Marketing During the COVID-19 Crisis: Cases, Strategies, Examples
As the crisis continues, all businesses have switched marketing strategies to the quarantine mode. Minor or major, changes have been made to operation hours, customer communication, budget allocation, new product releases, and planning.
Earlier this month, we published an article on the main directions of digital marketing companies worldwide are currently moving in. Today, we want to expand the topic and talk about the most typical coronavirus marketing practices. By far they are
- online commerce;
- advanced delivery and payments;
- enhanced shipping;
- access to paid content;
- growth of content volume;
- social and charity campaigns;
- anti-crisis offers;
- online experience products;
- adapted marketing communication.
And below, we’ll get detailed on the most important ones which we believe are social campaigns, access to content, online products, and adapted customer communication.
#StayHome Creative Ads and Social Campaigns
From logo updates to YouTube episodes on handwashing, commercial brands and NGOs are declaring their social consciousness and promoting self-isolation and #stayhome mode. For the last month, we saw a lot of creative posters and ads related to COVID-19 and quarantine.
Many of them are the result of collaboration with creative ad agencies, which used the situation to get their names in the public sight. And for the brands themselves, such brand marketing, even social by default, are a great ad and recognition booster.
- #ArtOfQuarantine by Looma for Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine:
- A Safety Driven Lifestyle by TBWA for Nissan:
- Be a Warrior by El Sr Franco for Panama City:
- Stay Home instructions by McCann Tel-Aviv for IKEA Israel:
- Keep Your Distance by National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia:
- #stayhome by Digital Chain for Raketa Delivery.
- Le Whopper de la Quarantaine by Burger King France.
- #playfortheworld by Nike.
- M&C Saatchi for Mother’s Day.
- A single virus may cost you a life by AKSigorta Insurance.
- It's time to flatten the curve for Gold's Gym by Miami Ad School.
The above are the most creative examples of the coronavirus marketing that got a wide media coverage, but the list is way bigger. The complex graphics isn’t a must; smart copywriting (Nike, M&C Saatchi, Gold’s Gym) does the job as well. The main thing is to resonate with the current situation, get creative, and avoid practices that have already become cliches. Otherwise, instead of promoting brand recognition, you would only cause annoyance and end up in one of such lists.
Free Access to Paid Content
Giving free access to membership or premium content was one of the first tactics (alongside advanced delivery and switching to online operations) most brands employed at the very beginning of the new pandemic marketing.
A few examples we came across only over the last two weeks:
- Apple TV Plus opened free access to its original television series.
- HBO opened free access to nine original series, 20 movies, and 9 documentaries.
- Netflix launched on Instagram a weekly LIVE series Wanna Talk About It? about how to take care of yourself during a pandemic.
- Pornhub offered free premium access to countries on a coronavirus lockdown.
- Harvard University launched a free online class Mechanical Ventilation for COVID-19 to provide medical professionals with an understanding of mechanical ventilation.
- National Geographic launched a free homeschool hub with family-friendly educational content.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art Now opened free online access to over 1,600 art books.
- Nikon made its 10 classes of online photography free until the end of April.
- Gucci teamed up with Yuko Higuchi and released a free-to-download digital sketchbook that includes coloring pages, games, and more.
- The Museum of Modern Art launched a series of free online courses on fashion and design.
- Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt launched #Experience EgyptFromHome - a series of free online tours in the tombs of pharaohs.
Apart from actually helping people, such a strategy has a lot of benefits for your digital marketing:
- it contributes to brand recognition;
- keeps people engaged with the brand;
- generates publicity and media coverage;
- works for your product as a free trial period;
- spreads the word of mouth.
What’s more important, it doesn’t require extra expenditure - you use the already existing product. This is key for brands that can’t donate big sums or start anti-crisis fundraising but still need to respond to the situation. The quarantine will end sooner or later, but your company will be remembered by how you reacted and committed during the hardest times.
Offline Experience as a New Product
Such industries as HoReCa, traveling and tourism, airlines and transportation, sports and entertainment, outdoor activities, events, rental services, insurance, and property market suffer the most during the crisis. Some companies have stopped their marketing at all; some have paused most promotional campaigns and switched to educational and entertainment content in order to keep the conversation alive.
However, there are few companies that are trying to adapt their seemingly offline services to a new reality, and Online Experience is a new big word in the current online marketing. Brands are trying to come up with different experiences relevant to their by far main service, and imagination is their only limit. From conference calls with llamas to dining with celebrities, marketers are testing new formats of interaction to see how monetizable they can be.
- Airbnb has launched Online Experiences where you can enjoy a number of activities without leaving your house.
The options are numerous, from wine classes with an expert to a day in the life of the Olympic bobsledder:
- Sweet Farm sanctuary has launched Goat 2 Meeting - a program that enables you to invite a llama, goat, pig, or a number of other farm animals to your video conference call.
An online Happy Hour or a virtual tour across the sanctuary are also available.
- The Faroe Islands have created a tourism remote tool using which you can explore the Faroes’ locations live with a local Faroese as your guide. The local is equipped with a live video camera and a control you can use to direct their moves.
- Chipotle has launched a series of Zoom lunch parties featuring celebrity guests, with free entree giveaways included.
- New York City's grooming studio Barba has launched the Quarancuts Virtual Hair School. You can learn to do men's haircuts at Zoom classes and even get an (amateur) certificate.
It’s hard to predict whether such innovations will be effective enough to help companies stay afloat. For giants like Airbnb probably not, or at least not in the short term. Small businesses can definitely benefit more. And if any of such experimental products proves to be successful, it can be left in the company portfolio even after the crisis. It could open a lot of new marketing possibilities as geographical location will stop being a boundary maker for services traditionally considered as offline only providers.
Moreover, Offline Experience as a marketing concept perfectly fits the modern tendency of environmental sustainability. It may be a good answer to the question How to produce less stuff but keep the sales growing? Definitely, that’s a solution not for everyone, but if we’re moving to the eco-friendly economy, all brands need to learn how to sell more experience rather than physical things.
Email Marketing During the COVID-19 Crisis
This isn't final, but from what we see, the COVID-19 email marketing has been going through the following stages:
- alert COVID-19 messages (store closure, working hours, return policy changes). That was the shortest stage as most brands soon turned to other communication channels like SMS and Mob Push to send news and short notifications.
- we’re-in-it-together messages (your safety matters, we care about our employees, we’re here for you, we’ll cope with everything together). Few brands sent none of such emails: most of them looked the same, used the same language, and contained little practical information. Their abundance and sameness eventually resulted in annoyance and irritation rather than intended support, and many brands stopped such campaigns.
- access to content (free downloads, movies, music, resources, webinars, classes, virtual tours, concerts, expertise). The amount of the offered information soon got overwhelming: it's impossible to digest even one tenth of the suddenly available content no matter how useful it is. Nonetheless, the practice is a good promotional tool and many brands keep on using it.
- social commitment (donations, support of local communities, help for frontline workers, volunteering). In these hard times, no help is too much. Such campaigns remain and will remain relevant as long as designed properly. The focus should be not on YOU (we did, we made, we achieved, thanks to us, it was us who) but on actual help, people who received it and ways for others to join the incentives.
- entertainment (#self-isolation and #stayhome challenges, good news, positive statistics, user-generated stories, how to keep yourself busy during the quarantine). People are tired of death case numbers, unemployment rates, and non-stop stricter regulations. What many want to see in the inbox today is something that helps stay distracted and occupied with other than COVID-19.
- plans for the future (what you will do when everything is over). Nobody can predict anything these days, but some brands are starting to offer you to fantasize about a post-quarantine era. Such campaigns require a careful approach but for the most part can be incorporated in the marketing plan.
As for now, we’d recommend you to stick to the following topics in the upcoming several weeks.
Email Marketing to Support Your Business
Empathy and support are essential for a nowadays marketing plan, including email campaigns. There’s no need to praise your dedication and effort in each message. However, tell your customers what you’re doing to help the community navigate through the crisis. It will serve as a proof of that they’ve made the right choice putting their trust in your brand, plus help spread the word and engage more people willing to participate in whatever you’re running
What to tell:
- social initiatives;
- support for local communities;
- support of frontline workers;
- charitable collaborations.
- help to seniors;
- how people can commit.
While everyone is struggling to fight stress and anxiety, now more than ever is the time to send good vibes and remind people of the good in the world. Staying positive is essential to cope with a crisis so support your customers by helping them smile and build up the energy stores.
What to tell:
- positive environmental stats;
- how people thank healthcare workers;
- recovery stats;
- encouraging challenges;
- good deeds;
An appropriate joke, a fun challenge, or cute photos of your team’s pets can foster a positive mindset as effectively as the previous technique. Help people keep themselves busy and distracted and make it through social distancing without falling into depths of sadness and boredom.
What to tell:
- fun self-isolation stories;
- creative activity on social media;
- user-generated content;
- online events of all kinds;
- free entertaining resources;
- live streaming;
Although the response may decrease, don’t stop talking to your customers and promoting your products during coronavirus. People should know you’re still in business and then can rely on your service when needed. However, make sure your business marketing is relevant to the situation. Focus on the most applicable products and adapt images and text.
For example, the image of the tent with a bunch of happy people hugging around somewhere in the national park would look a bit out of place now. It says “We’re tone-deaf and blind, and live on another planet. But still expect you to buy from us” On the other hand, a tent placed in the backyard of your house says “We can help handle self-isolation and add some adventurous vibes to today’s routine.” One product - different approaches, and for now the second will generate you more response.
This doesn’t mean that you have to change every email, include words quarantine, coronavirus outbreak, and isolations in every sentence and add only images of lonely singles hanging out in the bedroom. Just mind that your promos (especially those you crafted and scheduled long ago) look appropriate and don’t add to the stress and annoyance.
How to tell:
- DIY products;
- smart copywriting;
- image adjustment where needed;
- situational design elements;
- plans for the future.
No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is a hard time for everyone. And still, there is a place to run business and promotion. People didn't lose interest in consumption, they just feel cautious about spending, as uncertainty is the current characterizing word. Keep on sending your offers, communicate with people, and explain how your service and products can help them make it through the pandemic. The quarantine will end sooner or later, and those customers whom you managed to keep engaged will be twice eager to come back, craving bread and circuses after a long lockdown.