Nothing puts agility to the test like a global pandemic. COVID-19 unleashed a tsunami of disruption, freezing entire industries and rendering carefully planned business strategies obsolete. For marketers, quickly adapting campaigns to the context of the crisis has been an extraordinary challenge.
In our latest survey, we asked 500 marketing leaders — including CMOs, VPs, directors, and team leaders — what changes they made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, virtually all marketing teams and agencies (97.6%) changed their strategies, with 53% altering their messaging.
But achieving marketing goals amid severe disruption and uncertainty requires more than pivoting your strategy. Additionally, teams will need to implement several operational changes to maintain speed and support teamwork.
In this blog post, you’ll find four tips to help you achieve both. For all 10 tips, check out our whitepaper, 10 Lessons From COVID-19 on Marketing in a Time of Crisis.
Changing your marketing strategy to fit the context of a crisis
Marketers play an interesting role during times of crisis. Not only do they continue to be responsible for fulfilling business objectives, but they also pick up the important duty of helping shape the public’s collective experience during that time.
By staying attuned to customers’ shifting needs and priorities, you will have the know-how to alter your marketing strategy while offering real value. This will look different for every company, depending on the products or services you provide. Regardless of what you sell, in a crisis, marketers must approach their work through a lens of empathy and compassion for what your customers are going through.
Here are two tips for amending your marketing strategy during a crisis.
1. Find new solutions to fulfill business objectives
For some teams, entire channels of marketing may not be functional during the crisis. The most obvious example during COVID-19 is anything that requires in-person interactions, which explains why 37.4% of marketing leaders changed their marketing channel mix.
Major events where brands usually benefit from sponsorships and promotions — such as industry trade shows, the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, and potentially the upcoming Olympics — have all been postponed or canceled, forcing marketers to reach these audiences via different channels. Other teams might experience broader limitations due to a sudden loss of budget as businesses proactively tighten their belts ahead of impending losses.
Finding ways to fulfill business and marketing objectives despite these constraints requires innovation. To come up with new ideas, bring together your most creative and brightest marketers, salespeople, and customer success managers to brainstorm. In the remote setting, effective group brainstorming can be made possible with video conferencing, collaborating on shared documents, or even dedicated Slack group channels. Limit the size of the group to 10 people or less to maintain focus and engagement, and cover the following questions:
- What have customers expressed about what they want or need?
- What emerging marketing trends have you noticed?
- What are our competitors doing?
- How can we achieve XYZ goal without our regular marketing channels?
- Are there any new technologies or platforms we should tap to fulfill our objectives?
2. Communicate directly with your audience
As with any disaster, the media is saturated with information regarding the current pandemic. For many companies, the urge to avoid participating in that dialogue may be tempting, but it’s important to realize how your brand’s presence contributes to the way people experience the world around them — during usual and unusual times.
While there’s no need to take on a reporting role, marketers do have a responsibility to keep customers informed on how the company is handling the crisis, and what they can expect while doing business. More than half of marketing teams (53.6%) increased their online presence after identifying the need to open new, direct lines of communication with customers.
For example, if your company will be temporarily shutting down brick and mortar stores, increasing customer support, or changing product offerings to better meet customers’ needs, you should make this information clear and accessible.
However you choose to send your message, the language should be empathetic. Your business’s goal is to sell, but many people who will consume your content will be in a place of financial insecurity — humility is critical to maintaining a positive perception in your customers’ eyes.
Operational fixes for boosting teamwork amid upheaval
When there is high pressure to quickly plan and execute a new marketing strategy or campaign changes, highly effective teamwork is essential. But in the throes of a crisis, you can expect to face disruption internally as well as externally. Overcoming obstacles, adapting to new work settings, and getting your team to function at an optimal level will require several changes.
The key to stability during periods of upheaval is having the infrastructure in place that will help you transform agile mindsets into tangible change. Here are two tips to promote operational excellence amid an external crisis.
1. Reinforce the core values of teamwork
In times of crisis, go back to basics. Accountability, collaboration, and engagement are the three pillars of teamwork, and developing them will enable teams to handle the complex challenges of crisis marketing with agility and efficiency.
For example, one of the biggest challenges facing marketing teams during the COVID-19 crisis is launching campaigns on time, indicated by 40.6% of marketing leaders. This should be a point of focus for team leads, since prompt execution is crucial to supporting brand relevance during a crisis that’s developing daily.
When the pressure to alter the strategy and execute fast is high, teams that foster accountability, collaboration, and engagement will have the resilience to mitigate obstacles and stay on top of campaign schedules.
Successfully embedding these traits into the team culture demands increased managerial attention. Leaders need to set an example of accountability by boosting transparency, clarifying the value of each team member’s role, and reiterating the importance of speed. They can raise employee engagement by holding regular check-ins and proactively expanding support. To boost collaboration, teams will require enhanced systems of communication and full access to information and data.
2. Focus on cross-team collaboration
More than one-third of marketing leaders cite moving cross-departmental projects forward (37.2%) as primary challenges during a crisis. Finding a solution to overcome obstacles while collaborating across teams is paramount to executing a rapidly evolving marketing strategy under pressure.
Let’s take the relationship between the marketing and creative teams. These two crucial functions are completely interdependent, which makes it vital to have seamless processes for sending requests, tracking progress, managing approvals, and meeting deadlines.
Marketers and creatives often have different work styles, which can make working in tandem difficult — especially in a remote setting. While marketers love performance data and analytics, creatives are more confident relying on principles of taste and subjectivity. By establishing a system of collaboration that focuses on transparency, communication, and accountability, it will be much easier to ensure both teams stay on top of their work and achieve joint goals.
Teams can take simple steps to achieve this, such as by creating workflows that structure the interactions between them. With clear, standardized workflows, setting a regular cadence for team members to sync will come naturally. This structure will also help to centralize communication on one channel, clarify expectations on responsibilities and deadlines, and expand the accessibility of data — crucial components of effective collaborative work.
Translating agile mindsets into action
Marketing teams often talk about the importance of agility, but few have ever needed to exercise it to this extent before. The disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic shows us just how powerful the effects of a crisis can be, and that we must be prepared for the unexpected.
Marketing teams shoulder the dual responsibility of quickly amending marketing strategies while simultaneously changing the processes that enable them to work. By using these tips as a framework, you can help make sure your team can adapt quickly and effectively, no matter what.