Viral marketing
How do you sell in the midst of a pandemic?
Marketing during a pandemic is a tricky art - just ask Corona beer. The company annoyed some consumers when it ploughed ahead with a product launch using the tagline "coming ashore soon", just as coronavirus was doing the same in the US.
It was unfortunate, rather than deliberate, but the company still copped flak, sending the marketing world into an early spin. How exactly do businesses continue to promote their services or products without looking tone deaf? And in the case of small business, how do they even continue to fund marketing?
A recent survey of Australian SMEs found spending on marketing had fallen significantly from March to June this year. The Ask Marketing poll of 100 businesses found marketing budgets were down an average of 15.4 per cent, with other key cuts being to rent and utilities (39.9 per cent), people (21.7 per cent) and operations (17.5 per cent). A whopping 30 per cent of those surveyed had ceased spending on marketing entirely.
But it could cost businesses more not to spend on marketing. Historic research indicates businesses that continue to market in a recession can get a jump on competitors that lasts for years.
Many companies shifted focus quickly from selling to brand building - and it made sense. With some businesses unable to trade due to restrictions, they just needed to stay visible.
The upside for cash-strapped businesses is coronavirus has turbo-charged digital consumption, where consumers can be cost effectively micro-targeted. Business owners don't need to go dark during a recession, just spend smarter.
Tone it down
The situation is far from normal and businesses should acknowledge this in emails, content and advertising. Many big brands switched to "we're here for you/in this together" messages rather than overt sales in the early months of the crisis. Coles used ads to thank its staff, while reminding consumers of the important role they play. Consumers may be offended by traditional sales pitches, so go for promotions that build goodwill, such as discounts and flexible payment plans.
Don't sell, help
Review your offerings and, if possible, focus on promoting products or services viewed as essential rather than discretionary.
Think about lines that can solve new "problems". Glossier hand cream was marketed to counteract the effects of frequent sanitising and handwashing. The company donated 10,000 tubes to health care workers, sharing photos and stories on social media.
Similarly, NRMA was able to position itself as helping rather than selling by upping its marketing budget when the pandemic hit and continuing the Help is who we are campaign kicked off during the bushfire crisis. The company also launched a new budget product - $10/month third party car insurance - targeting consumers nervous about large upfront costs. NRMA signed 13,000 customers to new policies in the first week of the promotion.
Pay-per-month or subscription pricing options can be very attractive in unpredictable times.
A bird in the hand
Focus on existing customers. It can cost up to five times more to land a new client than to keep one you already have. Not only that, but research indicates it is much easier to sell (and sell more) to a current customer. Touch base with regular clients but bear in mind people are bombarded with digital messaging, so keep it relevant and helpful - new products/services, sales, discount offers, or charitable campaigns customers can support.
In the same vein, focus on remarketing to customers who may have been to your site but not followed through on a purchase. Try a discount offer, free consultation or, if your site is retail, free shipping.
Up your social game
Initially it seemed coronavirus was going to do what Kim Kardashian could not, and actually break the internet. Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Google and Twitter reported unprecedented spikes in usage as they struggled to keep their platforms stable. As the virus hit Italy, Facebook and Instagram reported a 70 per cent jump in time spent on apps, with views of live streams doubling in one week.
Consumers worldwide continue to spend more time online and that brings huge opportunities for inexpensive marketing. Businesses can leverage this in simple ways:
  • Ensure social media pages (and the company's website) are regularly updated with useful content and offers.
  • Use Facebook sponsored posts to target consumers by location, interest, age or gender.
  • People love video and are hungry for content. Try going live if you're doing something interesting or even going somewhere interesting. Many people are home and keen to connect.
  • Facebook's internal data indicates users watch live videos three times longer than pre-recorded video content.
  • Join or start a group related to your business.
  • Create a competition or encourage customers to share content linked to your business.
Stay on trend
Piggybacking on hot topics is a simple way to engage audiences. Google Trends is a simple way to get daily or weekly updates on popular searches to prompt ideas for businesses to create related content. In recent months Google has added specific coronavirus-related trends by country and state. It can help to create timely marketing content if business owners know, for example, "meditation" searches hit a peak in April, as did "cooking" and "insomnia".
Go hyperlocal
Initial restrictions on travel led to a focus on buying and supporting neighbourhood businesses. Facebook now hosts a plethora of 'shop local' pages that allow local residents to connect with local business and their owners. Regular posts can drive word-of-mouth marketing.
Focus on your metrics
It has never been more important to drill down into your data and find out how people are finding your website, Facebook or Instagram page, what products or services are selling and why, and which ads or posts are generating click-through.

The information provided in this document is a selection of information taken from publicly available sources and is current as at the date specified in the information. It does not contain all information or all public websites that may be relevant to our brokers and their customers. Please note AFG does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. Any information provided is of a general nature and/or for illustrative purposes. It does not take into account our broker's or their customer's objectives, financial situation or needs and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. AFG encourages our brokers and their customers to consult their own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in or considering the appropriateness of any transaction.
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