the coronavirus will force marketing to start over

The last several weeks have brought to the US unprecedented breaking news cycles, wide-scale closures, cancellations and postponements. Groups of people are not supposed to be larger than 10 people in one place at a time. The travel industry is flipped on its head, restaurants and bars must rely completely on take-out or delivery, movie theaters are closed, sporting events are on hold, students everywhere are either navigating an elongated spring break or familiarizing themselves with online learning, and just about everyone is trapped inside. The stock market has tanked causing massive losses that could take years to recover. Supermarkets are open and operating, but with a disrupted supply chain of many household items due to our society’s selfish doomsday panic-mode copycat behavior. If anything, this is online streaming services’ time to shine. The toll on just about everything as we know it could be massive and long-lasting. But, we will still need to move on.

Companies everywhere are trying to figure out how to move forward, both with the temporary reality of the world being at a stand-still and the longer-term view of what rebuilding should look like. What makes this so challenging is no one knows just how “temporary” the former will be.

Just a week ago most US businesses were carrying on as normal, likely executing against plans and strategies set forth months prior. Priorities were in place. And if they weren’t, some level of understanding of goals and ways of operating were known. It was…business as usual. Fast forward merely a few days and the country is essentially shut down, like nothing most people have experienced or ever will again. It feels like we’re in a movie with new twists and turns each day, it’s all so surreal.

At this point and time, most marketing efforts have either completely pivoted approach or halted altogether for many brands. With such an immense risk of sounding tone deaf, inconsiderate or even inappropriate, or sometimes worse, irrelevant – a large portion of paid media and advertising changed course in the last few days. Other things have changed, too. How, when and where consumers shop, and of course what they’re shopping for. The price inelasticity of certain things (um, toilet paper) is well, very apparent during a time of crisis. Pleasure and entertainment is essentially at zero. Consumer behavior is very different than it was a week ago.

Coming out of the Coronavirus crisis, businesses and brands will need to reassess where they’re at, what kind of hit they took financially,  what the future should look like and corresponding priorities to get them there in a post-apocalyptic universe.  Consumers will be doing a very similar exercise, which in turn could change what they used to know to be true about their needs and wants, financial situation, and steps forward. People that brands might have counted on in the past might have different behavior looking ahead.

Things might be very different coming out of the Coronavirus. In many ways, how brands market will need to start over…reassessing the fundamentals of their strategic approach. Who their customers are (or could be now), the value they’re offering, the messaging and content to suck people in, how and where they’re putting paid media and advertising – all of it. This will be a rebuilding phase for most – companies and people alike.

Once this is all done (hopefully very soon), while people are piecing their lives back together, brands will be starting fresh to figure out how to entice said people to buy their products, because what worked before the global pandemic might not work in the future, or be right, or relevant, or meaningful – and starting over might be necessary.

This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, but in a weird way it will force brands to tear down their strategies and priorities and rebuild from a bottoms-up approach with the lens of what do we really need looking ahead to achieve our revised goals. How and when strategies are built will be different, as for a lot of companies it will be done completely outside of any normal planning cycle. The worst thing a brand could do right now is assume things will just go back to normal. For some, it might, but they’d be the lucky few. For the majority, it’d be wise to start thinking about what that rebuilding future will look like for you, your company, and your brands…


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