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What Not To Do When Marketing During A Pandemic 


by Boris Pfeiffer, CEO and Founder of Riddle

Months into COVID-19’s impact upon much of the business landscape, marketing teams have been forced to change their approach to messaging their clients. However, this is easier said than done. As a result, many companies have appeared tone-deaf in the face of the global pandemic. Smart companies know that an empathetic approach is a much better marketing strategy.

Branding expert and marketing professor Jay Mandel puts it best: “If you want to build a memorable brand, showing compassion is only half of the equation. A next positive step is to make sure the content you are sharing is memorable and differentiated from the others.”

And companies are catching on: from the Good News Movement to John Krasinski’s positive videos on YouTube, brands are sharing content that spreads empathy and a sense of community. CMOs have realized that they can engage their audience through kindness and market their business without being opportunistic – you can always use a little more empathy.

Here are a few things that you should be doing during the COVID-19 crisis:

Empathize, don’t exploit.

When it comes to messaging, the most important thing for you to do right now is to evoke empathy with your clients. Many companies, in the face of declining sales, are becoming more aggressive in their marketing strategies. However, this is a mistake: you shouldn’t be too pushy in your messaging, especially as consumers are still experiencing the trauma of the pandemic.

You need to be flexible in your messaging and understand that consumers’ needs have changed, just as yours have. Empathize with your customers and understand that pushy sales pitches won’t work – worse, you could come across as uncaring and greedy.

Communication should, therefore, be centered around acknowledging the pandemic and its impact on your audience’s daily lives. You need to reassure customers that you’ll be there for them, discuss the pandemic’s effect on your business, and let them know what they should expect from continuing to do business with you going forward.

That sounds great – but simple, lightweight and fluffy “we feel your pain” content won’t work. Your content still needs to be valuable to your customers. The best way to do this is to create content that tells a story and engages with your audience, telling them exactly why your business is worth their precious – and scarce – dollars. While it helps to tell an uplifting story in your messaging, you need to make sure that you don’t capitalize on the fear and worry of the crisis. Again, empathize, don’t exploit.

Also important is making sure that you continue to understand and adapt to changing user behavior. Consumers evolve all the time, and this won’t stop because of COVID-19. You can leverage customer research programs to access people’s shifting emotions, attitudes, and behaviors. Take the time to double down on user engagement and listening programs to find out what the best plan of action will be once the brunt of this crisis is over.

Don’t focus on old measurements for success.

Another common mistake that marketing teams are making is using the same metrics for success that they have used in the past. If you focus too much on sales and conversions, you’ll likely be disappointed because sales are almost certainly down. If you use these same metrics, you’re going to be sorely disappointed in the results.

A better idea is to focus more on how the customer is interacting with your brand during these times. For example, if you place less stress on conversions and more on social media interactions, you’ll be able to better see positive results during the crisis. If you focus on customer experience and change the way you measure results, you’ll likely be much better prepared for success after the crisis is over.

It doesn’t matter how shiny your website landing page is – there simply won’t be as many people who are able to purchase from you right now. The quicker you understand this, the better off you’ll be. However, people are likely still visiting your webpages, and you can easily give them the means to stay in touch by allowing them to sign up for a free email list. Hopefully in the future, after building up a positive relationship with them, you can convert them into loyal clients.

Furthermore, now is the time to be creative with your messaging. Be flexible: Try new avenues and channels to find what works and what doesn’t. By collecting and analyzing new data gained from these different channels, you can find ways to scale and uncover revenue streams as you access new market segments. Taking risks now will give fruitful rewards in the future.

Don’t decrease your marketing budget.

It’s tempting to view marketing as the first budget to cut when economic troubles hit in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. But that would be a critical mistake. It might seem counter-intuitive, but while your competitors panic and slow down, now is the time to increase marketing efforts.

Advertising dollars go a lot further now compared to normal times, allowing you to gain market share and be the dominant voice when others in your industry are inactive. Creating valuable content gives you a massive advantage over others when the crisis lessens in intensity. The last thing you want is to find yourself off balance and lagging behind your competition when the economy starts up again.

COVID-19 has been a generational event that has forced all of us to rethink the way we go about our lives. However, one thing remains: our humanity. For the business community, it means toning down the traditional ‘profits above everything’ approach. This is the perfect time for brands to empathize and connect with their customers as fellow human beings. For companies, it’s not only the smart thing to do – it’s the only way to survive (and even thrive).


Boris Pfeiffer is CEO and Founder of Riddle Technologies. Starting companies has always been his passion. He set up his first company when at 17 years old, and since then he has started multiple companies and also set up the European operations for many U.S. corporations. Today Boris has over 17 years of highly successful international leadership experience in sales, professional services, operations, product development and marketing in the Internet and software industry.