Creativity Amid Crisis: 4 Ways Marketers Can Navigate Outbreaks and Uncertainties

By thesanfranciscoegotist / /

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 coronavirus will continue to impact all of us—as individuals, family members, colleagues, and members of the global community. While we diligently wash our hands and take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our communities, we—as marketers—need to act upon the challenges already affecting some of our clients’ businesses. And there is much we can do about it.

There’s no denying that businesses across many industries are suffering. And now, with countries closing their borders, restrictions on public gatherings, and reports that public figures are testing positive for the virus, we need to keep in mind—and history will remind us—that things will bounce back. Consumers’ priorities are going to shift but people will need to seek out normalcy in life. They will still need to eat, communicate, and seek solutions to their needs. People are going to continue consuming—they will just do it differently.

There will need to be a fundamental shift in how we market moving forward. We need to get creative and pivot our marketing efforts to give people the solutions they need.

Here are four ways marketers can navigate these changing times:

1. Make it personal

With many events going virtual in the wake of in-person-event cancellations, building experiences that are custom-made for each individual is now more important than ever. How are you going to build a human connection to replace the in-person experience?
• Reset goals and expectations. What was the goal of the event, and does it translate to a digital space?
• Capitalize on the first-party data you own to build more engaging custom-made experiences.
• Gather intelligence on your attendees/audience. Poll them on topics so that you understand their pain points and can provide meaningful content.
• Change your tone of voice. Your customers are either stressed, angry, bored, or stir crazy from working remotely, with a mentality that is vastly different than when they signed up to attend your event.
• Review and revise content constantly. Much content for events is based on face-to-face consumption, and will likely need to be reworked and personalized to accommodate remote audiences.

2. Protect your brand across digital media

Neglecting your brand during a crisis can be devastating. For example, an airline running digital ads against news of canceled flights. Or a cruise line advertising alongside news of an outbreak on one of their ships. Protecting your brand can seem like a huge undertaking, but there are a few steps you can take (either before or during a crisis) to minimize damage.
• Remove news and current events sites from your category targets (so you won’t be susceptible to unforeseen events) and sensitive topics and blog categories from your Google Ads accounts.
• Regularly update domain and keyword blacklists in all networks (and your ad server).
• And make sure you monitor social media (there are many tools available) so you can respond quickly to any surprises.

3. Contingency, contingency, contingency

Building contingency plans will help shape your strategy moving forward. And since we don’t know what the future holds, we all need to be able to pivot quickly.
• Create and revise contingency plans based on feedback, taking into account what’s working and what’s not.
• New restrictions and changes to our lives will likely continue on a rolling basis, so map out your plans and contingency options according to the timelines that drive your projects.
• And as you move forward with each weekly or monthly project plan, prepare at least two or three contingency options.

4. Engage your agency

As creatives and marketers, we’re trained for situations like this. Similar to an emergency room doctor trained to quickly evaluate and diagnose patients, agencies are trained to evaluate shifting conditions, quickly come up with ideas that can impact the customer decision journey, and build experiences that provide value.

• Lean on your agency for operational support. If your in-house team specializes in one area, like digital marketing, get help on projects you can’t achieve alone, like high-end video production and social media content.
• Empower your agency’s creative people to come up with ideas on how to help mitigate panic and provide your customers with information that is positive, valuable, and solution-driven.

A transformational moment

“As we come to grips with a world where we can’t shortcut to experience through physical engagement and personal proximity, the challenge is to deliver on the original intent of digital,” says Wesley ter Haar, Founder and COO, MediaMonks. “Interactive, tactile, and personalized moments of magic that create conversation, conversion, and commercial opportunities.”

Today we are faced with an extraordinary situation that will fundamentally change the way we do business. We must act quickly to adapt, test, and apply our learnings moving forward.

Creativity is one of the most valuable assets a brand has. As marketers and creatives, we have an obligation to be part of the solution. We must address this crisis head-on to come up with creative solutions and work to change things for the better.

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Warren Marenco Chase is chief operating officer at global digital marketing agency Firewood. Chase has deep experience running agency operations in all areas of creative, digital, and media communications. Before joining Firewood, Chase served as chief operating officer at Verizon’s in-house creative agency, 140. He previously served as EVP, global director at Wunderman San Francisco. Chase also served as global director at BBDO Worldwide and held CEO positions at various BBDO/OMD offices in Latin America.

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