Helping Businesses Rethink Marketing Strategies
Marketers across the country are facing new challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This challenging time has many of us asking questions and rethinking our strategies. Below, I answer a few questions from Greater Des Moines Partnership Vice President of Communications Courtney Shaw on how Happy Medium is working with Greater Des Moines (DSM) businesses to tackle new issues and create creative ways for them to get desired results.
Changing Business Models
Courtney: What were the first challenges businesses faced in their approach to social media after COVID-19 started taking hold?
Adam: The first realization a lot of businesses had was that they have to say something. Around the second week of March, the public understanding of COVID-19 shifted from a news story that we should be aware of into a tangible force with huge impacts close to home. By the next Monday morning, it seemed the whole world was working from home and COVID-19 became a very real force in our lives, and it was difficult to separate news from speculation. Most businesses took to social media to update their audience about how their operations would shift or shared how customers could still support their business online, even if they can’t support them in person. Most businesses took a very practical approach to their social media in the wake of COVID-19, using the platforms strictly for information exchange without getting too deep into the “now more than ever” or “in these uncertain times” heartfelt advertising we’ve seen since.
C: How did that approach have to change as lockdown and quarantine continued?
A: Aside from very practical sharing of information, any planned marketing promotions — from social media to TV ads — pretty much stopped overnight. The pandemic made most planned messaging either irrelevant or irresponsible, and businesses knew that proceeding to advertise like normal would be throwing money down the drain.
As the pandemic wore on, everybody was waiting for a sign that it was OK to resume regular social media activity, but it turned into a much slower burn than we anticipated.
Therein lies the problem. Many businesses, like most of us individuals, have been stumbling along and realizing that we’re deeper into this pandemic than we thought and the time for stop-gap measures is over. It’s time we dig in our heels and start planning the best that we can in this new landscape.
C: Sounds easier said than done. How should businesses start planning out their social media?
A: Like any marketing effort, you have to start with your goals. Most of our clients, and I think this goes for a lot of businesses out there, used sales or new leads as KPI’s for their marketing. But those indicators aren’t accurate anymore as spending across the board has declined.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, American consumer spending dropped a record 12.6% in April. A decrease that significant is bound to reach every corner of the economy, affecting sales pipelines and many key marketing metrics. That doesn’t mean that you should stop spending on marketing altogether. Research has shown that sustained marketing during past economic downturns has resulted in greater post-recession business performance.
In that case, the question shouldn’t be “Does it make sense for us to continuing marketing?” because the answer is “yes.” The question should be “If our old KPI’s are no longer reliable, what should our new goals be?”
The safest bet is to focus on increasing brand awareness or generally growing your social audience size. Both of these goals will have long-term benefits for a company. Regardless of which new goals you set for your social media, make sure you have a reliable way to measure them and track your performance.
Returning to Business as Usual
C: Are people tired of hearing about the pandemic? Should a brand carve a niche by providing a sense normalcy for their audience?
A: Many people are tired of hearing about the pandemic, but, unfortunately, we can’t ignore the impacts — no matter how hard we try.
There’s a lot of talk about the trend of “COVID fatigue,” which is the collective exhaustion that has resulted from prolonged caution and stress. Brands want to do their part to alleviate this fatigue by offering normalcy through their social media content, but this may do more harm than good for your brand.
This doesn’t mean you have to produce a commercial with sappy piano music, it just means you should take public sentiment into account when developing your social content.
C: Most businesses want to be back to business as usual. Should their social media return to normal too?
A: Depending on your definition of “normal,” you’re right. But, like anything in our post-COVID world, it’s best to proceed with caution.
At Happy Medium, we utilize Sprout Social — a social media tool that also studies social media trends. They studied how approving audiences are toward different types of content during the crisis, which helps marketing teams understand how to shift their content for the future.
According to their study, only 52% of the audience approved of brands running “normal” advertising campaigns that aren’t related to coronavirus, compared to 89% of the audience that approved of brands providing practical tips and advice to help deal with the situation. These results are from a survey that ran from late March to early April, so public sentiment has probably shifted since then. Still, considering unemployment remains high and the public is still feeling the economic effects of the pandemic, your “normal” social content will likely need an update.
In the absence of sales and product-specific content, we’ve seen a rise in “mission-based” marketing since March. This gives another glimpse into how brands are approaching updates to their own content.
C: How valuable is it for businesses to plan when the pandemic has showed us how futile that can be in an ever-changing landscape?
A: There’s a difference between predicting the future and trying to plan for it. The calendar year 2020 has taught us that we’re all going to have to get accustomed to rapid change. And any good social media strategy should include regular intervals for review to ensure the strategy in place is still effective.
When things change rapidly, these regular intervals fall to the wayside, which is something I’ve been guilty of myself. Like a lot of marketers, I found myself too busy treading water to do the regular maintenance that I should have been doing all along. Unfortunately, the added unpredictability makes these regular reviews even more important than before.
So, is planning a social strategy completely futile? Only if your strategy is too rigid and doesn’t allow for adaptation.
C: Are you saying abandoning the plan should be part of the plan?
A: What I’m saying is, in addition to your primary social strategy, build in a “break glass in case of emergencies” part of the plan.
Most businesses had to do a lot of work to adjust their social media in response to the crisis, and whether their efforts were successful or not, they shouldn’t let the lessons go to waste. Even if you never have to put the crisis plan into action, you’ll never regret making one. And now is the best time to make one as the experience is still fresh in your mind.
Of course, this process takes even more work. Here at Happy Medium, we have tons of experience helping brands create social strategies that deliver results, so if you’re looking for some expert advice to set your business up for future success, give us a shout.
Find these tips useful? Learn more tricks on how to maximize the potential of your business through The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub.