3 April 2020

COVID-19: an immediate marketing response for business leaders

Robert Stead
Written by Robert Stead

Robert is a highly skilled Business to Business marketing director with over 13 years interim and part time experience. A believer in the “if you cannot measure the improvement it doesn’t exist” approach to marketing; completely focused, pragmatic and practical. Energetic, friendly and culturally adept, Robert has substantial European and international experience and is able to engage with the whole business, not just the marketing function. With a good strategic and operational marketing balance, Robert is always happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in. Marketing Centre Marketing Director of the year 2014.

One of the interesting things about this crisis is just how fast it seems to have accelerated time.

The global health and economic situation changes day-by-day; podcasts that were released just a week ago already feel irrelevant; and everyone seems to have become a Zoom power-user overnight.

In these circumstances, it’s easy to think that our response should be similarly rapid and extreme. But in any emergency, an overreaction can be just as damaging as no reaction. 

In this post, we’ll look at how business leaders can best respond to this situation. This isn’t about cutting costs or deciding who to furlough. And it isn’t about shutting up shop and waiting until all of this blows over (as tempting as that may sound). 

It’s about sensible things that you can do today that will make things better for your staff, your customers and your business.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

As we’ve said many times before, great marketing starts with empathy - and that’s truer than ever in times of uncertainty. 

Take the time to understand what your customers are feeling and going through. If you can support them in a positive way, then try to do so, although make sure that your tone is appropriate. Communicating in a crisis requires tact. You don’t want to come across as opportunistic or pretending that you have all the answers. 

The best way to reach out and offer support to people is on a level footing with plenty of humility. As we’ve all heard many times, we’re in this together. 

Keep communicating

One of the side-effects of social distancing is that most of us are spending more time than ever chatting to friends and family online. Now is a great time to reach out to people, and that includes your customers, suppliers and partners.Video call

There are a lot of COVID emails flying around, so make it a phone call, especially for your key customers. Ask them how they’re doing and see if there’s anything that you can do to help. Even if nothing comes of it, they will appreciate the gesture. And if something does come of it, that’s a bonus.

When talking to suppliers and partners, try to be flexible and offer honest reassurances where you can. They are almost certainly in the same boat as you.

Create content that helps

Before you create any new content, review all of your existing content to make sure that it’s appropriate and edit or un-publish anything that feels wrong, misleading or inappropriate.

If you’re in the habit of scheduling social posts far in advance, make sure you do a thorough sweep of all channels. Ideas that felt appropriate a month ago might sound horribly tone deaf today. 

If you’re creating new content, make sure that your advice feels genuine. If you trade in luxury goods or discretionary services, don’t try and pretend that now is a great time to buy.

Instead, try to share on-the-level advice that might actually help people; a positive story that might lift their mood; offer to answer people’s questions about your area of expertise; or introduce people in your network to others that might need their help.

Ask yourself: what can you or your business do today that will help people in your network get through this?

Carve out time to consider the future

While no one can say exactly what the outcome of this will be, experts agree that this is not, in fact, the end of the world. 

Coronavirus will pass and the economy will get back on its feet, but it will be different. And it’s worth taking time now to start preparing for that future. Economic upswings are times of enormous opportunity.Future Planning

There are plenty of housekeeping tasks that regularly get demoted and pushed to the bottom of to-do lists. Content audits, data cleansing, market research, competitor research, upskilling, customer outreach, list building, keyword research, website housekeeping - the list goes on and on…

Now is not the time to shut down, it’s the time to prepare. 

If you’re delegating tasks, make sure you provide clear guidance for your team on what they should be doing and when it should be done by. Otherwise these tasks - some of which are kind of dull - may stay at the bottom of their to-do lists. 

Looking after your cash flow

If you do need to make cost savings, focus on ROI as opposed to cost - and take into account the current state of play. Some services get a lot cheaper when demand falls. A great example of this is media, which is cheaper right now than it was at the start of the year.

If you do have to end a supplier or partner relationship, make sure you pick up the phone and explain why you’re doing it. If they’re good at what they do, chances are you’ll want to work with them again in the future. 

Think about your reputation

Running promotions or discounts might feel like one way to drum up demand, but it won’t look great and it probably won’t work. Customers right now will buy what they need and running a special offer isn’t going to change that. 

On the other hand, don’t price gouge. Companies that have been caught doing this are getting named and shamed on social media. People have long memories for how people and businesses behave during crises.

If you decide to do something to help your local community, good on you, but focus on helping people rather than generating PR. A commendable gesture made for the wrong reasons could end up looking opportunistic. 

As we mentioned in our Marketing Matters video, this crisis is a great acid test for how seriously businesses take their brand and their brand values. If in doubt, return to your brand values and stick to them - your brand values are non negotiable, especially now.

This will be one of those times that none of us forget. So behave in a way that you and your business will be able to look back on with pride for years to come. 


Business owners play a critical role in supporting the economy and their employees. Now more than ever is a time for level-headedness and sound judgment. It’s a time to take stock, invest time and effort in your most important relationships. Bear in mind that once you are out of this ‘emergency phase’, the next thing to focus on will be to prepare for the economic upswing, which will happen.Take the 360 test


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