Successful Marketing in Midst of a Pandemic

A question for you: Have you sent your customers a letter explaining what measures you are taking to support them during this coronavirus crisis? Good. Was the information useful? Even better. Have you emailed them more than once? Stop. Unless you have genuinely important information – to them, not to you – sending repeated emails to customers is nothing more than spam. I bravely peeked into my email this morning, only to find over 5,000 unread emails in my inbox. 5,000! Now granted, not all of them have come in the past few weeks as the coronavirus rages. I’m pretty guilting about ditching useless emails. But that’s the problem: I have that many emails in my inbox that are so unimportant I don’t even bother to look at them long enough to delete them. I spent more time with the junk mail that arrives via the US Postal Service.

Email marketing is an extremely inexpensive tool in your marketing toolbox, but as the old saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. Unless what you have to say is important to your customers, now is not the time to be spamming your customers. I have 5,000 unread emails that attest to that. They’ve succumbed to the urge to do something, anything to try to keep their sales going. That’s perfectly understandable, but it’s sacrificing long term survival for short term sales.

You need to look at the current situation realistically, and think in terms of your customers’ short term vs. long term objectives. Right now, their short term focus is on surviving this coronavirus situation. It’s hard to think about buying new clothes when they’re unemployed because of the closure of their place of work as a nonessential business. There’s not a lot of demand for a new GPS device when you can’t drive anywhere. Increasing the frequency of your email and social media marketing isn’t going to help. Instead it’s going to turn you into annoying background noise that gets tuned out instantly: 5,000 unread emails.

So what do you do? First, take a deep breath. Now think: what can you realistically do? You may not be in a position to retool to make essential supplies like hand sanitizer, ventilators or medical masks. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a role to play. Think creatively about what you can do: Chipotle is hosting virtual lunch parties on Zoom, with celebrities and free burrito giveaways. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium let penguins tour the aquarium, and filmed their visit. But what if your product doesn’t lend itself to virtual interactions? Doesn’t it? Get creative!

Think about all the questions you’ve ever been asked about your product or service. Can you turn that into a social media post? In the past days alone, I’ve searched topics online on how to sew my own bias tape, how to dewinterize a travel trailer, how to unplug a drain, how to make environmentally safe weed killer, and how to make sour dough starter. See a theme there? You still have customers out there, and putting together online product demonstrations is an excellent way to communicate with customers with a purpose that they will accept. Give them “behind-the-scenes” tours of your facilities. Interview employees and let them put a human face on your company. You don’t need fancy video equipment – most smartphones are more than capable of recording what you need. Back in 1966, WPIX in New York showed a looping video of a Yule log burning in a fireplace on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with accompanying holiday music. The idea was later adopted by the Home Shopping Network. How could you adapt this to your organization’s situation? It doesn’t have to be something you’re selling – the WPIX and the Home Shopping Network weren’t selling fire, but that fire generated large amounts of publicity and attention for them that reached beyond existing customers.

You don’t have to stop communicating with your customers, but do it wisely. Less marketing and more public relations. Don’t become part of the background noise like everyone else. Entertain them, inform them, reassure them in this difficult time and they will remain receptive Once lost, a customer’s attention is incredibly difficult to get back. So think before you click “send.” You don’t want to be 5,001.

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