COVID-19 Resources

5 Ways Advertisers Must Shift Their Messaging for the Moment

By Walt Phillips • March 27, 2020

Advertising and marketing in the midst of a crisis can feel a little like walking a tightrope. It’s more important than ever to keep your company’s message in front of potential clients whose lives and businesses you’re looking to help improve, but if that message is too strong or strikes the wrong tone, it can have the opposite effect you’re hoping for and can lead to a decrease in customer loyalty and a drop in revenue.

This challenge is particularly true right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy is in flux, businesses are trying to stay open and, when possible, creatively and continuously serve customers in the midst of shutdowns, and individuals are worried about their jobs and livelihoods.

Here are five things your business can do to make sure your advertising and marketing resonates with customers and conveys the right message in this critical time.

1. Take a step back and look at the industry you’re in and the people you serve. Before you do anything, you have to understand what’s happening in your market. Ask yourself, who are my customers – and my customers’ customers – and what are they experiencing right now? Some industries (travel, hospitality, construction, oil and gas, and luxury retail) have been hit much harder, while others (technology, health care, emergency services, food production, utilities and shipping) are experiencing exponential growth in a short period of time in order to meet the public’s needs. You have to tailor your message and speak directly to your customers in this moment, addressing their fears and concerns, and you can’t do that if you don’t know who they are. Put yourself in their shoes, and think hard about what type of message you would want and need to hear.

2. Make an (authentic) emotional connection. Strong creative messaging will be the key to successfully advertising in midst of this crisis. Your unique story is what’s going to make you stand out in the crowd of communications people are receiving right now. Be true to your company’s purpose and mission. Be honest. Be helpful. Show empathy and compassion. Give people an opportunity to laugh (when appropriate). Look at what resources or information your business can offer to the community. Provide value in a way that is relevant to the struggle that most of your customers are experiencing. Yes, we are all in this together, but your message has to go beyond just saying those words. Move away from the selling mindset, as your call to action may ring hollow right now. Instead, focus on developing and strengthening relationships with your customers and community that will continue long into the future.

3. Make sure your messaging is aligned across all platforms. Once you have updated messaging ready to go, make sure you take a comprehensive look at your marketing strategy, including print, digital and events, for the next couple of months. You’re going to want to launch your new messaging across all platforms so your approach is consistent. While digital content consumption is up because so many people are working from home and sheltering in place, don’t assume that’s the only place your potential customers will see your advertising.

4. Be open to trying something new. Experimenting with varied messaging and communications channels can be scary when you don’t know the ROI. Most companies like to conduct focus groups or run extended tests on effectiveness before launching a new advertising campaign, but the speed with which things are changing is making that nearly impossible. Content consumption habits are shifting right now to largely digital media, meaning now is a good time for your company to push fast-forward on your approach to digital advertising. If you’ve been holding back on programmatic and retargeting online, sponsored content email blasts or website articles, podcast or video sponsorships, or social media ads, and you have advertising dollars to spend right now, your company could get ahead of this evolution and meet customers where they are in the moment.

5. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Do not just continue with your advertising strategy as-is, particularly if your messaging goes against current travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines. You could do much more harm to your brand in the long run if you try to continue your marketing under the guise of “business as usual.” If you do not have the ability to quickly revamp your advertising approach or marketing message, reach out to the organizations you advertise with to see if they can offer any flexibility on the timing of your campaign. Instead of canceling your advertising and potentially losing that investment, ask if you can press pause for 30 days with your digital advertising or shift your print presence to an upcoming issue. That allows you the additional time needed to create new messaging and quickly pick back up where you left off once business gets going again.

This crisis will come to an end, the world will open up and people will gather again. Make sure your business has set itself up for success on the other side by offering added value and an authentic voice when your customers need it most.

Our offer: If you’re a small business or decision-maker who needs help rewriting your advertising creative or marketing messaging during the new coronavirus crisis, reach out to me at wphillips@naylor.com for a 15-minute consultation. I’d be happy to talk with you about your approach or help lead you in the right direction.

About The Author

Walt Phillips, the senior vice president of sales for the Managed Services Division at Naylor Association Solutions, has nearly 20 years of experience with shaping sales strategy, building organizational talent and leading teams. He can be reached at wphillips@naylor.com.