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Be Genuine, Be Agile: What the Pandemic Taught Us About Marketing

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COVID-19 rewrote marketing playbooks practically overnight. But it taught us that brands can survive disruption through agility, flexibility, and responsiveness.

Key takeaways

  • Tune into sentiment to inform your brand’s response to crises.
  • Continuously evolve your digital presence, assets, and expertise to stay resilient.
  • Reach consumers through diverse channels that provide multiple touchpoints.
  • Create an agile, cross-functional team that is empowered to act on consumer data.

Consumer behavior changed dramatically when billions of people were locked in their homes during the pandemic, and that forced marketers to rethink their strategies

Digital engagement skyrocketed as homebound consumers flocked to online shopping and entertainment, and social media activity boomed. Offline tasks, such as in-person grocery shopping, became more difficult, and consumers turned to digital channels for help.

This guide will go over how all of these shifts have impacted marketing – including what they’ve taught us about how to survive the future hiccups that will inevitably arise.

How the pandemic taught marketers to be more adaptable

After losing familiar comforts and routines, consumers looked for brands that brought a sense of normalcy, security, and hope. Some brands responded by offering virtual experiences, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery. 

This shift in behavior and brand strategies fundamentally changed the landscape of consumer engagement. Successful brands have since prioritized customer service and convenience, long after life has returned to normal. 

The early days of the pandemic accelerated demand for products and services aligned with personalized priorities, such as remote work, health, and well-being. Some brands’ quick and strategic adjustments perfectly matched evolving consumer needs:

  • Video conferencing tools like Zoom enabled remote collaboration.
  • Meal kit companies like Blue Apron helped families adapt to cooking at home.
  • At-home workout equipment and apps, including Peloton, satisfied fitness needs.
  • Best Buy offered enhanced technical support for home offices.

Monitoring consumer sentiment and behavior in real-time and deciding where to redirect efforts became vital in such an uncertain environment. The pandemic provided a stark lesson that agility and flexibility are key when sudden swings disrupt the marketing landscape. 

The agile brands were able to realign their efforts to welcome new opportunities because they identified these emerging consumer needs at an early stage. 

How digital preparedness helps progressive brands engage consumers

Digital channels provided a lifeline for marketers in the pandemic’s early days. Brands lacking digital strategies and assets found it difficult to find their footing, but organizations that had invested in robust digital capabilities and diversified platforms were the most agile and could ride out the disruptions more successfully. 

Here are some things that stand out as great lessons from this time:

  • The cultivation of digital assets, expertise, and presence serves any brand well in good times and is a resilience strategy for navigating crises. 
  • Brands that succeeded with their marketing during COVID-19 reached consumers via diverse channels. 
  • They quickly adjusted budgets and campaigns as sentiment and behaviors shifted. 
  • The analytics generated from these channels gave them the data they needed to build personalized customer experiences.

A key post-pandemic marketing objective should be to expand the data sources your business relies on, so you’ll have a clearer view of the dynamics affecting your market. Businesses in the pre-COVID era might have relied mostly on website analytics, but now need to bring in data from all touchpoints – including social media, email, video engagements, and as much real-time data as possible. 

Overlooking or underutilizing these data sources today could prove costly, because you may miss opportunities to align campaigns with current customer sentiment or key changes in the market. By staying in touch with your data, you’ll be better positioned to redirect resources to other channels should your analytics point to a shift in consumer actions. The data generated from these activities should be fed back into your systems, so you can analyze performance and fine-tune your personalization strategies. 

A crisis makes these efforts even more necessary since you will need a more comprehensive view of the market, your customers' opportunities and challenges, and how to meet their needs.

Why it’s important to track contingencies and flexibility provided protection from threats

Brands normally map marketing campaigns to long-term calendars and budgets. But even the most carefully choreographed plans can falter when conditions rapidly evolve. Building flexibility into your efforts is crucial to responding to unexpected shifts. Have backup creative assets and messaging prepared for agile activation. 

Building contingencies into your budgets is also important, so spending can quickly shift if circumstances change. Continuously evaluate campaigns and analytics so that you can optimize based on the latest trends and sentiment. Ensure brand activations or partnerships align with current events without appearing insensitive. 

Each crisis requires tailored preparation and response. But common threads – vigilance, agility, and customer focus – exist and enable navigation through the toughest storms. Challenges can be better handled by brands with a culture of resilience and empathy.

How genuine goodwill reassures consumers in uncertain times

During the pandemic we saw many companies shift to help the greater good:

  • Crocs donated shoes to frontline workers. 
  • Burberry converted factories to make medical gowns. 
  • Nike shifted its messaging away from performance and more toward encouraging people to be a positive force in the world with its 'Play for the World' campaign.
  • Zappos created a “happiness hotline” to give customers a listening ear and emotional support.

Consumers now expect brands to stand for more than profits. Companies demonstrating genuine social responsibility through meaningful actions have earned long-term consumer loyalty. This has become a pillar of resilient marketing strategies. 

The pace of change today rewards brands that can capitalize on real-time trends. But showing up without sensitivity to the context risks falling flat. Media hubs like NowThis interject helpful explainers to ride the latest headlines. The key is contributing value rather than hijacking attention. If you enhance the dialogue authentically, newsjacking can drive relevance.

Why a crisis-management plan should be part of every marketer’s strategy

In times of uncertainty, standard marketing tips aren’t enough to help your brand stay relevant. To plot the most productive path forward, build an agile team and train them to know how to react during a crisis. Leaders can prepare their teams by incorporating these qualities:

  • Teams across departments must work together, share information freely, and keep all stakeholders updated in real-time. 
  • Leadership should facilitate coordination through regular check-ins. 
  • IT groups may need to deploy new collaboration tools rapidly. 
  • Groups like HR and Communications will likely take on a more central role. 

Overall, breaking down silos, centrally coordinating efforts, and communicating effectively are key to navigating a crisis as an organization. One of the top duties of your team is to contribute to and know the facets of your crisis preparedness plan. 

Your team should prioritize these points because they are essential to your brand's survival in all market conditions.

  • Closely analyze emerging trends and disruptions that could impact your industry and consumers.
  • Diversify marketing channels, creative assets, and budget allocations to mitigate future risks.
  • Build in redundancies across critical functions so operations can continue if capacity is lost. 
  • Stress test readiness with crisis scenario simulations. 

While agility and responsiveness drive short-term survival, robust preparation across all aspects of your organization is key to lasting viability. 

What the pandemic taught us: marketing strategies must adjust to consumers

Consumers expect high levels of customization and personalization from brands. It’s up to marketers to meet those demands or risk losing relevance to competitors. To accomplish this, brands must provide a seamless digital experience across all channels. This means delivering content, products, and services tailored to the individual needs of consumers. 

It is not enough to pivot marketing strategies during a crisis. Some brands were able to connect meaningfully with consumers during the early stages of the pandemic, but sustaining momentum requires persistence. It is vital to maintain authenticity and empathy at all times and not abandon your brand values when outside influences threaten to disrupt your business.

All of your actions must be customer-focused, especially during a crisis. Should an emergency occur, communicate with honesty and openness. Show consumers that you are listening to their needs and responding accordingly. Make changes where needed to address their concerns. Finally, thank them for their loyalty and support.

Capitalize on marketing lessons learned during the pandemic

Take advantage of what the pandemic taught us about marketing. Be prepared for the future and download ContentBacon’s free guide on marketing through crises

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