Before the COVID-19 coronavirus spread throughout the world, thought leaders in the software development industry were already generating marketing content to help their users brace for the crisis. Some of the more established, conservative B2B brands, however, had concerns over how to address the impact a global pandemic could have on their audiences — and how talking about it could impact their businesses.

A colleague of mine actually got turned down for an interview because the company “didn’t want its brand to be associated with coronavirus.” After a few weeks, though, everything was associated with coronavirus. 

Businesses on the more conservative side of the spectrum, who tend to “play it safe” with marketing, have had to learn how to confront the reality of the crisis while still staying true to their brand identitiesHere are four lessons conservative brands’ marketers — as well as the rest of us — can learn from marketing during a crisis: 

1. It’s beneficial to engage your audience without selling to them. 

Although a pandemic and economic hardship don’t set the stage for a hard sell, especially if you develop software for hard-hit industries such as restaurant, hotel, transportation, or entertainment, you can still engage and grow your relationship with your customers and prospects. Develop a message you want to send to your audience, whether it’s that you’re standing behind your community, encouraging them to do their part to help, or thanking first responders. Uber’s ad is an excellent example of what’s possible: The company thanked people for not riding with Uber during social distancing orders.  

2. If you have the answers to big problems, let people know. 

If your brand’s marketing has largely focused on talking about your products, the COVID-19 crisis made it apparent that it’s time to focus on solutions. People are facing big, livelihood-threatening problems during the crisis. If your solution could help them continue to operate during shutdowns, help keep people safe, or ease the burden on first responders and healthcare workers, make sure your audience knowsMoreover, if your business was willing to use some of your trade show budget to make it possible to offer customers a discount or a payment schedule to help them get through the crisis, even better.

3. You need to grow your digital marketing strategy. 

Work-at-home or complete shutdowns made it impossible to engage with your audience in traditional ways. You couldn’t attend trade shows, hold lunch-and-learns, or, in some cases, even reach contacts by phone or with mailers. Digital marketing was the best method for staying in touch.  

My contacts found that emails and social media posts with information on how their clients could keep revenues coming in during the shutdowns, take advantage of government programs, and stay informed on best practices for disinfecting and controlling virus transmission got recordsetting opens and click-through rates. Digital marketing gave them the ability to be trusted advisors during a difficult time and strengthen their relationships with their clients. 

4. A crisis isn’t the time to pull back on marketing. It’s the time to get aggressive. 

When a recession hits, there are two basic approaches to marketing: Pull back or pour it on. Conservative brands may tend to pull back, drastically cutting their marketing budgets to attempt to reserve more capital. Their competition, however, may realize a crisis is a chance to win some market share from companies that put on the brakes.  

Analyzing what you offer that your audience needs and doubling down on getting the message out can pay off now as well as in the long-term. 

Also, it’s imperative to focus on your loyal customer base. Make sure you are keeping your brand front of mind and taking care of their needs — so they won’t be tempted to try new products.

How is your business positioned for reopening? 

Does your audience know the role your business can play in helping them reopen and resume operations when shutdowns end? Businesses in your market may need to make major adaptations due to the continued threat the virus poses — and they may need your help.  

Whether your company is conservative or progressive when it comes to marketing, you have a message to share and business to win. Stay true to your brand, but get that message out.

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