

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that life as we know it can change in a day. I distinctly remember traveling to Raleigh on Super Bowl Sunday – February 2 – to kick off a new client. On the plane, I spotted someone wearing a mask. Yes, I’d heard about what was happening with the virus in China, and I knew there were a few reported cases in Washington. But it didn’t feel like a threat to me, my family, or my business. I thought, “To each his own, but a mask seems a bit dramatic.”

Of course, that person’s behavior wasn’t anything but dramatic. The fact is, he was much more educated than me about the invisible enemy about to infiltrate the world.

A week later, reality set in.

A few of our clients needed to pause their contracts right away to gain their bearings. It quickly became clear that they had no contingencies in their annual marketing plans for anything even close to the scale and scope of a pandemic. Their plans didn’t even include pivots in the event a target market suddenly went south. We were in uncharted territory.

So 2020 became the year of the marketing pivot. Specifically, we helped our clients develop marketing pivot plans that answered critical questions like:

  • What if the economy takes a nosedive?
  • What if our target markets do much better or worse than expected?
  • What if we lose our largest customer?
  • What if normal access to our products and services becomes obstructed?

The good news is, we helped our clients successfully pivot in the face of the many changes the pandemic threw their way. And we took the same approach to adapting our own business, to ensure we’d not only survive but thrive in this dynamic environment. But there were definitely some cold-sweat moments along the way. The big lesson learned for us? Going forward, every strategic marketing plan that Marketri develops will have built-in pivots, so our clients will be better prepared for change.

Giving More, Taking Less

This was the year of hoarding. Sure, we might laugh at those Internet memes about the hoarding craze of 2020. But after I ordered a box of 250 rolls from Staples in mid-March, I felt ashamed. This knee-jerk reaction to a crisis—to take, take, take for ourselves—must be primal, don’t you think? A “survival of the fitness” mentality.

Thankfully, I took a much different approach to business than I did to paper goods. Instead of taking, Marketri focused on giving.  We launched a campaign on how to market effectively through times of crisis. We accelerated our services to keep our clients moving forward. We centered our regular team calls around how we could help our clients more.  It was a scary time. But staying focused on giving made our team feel empowered. 

When you think about it, in marketing the concept of “giving” really equates to the principles of the Inbound Marketing Methodology. According to HubSpot:

Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.

Pre-pandemic, the goal of inbound marketing was to form connections that drive business outcomes. During the pandemic, the goal of inbound marketing was to form connections that help others and foster community.  I even saw salespeople using inbound marketing just to stay in touch with their clients. They temporarily retired their electronic brochures (which I’m betting no one really missed) and instead focused on connecting.

Perhaps our collective experience in 2020 will encourage us all to put others first. No more hoarding paper goods in stores. And no more pushing one-way narratives in business. Giving more is the best.

Relevancy Matters (Even More)

There’s nothing like a pandemic to put things into proper perspective and get people focused on what’s truly important and relevant.  When the pandemic first broke out, Marketri’s advice on marketing communications was simple but strategic: Don’t do it unless you have something helpful and highly relevant to say. And really, that’s not very different from what distinguishes successful marketing communications at any point in time: Having a focused message that’s deemed informative by a target persona.   

Let’s face it: With all the fancy technologies, filtering, and AI capabilities, B2B and B2C buyers have become spoiled. They’re quick to dismiss irrelevant messages and they disdain the companies that send them. The pandemic took this trend to a whole new level.  With a scary virus spreading rapidly, businesses closing, and people dying, any marketing messages that weren’t helpful in an obvious way went beyond being annoying; they (and the companies that sent them) were viewed as insensitive and rude.

As the world eventually shifts to a new normal, this mindset may soften a bit, but it won’t fade away. Relevancy will become increasingly important. And it will be up to marketers to create the infrastructure to make messages personalized, timely, appropriate, and relevant for the recipient’s situation.  Sending communications just to see what sticks will relegate senders to a notch just below chopped liver status. They will become nothing but spam.

This post is dedicated to my Marketri teammates. Thank you for riding the waves alongside me this year.  I’ve appreciated your positive energy and your passion for serving our clients during these challenging and bumpy circumstances. You pivoted, you gave, and you’re the best colleagues I could ask for.