Do’s and Don’ts of Digital Marketing During the COVID-19 Wave

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The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, needs no introduction. It has changed the way the world operates—the businesses are closing their doors, employees are being ordered to work from home, and the economy is heading towards a recession. The estimated cost of this pandemic is predicted to set back the global economy by a staggering $2.7 trillion, with one of the worst-hit industries being travel, which is expected to lose $820 million by the end of this pandemic.

In such times, one of the first things that most businesses around Canada are doing is to change their strategies for digital marketing during COVID-19. However, some of these brands are not strategizing the right way, they are either hitting the wrong chord with their audience, or they are underestimating the impact of COVID-19. What’s worse is that some companies have completely shut down their marketing operations and stopped ad spend to minimize their losses.

Though those companies, and many marketers alike, might think that cutting down their digital marketing budgets might be the right way, it is not. Instead, the best approach now is to double down on digital marketing and prepare to ride out the downturn. As Daniel Sun, a VP Analyst at Gartner (global research and advisory firm), stated, “Companies need to leverage a systematic approach to strengthen the resilience of their current marketing models to ensure their ongoing operation during COVID-19.” Keeping your customers informed and engaged is crucial now, more than ever. 

Even during such a downturn, it is possible to see a growth in business if you play your cards right by strategizing well. Even if you don’t see an increase in your business, digital marketing during COVID-19 can help your business stay competitive and afloat. You may not convert many leads in the current market, but at least you will keep your brand relevant. Digital marketing can help your brand stay ahead of the curve once things go back to normal.

Do’s and Don’ts of Digital Marketing During COVID-19

Clearly, digital marketing is not the same anymore. The rules of the game have changed drastically, and you need to adapt your digital marketing strategy to the same. Merely doubling down and diving headlong into digital marketing might not be as fruitful, and if done the wrong way, it can cost you company a lot more than just money, especially reputation. So, to help you adapt your marketing strategy to the current pandemic, here are some Do’s and Don’ts that you should follow to see maximum potential returns.

Do: Produce Relevant Content

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One of the critical pillars of digital marketing during COVID-19 is growing your presence online. This can not only help you reach out and attract more customers but also allows you to eat into your competitor’s market share. Hence, you need to pay special attention to content marketing. This strategy can be especially helpful if your brand has been financially hit due to the downturn where you have had to cut down your ad spend. As always, a robust content marketing strategy never goes wrong, so you must focus on content creation. This is the time to beat your competitors.

Remember, people are online, and they have nothing much to do, so they are consuming online content like never before. Though the statistics suggest that web traffic is going down for business, you can use a robust content marketing strategy to turn it in your favour. Using content that is SEO-friendly can not only attract a lot of traffic to your website, but it can also help you beat your competitors in SERP ratings on Google.

One of the better examples of a brand using organic content to grow in the current market is NordVPN, an online security services provider. The company is pushing out a lot of SEO friendly content targeting those working from home. It is educating them on how to be safe while working remotely, and how to secure their computers from phishing attacks and malware hacks.

However, if written content or copy is not your brand’s idea of content, then you can always choose other routes like videos or podcasts. According to a study conducted by Cisco, video content is expected to make up to 82% of the web traffic by 2021. So, this is the time to get your foot into video creation and grow your presence online. 

A great example of a company focusing on video content is Donut Media, an automotive startup based out of Los Angeles. This startup has decided to amp up its game and has started producing twice the material for its audience to consume. Right now, it is producing at least seven videos a week, consistently. 

Don’t: Ignore Social Media

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In the current market, many companies have stopped their social media campaigns and engagement. This is a big mistake that can cost you a massive chunk of your customer base as well as market relevance. Even if your brand does not have any services or products to sell during the pandemic, you can still produce social media content to engage with your customers. 

More and more people around the country are spending their time on social media as they are at home with nothing much to do. You can use this to your advantage. Hence, social media can not only keep your brand relevant but if done right, it can help you grow your online presence, just like engaging content as mentioned above. What’s more, using social media in the right way can also help you attract your competitor’s audience, who have stopped communicating.

Using social media, you can post relevant content along with tips and tricks related to your services, or how your customers can reach you if they face any issues with your product. Something as simple as a hashtag challenge can earn you followers in the current market. People are trying to find new ways to spend time. So give them new ways to spend time.

The best example of social engagement is Nuuly, a monthly clothing rental subscription for women. Seeing that this brand’s operations are nearly shut down since no one is looking for rental clothes now, the brand is still going strong with its social media engagement. Recently, the brand promoted two hashtags #ChangeYourClothes and #MyNuuly and asked its audience to share their photos wherein they are wearing Nuuly products. This is an excellent way to entertain your audience and also promote your products.

Do: Communicate Positively 

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An essential thing you must do now, either via your social media or other streams of content, is to communicate with your audience. You might feel that you have nothing to say during such a pandemic, but the ramifications of the current downturn go beyond just health. People are frantic and anxious. Hence, you can start by discussing the changes in your business operations and what to expect in the coming months. Then, you can focus on reassuring your audience.

You need to empathize with them and share messages of positivity that can distract them from the unnerving statistics and facts of the pandemic. Sure, you might not convert any leads during this time, but being a source of positivity can make your audience associate your brand with hope and positivity, which can help you in the long run. Once things go back to normal, it will be easier for you to convert leads as you will have built trust with your audience. See this as providing value to your customers instead of merely a service or product. 

A great example of this is Host, a company that provides bartender services in North America. This company has lost most of its on-ground operations to the lack of demand, but it is still communicating with its audience. Since it can’t provide its usual services, it has resorted to providing value by sharing fun, lighthearted cocktail recipes with its audience. One of the most well-received ones was the Baby Yoda themed beverage recipe—striking a perfect balance between cheerful and compassionate.

Don’t: Be Tone-Deaf

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Contrary to being compassionate as brands, some companies have resorted not to acknowledge the current pandemic altogether. Being tone-deaf like this can have adverse effects on your business, so avoid doing this at all costs. The world has changed, so you need to adapt your brand tone to the new situation. Understand the impact of the pandemic on your stakeholders and customers, and adapt to that context. Here, you need to strike a balance by being empathetic.

On the same lines, if you have any automated messages or ads running online that may not suit the current situation, then take them down. Depending on your industry, you need to reevaluate your creative copy to be sensitive to your audience. If you fail to do this, your brand can come off as being insensitive, and you risk losing a significant chunk of your customer base.

There are two great examples of brands that risked being tone-deaf but quickly adapted to the new situation: Hershey and Hotels.com. For Hershey, its latest ad campaign, Heartwarming the World, consisted of two spots that showed people handing out Hershey chocolate bars with hugs and handshakes. Of course, this did not complement the current situation where everyone has to maintain social distance. In response, the brand pulled the two spots and replaced them with more product-focused spots. Hershey’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jill Baskin, stated, “Sadly, we have decided to temporarily replace two of our ads that feature human interaction, that include hugging and handshakes, due to the current sensitivities surrounding COVID-19 virus.”

As for Hotels.com, they had planned a set of online ad spots called My Dream, consisting of the brand’s mascot, Captain Obvious, riding an airplane and promoting travel. Soon, they replaced it with another spot that has Captain Obvious snacking at his home, with a tagline that read, “This is Captain Obvious, he’s going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.”

Do: Consider Email Marketing

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One of the best strategies for digital marketing during COVID-19 is email marketing, but many companies usually overlook this. It is an excellent way of empathizing with your customers, promoting your brand, and communicating with your audience—every point mentioned previously. So, you should consider email marketing. This will also keep your audience engaged.

If you consider using email marketing, the first step is to use lead magnets to expand your email subscription list. Then, you should focus on mailing content that is honest, transparent, and insightful to strike a chord with your audience. You need to focus on one purpose per mail with a light message to keep your emails accessible and easy to understand. Lastly, end with a CTA to attract more leads.

A great example of email marketing during COVID-19 is Asana. They provide resources for working remotely, and they know its customers are working from home in the current environment. Hence, they have started sending out emails focusing on its response to the pandemic, resources that can help its customers work from home, and how Asana can help them with the same. This is an excellent strategy for digital marketing during COVID-19 as it gives your customers engaging and helpful content.

Don’t: Eliminate PPC Marketing

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A few weeks ago, there were speculations about ad spend and pay-per-click marketing. The costs of online ads were unchanged, which made the overall cost-per-conversion rate more expensive since there weren’t many leads. But in the last few days, that has changed. The cost of ads has gone down by 6% across all verticals, and they are expected to fall further.

So, instead of shutting down your PPC marketing campaigns, you need to double down on them. The cost-per-conversion rate will be cheap, and this can help you attract many leads as more people spend their time online. And if you are anxious about product sales, don’t worry. You can use these ads to stock up on leads and aim to convert them once the situation gets back to normal. All you need to do is reevaluate your copy to the current and future circumstances.

The two good examples that you can learn from are Canadian Tire and Dial Soap. The first brand, Canadian Tire, despite facing a drastic loss of offline sales, is using Facebook ads to attract customers to its online store. The attractive copy persuades its customer with the creative tagline, “Same great deals, just a different place!”

As for Dial Soap, it is using an unconventional approach to influence their customers’ purchase offline via online ads. Since most cleaning products are selling out in stores, Dial Soap is simply pushing online ads promoting Centres for Disease Control’s guidelines on safety. By not blatantly promoting their products but promoting a healthy lifestyle, the brand is making sure that it is on its customers’ minds as they make their journey to stores.

Do: Help Your Local Community

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The world is facing a significant downturn right now, and the end of it is nowhere in sight. Hence, it is difficult for most people, especially those who are losing jobs, and those who are essential service workers. Thus, to ease this crisis, you can use the resources at your disposal to help your communities, be it your local community or the online community. 

Doing so will not only help people significantly, but it will also go a long way in building a brand image that people associate with goodwill and charity. And that, in turn, can help you gain a lot of audiences online, and many leads once the downturn ends. Hence, you should do as much as you can to help your respective communities. You don’t have to go out and donate thousands of dollars (though if you can, you should), and you can do as much as give significant discounts on your services, or free doorstep deliveries.

A great example of a brand helping its local community is Miller Lite, an American beer brand. This company is encouraging people to tip the out of work bartenders that have recently lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On their Twitter, they recently shared a photo of an abandoned pub with the hashtag #VirtualTipJar to raise money for the out of work bartenders. They are helping the community that helps sell their products.

Don’t: Capitalize on Crisis

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Whatever your strategy is for digital marketing during COVID-19, you must never try to capitalize on your customers’ crisis. Predatory digital marketing during COVID-19 should be avoided at all costs as it is a short-sighted approach to gain business. Not only is this unethical, but it can also backfire and cause you to lose your audience entirely. Hence, focus on helping your community. If your brand cannot afford to do that, then focus on gaining leads via friendlier means.

Knot Worldwide, which owns a couple of wedding sites, is a great inspiration for not being a predatory business during such a time. Its CEO, Tim Chi, stated, “It is clear that this crisis and social distancing that it has required will only enhance our deep desire to be connected with our closest family and friends. Weddings will come back strong, and love will be unphased in the time of coronavirus.” The company has nearly lost its business as weddings are getting cancelled, it has still launched the Knot Vendor Assistance Program (of $10 million) to help its vendors like caterers, flower companies, and apparel brands financially.

Some More Inspiration From Major Brands

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Just like small businesses, major companies, too, have suffered massive losses in the last couple of months. It is no denying that they won’t be hitting their financial goals for 2020. These brands are adjusting their digital marketing strategies on the fly by playing it smart right now. And these brands can be a great learning resource for small business owners and marketers; if it works for them, it can work for you too!

KFC

The fast-food chain, KFC, took to Instagram recently, launching its smart social distancing campaign while promoting its products. The post read, “KFC is committed to providing delicious, home-style meals for your family. Our drive-thrus are open, and we’ll continue to offer order-ahead and free contactless delivery on kfc.com.” The brand also used an infographic to promote its drive-thru and contactless delivery while focusing on its “industry-leading sanitation and handwashing policies.”

This is an excellent example of not only letting your customer know about the current state of services but also helping them out. By offering updated delivery services that meet the health standards during such a pandemic gives assurance to its customers who rely on their services during such time. This is also a great example of using social media to connect with your audience.

DoubleTree

Then, we have DoubleTree that is making their customers’ quarantine experience better. The hotel chain owned by Hilton Worldwide is famous for its chocolate chip cookies, whose recipe had been a secret until now. Recently, they revealed the secret recipe to its customers, with its SVP and Global Head Shawn McAteer saying, “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness.”

This is an excellent way of helping out your community by simply making their experience better. But what’s more, the recipe got over 250,000 views worldwide, and it went viral. Even numerous media outlets covered this news. So, not only did the hotel chain manage to maintain the brand connection, but this small act made it go viral and attract even more customers and audiences.

Nike

Nike is another excellent example of pushing out content. This industry giant, sadly, had to close down its store across Canada, Western Europe, the US, and Australia, but it did not let go of its customer engagement via content marketing. With its Nike Training Club apps, it is streaming free workouts, training programs, and expert tips to millions of users worldwide. Its marketing campaign, Play for the World, is utilizing the roster of its endorsers to promote itself.

Using such an aggressive content marketing strategy, Nike is helping its online community while staying relevant to its audience. Hence, highlighting the importance of content marketing during the pandemic. Post blogs, SEO articles, videos, anything that helps your brand reach a wider audience and grow your brand. This will help you a lot once the pandemic dies down.

To Conclude

The current market conditions are daunting, no doubt, but do not let them dissuade you from your goal. You and your business need to ride out the downturn and come out of the other side with the least losses and significant leads. And the only way to do that right now is via digital marketing. Offline ads are more or less redundant now since most of the people are spending their days locked in their homes, browning through the web.

Other marketers are scared right now, but don’t let the uncertainty prey on your business. As Warren Buffet once said, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy only when others are fearful.” And now is that time. Capture the market share from your competitors. Of course, this does not mean you capitalize on your customers’ fears and anxieties, but you have to focus your attention on the digital platforms. Soon enough, you will see results that will put you way ahead of the curve, and your business will suffer the least damage due to the pandemic.

Ali Salman is an online marketing strategist who have worked with Coca-Cola, Extreme Pita, Mucho Burrito, KIA, Honda and other Fortune 500 companies. Ali Salman now heads Rapid Boost Marketing - Canada's fastest growing search marketing agency. RBM clients include Fortune 500's and medium size businesses across North America. Ali as RBM CMO leads his team in building and managing quality, high-performing and cost-effective interactive campaigns and programs for our company's customers and partners. In his career, he has significantly improved campaign performance for large brands such as Government of Alberta, Liberal Party, Workopolis, Cathay Pacific, as well as medium to large retailers and high-tech B2B-enterprise niches. Ali and his team develop online promotional concepts that spark viral growth through search and social media for RBM clients, devising strategies that use search engines and more to reach key demographic segments in the ways they're most likely to be receptive. Ali Salman also oversees corporate marketing initiatives for Rapid Boost Marketing, including strategic communications counsel, public and analyst relations and client education programming.

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