Marketing During a Pandemic

Let’s establish two things right off the bat:

One, the Coronavirus Pandemic is a global tragedy that has already cost us far too many lives and create economic devastation.

Two, if you are lucky, you are still being paid to do a job—a job that, for founders, marketers and sales teams, means connecting with customers during a terrible health crisis and a recession.

What’s a company to do with their marketing?

I think you have to make the assumption that, at some point, we get back to a more normal work routine in a matter of months, not years. If you can’t assume that and you don’t work for Zoom, you should be liquidating all your assets, finding a piece of land in the middle of nowhere with an internet connection, and learning how to live off the land.

So what are you supposed to do in the meantime? Does it look tone deaf to be out marketing your business right now?

There’s certainly a right way and a wrong way to do this—and I would say that, actually, companies have three important factors in their favor right now:

1) Many of your customers have more hours in their day now. Business has maybe slowed and they no longer have two hours of commuting. Plus, there are many examples of people actually working more hours because there’s not much else to do. (This is, of course, if you do not have kids to suddenly homeschool—but only 40% of American households have children under 18, and the teens are off somewhere around the house on TikTok anyway.)

2) The dramatic shift in our day to day life has forced everyone into unfamiliar territory. Everyone is looking for answers.

3) Screen time is off the charts right now.

The combination of all of these factors creates an opportunity for companies to provide information and thought leadership during a difficult time—or even simply entertainment. If you can do that, you’re going to generate a lot of goodwill—and leads—that will benefit you as budgets start to open up again and things get back to normal.

If you aren’t selling right now, generating leads and cultivating trust through content, especially video content, is really your only option. Channels meant for conversion, while cheaper right now, might not work for weeks or even a couple of months.

But how do you do that if you weren’t setup for that to start with?

Here are some tips:

1. Start with the customer in mind first—ask what content you would want to consume if you were them. What do they need?

If you’re selling to small businesses, creating channels of content that explain various grant and loan programs would be super helpful—I don’t care if you sell point of sale software for restaurants. You’re now in the financial education business for the next few months. Start bringing that content that provides recommendations on how to do right by your employees and to be honest about difficult communications.

If you’re selling food online, don’t just sell food—teach people how to cook who may have never done it before. Your streams should look like a cooking channel right now—and I’d argue that’s probably what you should have been doing beforehand anyway.

If you’re a Presidential Campaign, make all of your channels a 24/7 science and fact-based news org right now that also salutes heroes and tells the stories of people on the front lines—in direct opposition to the self-aggrandizing cloud of spin we’re seeing from your eventual opponent.

Are you a travel company? Ask your customers to send you videos of their favorite places and some audio for you to string together in a sit back travel show so you can take advantage of the likey post-quarantine spike in trips because people can’t wait to get out of their houses.

Moreover, go meta and create online content that helps your customers create online content! Like you, they’re also struggling with how to sell their customers, so just leveling with them as a peer on what you’ve learned can be super valuable to them.

2. Accept different levels of production quality—sometimes, but not always.

You may not have access to a whole video editing team and you’re undoubtedly going to start off your webinar with “Can everyone hear me?” while your kids go running across the back of the room.

That’s totally fine.

That being said, please stop using Google Hangouts to do anything professional. It doesn’t work nearly as well as Zoom. Pay for a Zoom account. It’s worth it—but also take the time to understand the controls. Learn the difference between a meeting and a webinar, and make sure your settings don’t open yourself up Zoombombing (look it up).

Also, if you’re going to shoot a video remotely for content purposes, you don’t need to get stuck with conference call chat level video quality. You can use tools like Openreel (BBV portfolio co) to remotely operate the other person’s phone and upload HD back to you to take advantage of the HD level camera they paid up for when they got their iPhone in the first place. (Check these examples out.)

3. Be ambitious.

A lot of top people you might not have access to otherwise might have some time on their hands. Recently, I tried to think of the two very best people I could imagine would have great advice for startups facing a potential venture downturn. While a lot of other people have been doing “Ask a VC” sessions about how to dal with this, the reality is that there are only a handful of VCs who were still active during the Dot Com bust and know firsthand what that was like. Asking someone who has five years of experience in venture what companies should do is a bit ridiculous.

I was able to get Brad Feld and Todd Dagres to sit for an interview—two VCs with about twenty five years of experience in venture each. Neither is in NYC and so actually, doing something virtual worked out great—and we had over 330 live viewers for a whole hour, plus at least that many who watched after.

Go out and get the “big ask” for your audience—because they might not have a lot of other things to do with their time. Also, if you’re doing content meant to help your audience through a difficult period, they’re probably glad to do it.

4. Plan for recurrence.

Sometimes, it’s easier to plan to do a dozen of something and commit to it than it is to do one. It changes the level of tolerance you have around perfection, and it commits you to learning and improving as you go along. Instead of just trying one episode of a 90 second stress reduction tips clip for your meditation company, plan for a dozen. Plan daily clips. Maybe it winds up being the 6th one that goes viral for whatever reason.

5. Break the content free.

Every professional in the country right now has Zoom on their computer. You cannot avoid it.

So, if you’re producing content as part of your business that lives in an app, it needs to come out onto Zoom or the web in some way. People aren’t “on the go” the way they normally are with phones—they’re sitting in front of web connected TVs and on couches with laptops. Getting someone to convert to an app is probably even harder now when so much is a click away on their laptop.

So what’s your Zoom content strategy?

Zoom can be a great lead generator. Collect all the e-mails and mobile numbers you can for reminders, follow-ups and invites to future events—even if you have to cludge it all together pretty manually because Zoom isn’t a real marketing platform.

Every single company that needs leads should be offering webinars and other content on Zoom or other web based platforms right now, period. Why? Because it’s something people are used to, it’s on their desktop, and the aspect of making time for something and being allowed to ask questions on the platform creates a higher order of engagement. If I have to download your app to get your content, you’ve failed. Make it easy to get the content, then send me the link to your app.

If your customers need video advice right now, even if you normally sell printers, setting up a daily video production Q&A may make you a #quarantinehero during these difficult times, and I believe that will pay off when people need to go back to the office and buy a printer.

Or, just find the heroes already in your network. Who uses your product? Parents, teachers, doctors, nurses. Tell their stories using remote recording platforms like Openreel.

Just make sure that everything you do starts with the genuine interests and needs of customers. It’s ok and appropriate to acknowledge what’s going on around us, but also don’t make it the central aspect of your marketing pitches. I have a whole inbox full of people who are professional contacts of mine, who are probably on my newsletter and social feeds hoping that my family is ok, yet when my mom died a few months ago, I never heard from any of these people—so, sometimes the family concern repetition kinda rings a bit hollow.

Helping someone tackle their real professional responsibilities and acknowledging that it’s a difficult time to do so will never ring hollow.