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Marketing’s Job in Times Of Crisis, Pandemics and Other Catastrophes

When crises like this strike, marketers are often left wondering how to respond. But all too often the focus is on communications – what to communicate, and if at all. As if marketing’s only job is communications. I‘m not undermining the importance of communication – like many agencies, we earn our living from it. It’s vitally important. Surely the most visible part of marketing’s job, and arguably the sexiest.

Communications is only one part of a truly strategic and effective marketing operation. And in times like this, it shouldn’t be the only (or first) place we go.

What is marketing after all?

At its heart, the role of marketing is to create markets, not just communicate to them. Marketing is a key strategic pillar of every business, big and small.

Marketing is what gives rise to the opportunity to deliver a product or service. Build a customer base, and drive sales and revenue – it is the backbone of business.

I’m an old school marketer from a pre-digital era. So trust me when I say the true fundamentals of marketing have not changed. We simply have a new set of fancy tools and a myriad of channels at our disposal. The breadth of marketing today can be overwhelming, but if we strip it all back, we’re left with the core ingredients: product/service, pricing model, distribution approach and communications (our trusty 4Ps).

Non-communications jobs to be done

When crisis strikes, rather than directing our energy to what we can say during the crisis, let’s first think about what we can do. Many brands, large and small have real and tangible value they can offer which directly helps those in need, supports their customer base, or demonstrates their purpose in action.

Whether it’s adapting their product or service, pricing model or distribution methods, these are all in the purview of strategic marketers. Innovate here, then communicate that innovation. Let’s look at some recent examples:

1. Product or service lever

A few popular examples here of brands who are redeploying their resources (product or service operations) to help the cause. Cosmetic brands like LVHM and distilleries like Carlton United Breweries (who’ve partnered with Ecolab AU) are making hand sanitiser to provide to the healthcare sector. And Dyson are using their expertise in air purification and deploying resources to manufacture ventilators.

LVMH redeploys their resources to make hand santisers  Carlton United Breweries redeploys their resources to make hand santisers

As part of Canva’s #stopthespread campaign, and to help customers get important WHO health and safety messaging out, they’ve created a set of ready to use poster templates with key messages already in place for their users to access and adapt.

Not all product or service initiatives need to be directly related to the pandemic. In our world, COVID-19 meant that many of our B2B clients were faced with cancelled events and other physical engagements where much of their demand generation takes place. To help our clients keep their marketing momentum going and still stay true to our own proposition, within a few days we were able to develop a partnership and offer an audio-visual production service to support our clients. We acted first, then communicated.

2. Pricing lever

One of the first and most notable examples of this is Zoom. Whilst Zoom has seen a dramatic increase in its customer base and usage, rather than enjoy the spoils, their response to the crisis was to make Zoom available free of charge to the education sector. I particularly like the instruction from their CEO Eric Yuan, not to ramp up sales or marketing due to the coronavirus crisis.

“If you leverage this opportunity for money, I think that’s a horrible culture. “Eric Yuan, CEO, Zoom

Google has also joined the effort by pledging $800 million to support SMEs, health organisations and governments respond to COVID-19. Many of the initiatives wrapped up in the pledge go beyond the marketing remit, but a consistent theme is the desire to support SMEs — a core segment of their customer base. Despite Google ad revenues taking a hit, part of their pledge involves providing Google Ad credits, directly into the accounts of their SME customers.

On a smaller scale, some vendors and service providers are adjusting their payment terms for impacted customers and setting up longer payment plans, making it easier for them to keep operating, without putting undue financial pressure on them.

3. Distribution lever

With self-isolation mandates and full city lockdowns across the globe, many businesses have had no choice but to adapt their operations to make it both safe and easy for customers to access their product or service. Out of necessity, many small cafes and restaurants have pivoted to offer take away or delivery services, mostly in a bid to stay afloat. Others like Dominos, Uber Eats and Menulog are responding to the safety needs of their customers by offering contactless deliveries.

Domino's Australia offers Zero Contact Delivery

Inspirations Paint have added to their access options by offering new contactless pick-up and free delivery options.

Inspirations Paint offers contactless pick-up and delivery options

If you’re still thinking through your response to this crisis or any others that may follow, take time to think about what you can first do. How you can adjust your proposition to support customers or the community in general. You’ll be surprised what you come up with. From there, communications can follow and will no doubt be more compelling than ‘we’re here to help’ messages.