Norfolks Voice

MARKETING IN COVID – WHY EMPATHY IS ESSENTIAL

Andrea Hardiman, All about the message

The now not-so-novel Coronavirus. We'd all hoped it would be over by Christmas – but it seems that's not to be. By any standards, 2020 has been and continues to be, one hell of a year, both for individuals and organisations.

But comparisons with previous cataclysmic events are a misleading distraction. We are where we are, and this, for the foreseeable, is the new reality. If we are, to borrow a phrase, “all in this together”, then we need to help and support each other; and, collectively, roll our sleeves up and get on with it.

Changing with the times

If you feel you're still floundering, bewildered by developments you can't control and what those events might mean for your business, take heart: so are many of your competitors! But there is a window of opportunity here – and it won't stay open for long. You may need to change how you operate; possibly, even, what you do, what your business is; and certainly, your marketing strategy.

Companies that survive and thrive in these trying times will be those that have been fastest on their feet: quickest to adapt to the new paradigm. These companies will have reviewed their products, systems and processes and may have applied a start/stop/continue “slide-rule” to their activities: what do they want to start doing; what do they need to stop; and what do they continue with?

Three little words...

Three words that I'm hearing time and again at the moment are “purpose”, “pivoting” and “empathy”.

The first is sort-of self-explanatory – but a little elucidation never goes amiss, so to get existential: purpose is about as fundamental as it gets. Why does such-and-such a business exist? What problems, or pain points, is it here to address for its customers? Businesses that know their purpose really “get it”; and use that knowledge, that self-awareness, to create deeper connections with their clients. According to a recent report from Deloitte, purpose-driven companies enjoy higher market-share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors.

The second I understand to mean changing the nature of what you offer (in some cases, radically) to fit the current climate. Thus, to use an obvious example, high-end restaurants becoming takeaways – food provision might be a common denominator, but the two industries are historically very different!

However, the third is integral to successfully market your business – whatever it is or is becoming.

It's the thought that counts

What is certain in these challenging times is that the days of marketing-as-blunt-instrument are gone. If that marketing style was already in its death throes pre-Coronavirus, then Covid has killed it stone dead; and no-one laments its passing.

What's replaced it is a need to be much more precise. Much more targeted. Much more, in a word, thoughtful. Don't cut your marketing spend – but consider where and how you're spending it to get the biggest bang for your marketing buck. And it's not just about making your money go further: make time – invest time if you prefer – to look into new channels to promote your business. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram et al., plus other as-yet-undreamt-of social media, are free or low-cost and are there to be used. Think about how you can best make them work for your business – not just in the here-and-now, but in the long term.

And empathy is critical. The ability to make the human connection with your clients and prospects, understand where they are now, and where they want to be post-pandemic, is vital to your success in marketing to them. And that means thinking – hard – and asking questions.

Talking – and listening

In the case of existing customers, you might enjoy a business relationship going back years. Maybe you socialise together. But how well do you really know them? How has this seismic shake-up affected them – personally, as well as professionally? Where have they moved – or are they moving – from and to, business-wise? What are their hopes and dreams for the future – and their fears?

And the same goes for prospective customers. Arguably this is a little trickier – though one of the (few) positives from the pandemic is a new openness, a willingness to reach out: to talk subjectively about Covid and its effects. To compare notes – or, as one of my associates puts it, to “swap war stories”.

But the key thing is to keep asking, keep having the conversations, and dial-up the dialogue; only then will you be able to mould your marketing plans to fit your clients' new shape. Which will shift – or mutate, just as the virus does. Ask your customers and prospects: what are they getting stuck with? Do you have a solution that can help them? If these conversations result in new target markets for you, then that can only be a good thing!

Finding a new way forward

No-one has all the answers – not when the questions keep changing. But we all need to be kinder to one another, personally and professionally. To acknowledge that these are challenging times and that we're coping with some elements while struggling with others.

Life at the moment is riddled with uncertainty. But what is an absolute no-brainer is that “selling-to” is dead in the water. “Working-with” is where the future lies.

Ten points to pandemic marketing

1.     Know what business you are in. Not what you were doing pre-Covid – but NOW

2.     Understand the implications of any changes you're making – operational or fundamental

3.     Don't cut your marketing spend!

4.     Think about other ways to spread your message

5.     Talk – and keep talking – to your clients. And LISTEN

6.     Be flexible – adapt as trading conditions change

7.     Get to know where your customers are – and where they want to be

8.     Be open: your clients will be too

9.     Don't assume you have all the answers. Be prepared to learn

10. Be kind!