The COVID-19 pandemic is playing out like a Netflix drama. We’re tuning in to find out the latest twists in this ongoing superbug saga as much as we’re learning how many ways we can braid our hair like the Mother of Dragons when we binge-watch Game of Thrones. We can’t wait to hear from our favorite trending characters, like President Trump’s medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. With all eyes on the news, whether it’s on national television or in local publications, the media has our attention because COVID-19 is part of our lives and we all have a role to play.
During times of uncertainty – wars and conflicts, banking and housing crises, pandemics and natural disasters – many businesses pull back on their advertising efforts. But marketing experts say that’s the wrong thing to do. “It’s actually a pretty good time to advertise in many ways,” said Chad Mizee, senior director for global media and digital excellence for J&J, in a recent Brand Innovators Fireside Chat.
- Cutting Your Public Image Hurts
With years of experience in crisis management, I’ve often said, “You don’t know how good your public relations and advertising people are until you stop using them.” A seasoned marketing professional was telling me about an answer she gave in a recent job interview when asked to provide an example of a situation in which she excelled. “My best work happens when no one notices,” she said. In other words, her efforts to maintain a trusted relationship between her company and the public are evident when everything’s going well. And everything’s going well because she maintains her company’s positive public image. Keep being present! Research into brands that survived the 1990 recession shows that Taco Bell and Pizza Hut did well by increasing their advertising budgets, while other large restaurant chains did not. Both experienced substantial sales increases – about 40% and 60% respectively.
- State Farm Got it Right
We develop relationships with the brands we love and trust. A relationship is a friendship. If a friend is only around during the good times, we may decide that that individual is not such a good friend. Therapists may advise us not to invest anymore in that friendship. State Farm insurance is running national advertising right now that sends a message about caring for its loyal auto insurance customers. Having two vehicles insured with Melissa Cripps State Farm, I decided to test the claim. Sure enough, my phone call was answered right away by a real person who told me my refund would be coming in June. I didn’t even have to apply for it! Whether you call that relationship “Jake,” from State Farm or “Flo,” from Geico, we like knowing our friend is still there. Make sure you are there, too. Be present, like a good neighbor.
- We Want to Know Why You’re So Great
Captain Sully, Cap’n Crunch and Captain Obvious lead with confidence, and consumers like that. Leaders make us feel better and businesses that understand this can come out ahead in a storm. Smart businesses find a way to stay relevant and connected with their customers. Walmart is hitting advertising homeruns with consumers by showing real employees at work keeping the supply chain moving. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is delivering a calming message about how his company is maintaining safe distances for those boarding planes and providing more space once passengers are on board. Uber is encouraging people to stay home right now and not use its service while it’s freeing up drivers to do coronavirus tasks. Businesses like these make us appreciate them for their efforts, but we can’t appreciate them if we don’t know about them. And we only know about their good deeds and their wonderful employees because they pay for advertising that reaches us.
- It’s Not Business as Usual
Now is a wonderful time to be creative. If it’s not business as usual for you, try business as unusual. For example, popular liquor and perfume brands are experimenting by making hand sanitizer. Consumers will appreciate your inventive spirit, even if it doesn’t work out, because failures are funny and those who fail are often endearing. There was an oddly successful science fair in San Diego recently that offered a “Failed Science Projects” attraction. People loved the idea of kids proudly standing by their F-worthy homework assignments. Attendees wanted to help by getting in there with the loosely wired ideas and trying to salvage the projects! Show us your innovations, whether they are successful or not, because without our crowded movie theaters or packed sports arenas, we are starving for entertainment! This is also a great time to negotiate the cost of supplies, services and advertising rates. When all this is over, businesses that you were loyal to may return the favor by maintaining your discounted rate beyond the virus. You should ask for it, anyway.
- Buying Local Makes You Loveable
Finally, remember to buy local – that’s like supporting the home team. If you want to paint your face in support of QCBN, how could we resist sharing that look in print and online?
For businesses wanting to connect with their customers and make a lasting impact, like Chad Mizee says, this is a time of opportunity. Get visible, stay relevant, be memorable, wear braids. QCBN
By Bonnie Stevens