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The current market is possibly the toughest that modern businesses have ever faced. Millions of people are unemployed. Businesses are wondering when they’ll reopen. More than half of Americans are afraid of what the future holds.

How do you market at a time like this? Do consumers think it’s okay?

Overwhelmingly, yes. Marketing Week has reported that only 8% of customers believe that brands should stop advertising until the crisis has passed. But that doesn’t mean marketing is business as usual.

DON’T Be Opportunistic or Profiteering

It’s easy to look like an ambulance chaser right now. Take a step back from messages that make it look like you’re making money off the crisis — that’s how you leave a lasting bad impression.

At the same time, be careful not to engage in what SocialMediaToday calls “virtue signaling.” Don’t send out gratuitous messages saying how much you care about your customers’ and employees’ health and safety. Unless there’s real action behind them, those messages come across as pandering and sales-grubbing.

DO Lead with a Message of Compassion and Support

According to research from Ace Metrix, 75% of consumers believe that brands have a responsibility to help during the pandemic.

Customers don’t want to hear you sell, they want to hear that you’re helping. Focus on the personal touch, showing how your company is contributing.

DON’T Operate in a Sales or Marketing Silo

For relationship marketing to work during a pandemic, your entire company has to be on the same page. That’s a little bit harder when most people are working from their homes, but you can’t let social distancing lead to communication breakdowns between teams. That’s how outdated and inaccurate messages hit the market.

DO Coordinate Cross-Functionally

Keep connections open with your decision-makers and know what your company is doing to take care of its customers. Create a core group of decision-makers and establish a procedure for reviewing all marketing materials, from blog posts to customer emails.

DON’T Go Dark with Analysis Paralysis

A survey from Marketing Week and its sister company eConsultancy showed that of 900 brand marketers, 55% are reviewing or delaying their advertising campaigns while they try to figure out the current climate.

There’s nothing wrong with scanning your ads for content that’s inappropriate during the COVID-19 pandemic — no one wants to be KFC, which had to pull its latest ad in March because it pictured people licking their fingers in public — but don’t wait so long that people forget you exist.

If one of your competitors offers help before you do, your customers may take it.

DO Communicate Thoughtfully

According to a recent survey, 66% of customers feel reassured and comforted when they hear what brands are doing to respond to the pandemic. Instead of freezing your marketing completely, consider how you can meet that need.

Consider three campaigns mentioned in Ace Metrix’s Survey: Ford’s “Built for Right Now,” Verizon’s “We’re Here. And We’re Ready,” and Guinness’s “St. Patrick’s Day Message.” Some mentioned the pandemic directly, some didn’t, but each one communicated how the sponsoring company is serving its community. Overwhelmingly, customers appreciated these messages.

DON’T Outreach Blindly

This isn’t the time to follow your marketing calendar to the letter. A March poll from Morning Consult showed that people don’t want to see depictions of people shaking hands, hugging, or even standing less than six feet apart. Up to 58% of consumers are less likely to purchase a product that airs these images right now.

DO Understand When Your Audience is Receptive

Keep up your market research during the crisis. Some audience segments — like healthcare workers or parents who are suddenly homeschooling — may be tougher to reach, but many people will be willing to participate in surveys.

Use that data to determine what to say, as well as when and where to say it, to get the most positive response.

DON’T Make Short-Sighted Decisions

It’s important to get your voice out there, but don’t rush to publish before you know what to say. Stats also show that 33% of people have convinced others to stop using brands they felt were acting inappropriately in response to the pandemic.

DO Plan for the Long Game

Your customers will remember how your brand behaves when it matters most. If you make the most responsible and caring decisions now, you’ll build valuable goodwill for the future.

DON’T Be Caught by Surprise

When the crisis hit, did you already have a plan in place for how to handle it? If not, figure out what you could have done better and use that knowledge to plan for the future.

DO Create a Crisis Communication Plan

There’s a lot to learn from the current situation, whether or not you planned for it. What risks are you facing? Who are the affected stakeholders? How can you move more quickly through the process next time?

In Conclusion

All companies, whether they’re B2B, B2G, or B2C, are facing an unprecedented PR situation. Never in living memory has the world economy hit the “pause” button like this. We’re learning a lot, and one of those lessons is that you can’t pause humanity.

People crave connection. Find the right message, and your brand could be remembered as “the company that cared.”

To learn more, visit our COVID-19 communications free resource center

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