Marketing Now: Offering Action In Times of Uncertainty

Like everything right now, marketing is changing. In just a few weeks, companies of all sizes and in every industry haven’t just had to restructure operations, their workforce, their entire futures; in the middle of all that, they’ve had to take a long hard look at the messaging, too. 

Working with dozens of clients, I’ve been spending at least an hour a day looking at everything we’ve put out for them over the past two weeks, two months, even over the past year. It’s not about editing; it’s about making sure I’m able to take the heart of the brand and make sure that carries over into our new way of working, living, and engaging with society. 

What marketers and businesses are doing right now is finding an incredibly difficult balance between selling their products and services, supporting and encouraging their customers, and providing relevant information that has an impact on their relationship with their community. In early and late March, your inbox was probably flooded with coronovirus updates from brands you both know well and possibly don’t remember purchasing from. Those efforts were largely boilerplate, providing some level of reassurance and letting customers know what was going to happen next. 

That serves a big purpose. No one likes uncertainty. With facts and information, uncertainty turns into risk. That information helps us to forecast a wide array of potential outcomes. Even if those projects are blurry, bleak, or seem a long way off, they’re tangible and we can make decisions and plans based on the perception that they’re concrete. 

The very best marketing right now provides that very personal proof that there’s a plan and there’s an outcome. You might have noticed that more recent ad campaigns, especially in email marketing, no longer mentions the coronavirus or COVID-19. The pandemic itself is too uncertain. Instead, they’re focusing on information that you can act on. By information of changes to services, like contactless delivery or curbside pickup, or by sharing stories of goodwill or their efforts to support frontline medical workers. It’s an emphasis on doing, not wondering. 

Another important marketing trend you may have noticed is a change in tone. Companies made a rush to pull insensitive, light-hearted, or off-topic commercials and campaigns to better match the tone of the current crisis. Travel companies in particular quickly pulled campaigns offering low fares and new destinations. In spite of being the antithesis of their business success, some even did the responsible thing and advocated for people to skip trips and stay home. 

Some of the most prevalent messaging focuses on brands actively taking up operations to fight the pandemic. Mercedes-Benz’s F1 operation began making breathing equipment. Burberry changed production to make facemasks.  Maybe the best example is AT&T. Their most recent campaign balances things very efficiently. They point out that business isn’t as normal, show adorable kids interrupting Zoom calls, and successful remote workers thriving thanks to fast internet and a suite of collaboration tools. They never mention the more negative buzzwords we heard repeatedly in early messaging; no “lockdown”, “pandemic”, “quarantine”. They’re also supporting this campaign with a pretty interesting series of webinars, too. 

We’re still in the thick of the crisis, but we’re working with our clients to make sure they’re offering customers nothing so warm and intangible as hope. Instead, we’re giving them a plan, expectations, and the support they need to make decisions. Actionable information is more valuable than ever when everything seems to be in flux.