What does COVID-19 mean for marketers?


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How dense would the rock you are living under have to be, for you to have not heard of COVID-19 or coronavirus?  It isn’t just a virus hijacking global respiratory systems.  It’s a virus that is running rampant through all media channels.  Of course, that includes social media.

Currently the topic itself is a Facebook pandemic.

COVID-19 has taken a starring role in our memes, our conspiracy theories, and in our opinion posts.  We are taking incredulous pictures of empty supermarket shelves and people’s shopping baskets.  And to top it off, around here, there is an official shortage of powdered custard thanks to panic buying.

I am certainly looking forward to all these end-of-the-world trifles.

The problem with it, is that nobody can get in front of the virus. We can’t pre-empt it.  Everything has happened so fast that we are all just reeling and reacting.

And that is not a place the marketer likes to be now, is it?

But what exactly are we reacting to?

There are a few major issues that are making life very difficult for anyone in marketing right now.  All of which can ultimately affect the way that marketers act during this health crisis. 

Let’s have a look at the impact of COVID-19 upon our marketing campaigns.

Luxury items surplus to requirements

1. COVID-19 panic buying means stock longevity isn’t certain for some products

At the moment shelves are being emptied of products.  Toilet rolls, bottled water, hand sanitiser and pasta chief among these.  In fact, even ecommerce sites such as Amazon are struggling to maintain stock levels to adequately fulfil requirements.

So, how do we market products that cannot currently be supplied?

The problem is, at the moment there is a definite peak in sales for sanitation products and food that can be preserved for long periods of time.  But because of these long expiration dates, this is likely to see a future slump.  This will make projections harder to determine.

But also, with COVID-19 fear driving the public, there is a danger that other products will suffer.  Luxury items might be deemed surplus-to-requirements.  If people are focussing on creating their own post-apocalyptic underground bunkers, are they going to be interested in buying frivolous products?

Without any clear projections, it is difficult to know how to budget for marketing campaigns.

COVID-19 disrupts the manufacturer to checkout journey

2. Supply chains are being disrupted by countries on lockdown

You can understand the reactions to COVID-19.  It has a high infection rate, even if the mortality rate is arguably low.  Countries such as China, Italy and Spain are having serious trouble trying to contain the infection.

This means the product journey from manufacturer to checkout may be seriously interrupted.

There are Logistics companies like Logistics Solutions Group working hard to open up collaborative options.  But nothing is certain, there is still the future to consider.  The United Kingdom might lock itself down soon.  With the speed of reaction displayed by international governments, situations change overnight.

It means that we could be marketing a product that won’t reach our supermarkets.

3. Manufacturing has come to a halt due to factory closedowns and isolated staff

The worse this situation gets, the less production there is.  COVID-19 is turning the key in the locks of many factories for the foreseeable future.  Not only does this mean that marketing has to come to a halt, it casts uncertainty over whether the brands would survive an extended lockdown.

For the marketing teams, it is potentially much easier to keep on working.  We could curl up in our home-caves and create our blogs, schedule our posts, and keep churning out advertising materials.  But the throngs of people who are operating machines on shop floors can’t exactly continue producing from home.

If production stops – everything must grind to a halt.

Marketing budget events

4. Events are being cancelled and postponed ahead of time

It isn’t just products that we market.  COVID-19 is closing down our events too.  Scotland have banned any social gathering expecting 500 or more people in their turnout.  The English Premier League has suspended its games.  Madonna, Machine Head, Papa Roach and My Chemical Romance have all cancelled their tours because of it.

Yes, they will most likely reorganise the event.  How much money has already been spent on marketing these events though?  How much marketing is currently in production that needs to be halted?  And how much will it cost to start the marketing for any rearranged gigs?

Whilst the reaction is understandable, venues and marketing teams stand to lose a lot of money on this disaster.  How will the marketing departments of large-scale festivals, sports events, and concerts cope now that they have been closed down?

At least people can steady themselves for the Olympics, Wimbledon, and Euro 2020 this year, just in case these events fall victim to COVID-19.

Boring COVID-19 nihilists etc

5. COVID-19 social media and commentary

It might be a massive surprise to us all, but the rampant social media posting isn’t helping anyone.  Of all forms of media, the most sensationalising medium has to be social media.  At the best of times, social media can be toxic.  But add a twist of pandemic with a sprinkle of fear and panic buying to your Facebook feed, and now we have a poisonous and divisive commentary.

There are people belittling others for panic buying.  We have conspiracy theorists calling out everyone who doesn’t believe this is an alien disease deliberately planted by the government so that they can put a micro-chip in us.  We have half-baked and semi-talented tribute artists who have had events postponed acting unprofessionally towards venues and the public because of loss of earnings.  Amongst all of these we have the pseudo-scientists, the nihilists, the optimists and those declaring how boring COVID-19 is.

So how do we read our buyer personas at the moment?

Do we just ignore coronavirus?  How do we gauge the temperature of a target audience that have developed a fever for a single issue, but in one hundred different ways?

These are the prevailing challenges marketers are aiming to circumvent right now.

Less likely to write without coronavirus

So how can marketers deal with COVID-19?

Unfortunately, we cannot all simply ignore COVID-19.  I mean, let’s be honest, I would be a lot less likely to have begun this analysis if the coronavirus wasn’t trending right now.  We could level criticism at marketers like me who are cracking out the pen just to jump on a bandwagon.  We could accuse us of base cynicism for hijacking a fatal illness to create content.

But on the other hand, this is the perfect opportunity to create a discussion amongst marketers about the near future.

A lot of marketers are riding the pandemic at the moment in a variety of ways.

1. To offer some peace of mind to their customers

Today, Northamptonshire-based shoe shop Magnus Shoes are waiving their delivery fees so that people who want to order shoes, don’t have to visit the store physically.  Rather than perpetuating the unleashed fear on social media, they are offering a solution.

People don’t have to run into other people whilst trying to avoid people. 

Waiving delivery charges will not only increase their sales, but seem more attractive to people who are afraid of the virus, or are vulnerable to infection.

British sense of humour

2.  To see the funny side of it all

There have been more than one example of independent businesses reacting in a less than serious way.  There is a local bar that is currently using humour on their marketing materials.  Signs outside say: “There’s a beer shortage coming – Panic buy here – P.S. Panic Drink Responsibly”.

It might seem a little in bad taste.  Essentially it is drawing upon a poor social reaction to a life-threatening event.  However, the British aren’t known for their sanitised sense of humour.  Levity isn’t a bad idea though, and as long as we don’t fully level our satirical muzzles at the dead themselves, it should be fine.

Wrapping up (in a face mask and nylon gloves)

I think your marketing boils down to one important question.

How do you want to look?

More importantly, how do you want your brand to look?

You could provide useful and calm information to your buyer personas to try and help them understand what is happening and promote healthy and safe behaviours.

You could try and create a community, have your customers to work together on keeping each other safe.  After all, if one person in the community isn’t safe – then the community isn’t safe.

You could adopt the humourous approach and create shareable or meme-able content.

The choice is entirely yours.

If there is anything you would like to add, or any discussion you would like to start about the coronavirus and marketing then please comment below.

5 Responses

    1. I agree that the industry can come back stronger. Perhaps this is the time to promote collaboration between agencies to keep the industry ticking over. The more we work together, the stronger we can build the industry as a whole. Survival best in a pack if you know what I mean?

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