OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

Coronavirus: How should brands communicate with their customers?

Rob Mitchell

These are unprecedented times for B2B marketing professionals. The coronavirus crisis has disrupted working practices and created a climate of severe uncertainty in financial markets and business. No one knows if this crisis will last a few months or longer, which makes it very difficult to plan more substantial marketing activities.

Yet, as worrying as the current period is, we know that this crisis will eventually pass. Financial markets will return to normal, and business doors will reopen. So, what does that mean for marketing professionals today, and how should they be setting priorities and ensure the right balance between prudence and investment? Here are our views, based on our experience of working on B2B marketing campaigns for many years.

Stay visible

It is tempting to batten down the hatches in a time of crisis and simply stop communicating with your audience. Companies entering crisis mode may even think that marketing is a luxury they just can’t afford against the backdrop of more pressing concerns. This is understandable but the benefits are likely to be short-lived. If you turn off the tap, the brand equity you have built up through your communication over many years quickly starts to erode. Steady communication with your audience through a downturn, even if you reduce the flow, is better than stopping entirely. Otherwise, you will need to make much bigger investments to regain brand equity once you start up again because you will no longer be top of mind with your audience. Brands that stay visible over the longer term will always win.

Support your audience

Your clients are also going through difficult times. Decisions that just a few months ago seemed straightforward now appear fraught with risk. Customers’ priorities have changed, and many of them are looking for guidance from experts. Now is the time to empathise with your audience’s challenges and help them navigate today’s choppy waters. Stay with them during difficult times and they will reward you when things improve.

Look after your existing customers – don’t just look for new ones

During tougher times, it can be tempting to focus marketing resources on short-term sales activation efforts to generate new clients and revenues. Again, this is understandable but make sure you don’t ignore the loyal, longer-term customers. Stay in touch with them, even if they are not planning to buy in the immediate future. As the old adage goes, it’s many times easier to keep an existing client than sell to a new one, so make sure you keep close to your core clients and communicate with them more than ever.

Don’t neglect the brand

Building the brand is key to reducing business risk over the long term. Strong brands generate associations that influence purchase decisions long into the future. By contrast, neglecting to invest in the brand, even during difficult times, stores up problems for the future because the associations that drive purchasing are weakened.

See marketing as a strategic investment

It’s easy to think of marketing as a tactical cost at times like these. Of course, marketing investments need greater scrutiny than ever during a crisis to ensure that the right choices are made. But bear in mind that investments made during a downturn can often be more impactful than those made during periods of economic growth because there is less competition for share of voice. With more timid competitors in retreat, it can be easier to cut through the clutter and get your voice heard. Keeping your share of voice greater than your share of market is always the path to sustained performance.

Think long-term and stay positive

One thing can be certain. This crisis, like others before it, will pass. Whether a recovery comes in two months or 12, companies will eventually dust themselves off and, once again, look for growth. Your marketing strategy should prepare for this time and ensure that you are ready for it. And perhaps most importantly, stay positive. Manage the short-term risks but keep one eye on better times ahead, as they will surely come.

Speak to an expert

Call us to find out how we can help you strengthen your thought leadership strategy.

+44 (0)20 7873 4770 enquiries@longitude.co.uk Contact us

About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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