COVID Recession: An Opportunity for Ethical Marketing?

Sam Holding, Head of International at SparkPost, explains how brands can communicate with relevance during this COVID crisis.

The spread of coronavirus has resulted in disruption for the markets, and a sudden downturn for global economies. Businesses are experiencing some uncertain and even fearful times, which have left many marketers scrambling to adjust to a new normal that can change by the day or even hour. One thing is for sure: There’s no playbook for this.

All of the disruptions will need to be met with some changes, regardless of how much an organisation has been impacted by the current events – or for how long. The spread of the pandemic has added to the challenges marketers already face, while uncertainty has forced many organisations to put their focus upon their strongest asset: customer loyalty.

More than ever, Ethics matter

The coronavirus pandemic has revitalised the long-lost sense of community. People all over the world have come together in small or larger groups to support the most vulnerable, either through organised activism groups and NGOs or individually within their immediate community. The UK has been no exception; one million volunteers have stepped in to support the NHS and those in need in almost every neighbourhood. The sense of community, solidarity and personal responsibility has been overwhelming.

Customers always cared about brands’ social responsibility, and the COVID crisis has once again proven that ethical marketing is important: almost one in five consumers in the UK stopped using a brand due to their response to the current crisis. Furthermore, a recent survey by PwC shows that, once lockdown is over and we return to normality, consumers intend to reward the more responsible retailers – particularly those who took good care of their employees.

If you have a solid corporate culture and a social responsibility plan in place, you already have a massive competitive advantage. Designing and running marketing campaigns that will reflect your culture and ethos can help strengthen your brand and reputation and increase customer loyalty.

Marketing operations during recession: Practical advice

Customers are no doubt grappling with what’s happening, so the brands’ role in their lives will need to adjust. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of where we are in this moment:

  • Be agile in the short term, while keeping the longer-term strategy alive. You may have to abandon certain campaigns for now or modify messaging and offers, but since we don’t know how long this situation will last, we need to be ready to pivot right back to our long-term strategy. Be ready for the switch to flip back to what you had originally planned.
  • Socialise internally what you are doing at a regular cadence. Because a lot of your marketing is changing, be sure to share what the new plans are and how your marketing is performing. Marketing will especially be scrutinised in the coming weeks, so be transparent and share what you are doing to rise to the occasion.
  • Check on your messaging and communication streams. Ensure your current communication streams and messaging are still relevant and meet the current context. Corporate messaging may need to temporarily change for a period of time, so it doesn’t appear to be out of context and presents accurate information.
  • Focus on projects. Just as you may use downtime in your personal life to work on a home project, you can do the same with the extra time you may have at work. Maybe it’s time for a website redesign or a creative refresh. You may even need some tech stack updates to ensure you can optimise once all cylinders are firing again. Does the team need to up level some new skills? Marketing will need to work even harder once activities resume, so use this time wisely to get everything in order.
  • Stay connected with your customers, but don’t over-communicate. If your core product or service isn’t as valuable in the current situation, slow the cadence of communications considerably. If you have editorial-like content, perhaps now is the time to let that shine, understanding that a lot of people are stuck at home and want to dream of a day that this will all be over.
  • Extend and expand loyalty and birthday offers. Make sure any loyalty points or birthday offers are available once people re-emerge. Don’t let them expire while people are sheltering in place. If some of your offers are only good in-store, open those up online in case customers want to enjoy them from home.
  • Set expectations for your customers. If you’re a company that has a high amount of demand right now, you probably have very little time to devote to anything outside of staying above water. Use communications to set expectations right and keep your customers updated on changes to services such as delayed shipping, limited contact centre hours, etc.

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