It's All About the Pivot: Marketing in the Time of Coronavirus



How many COVID-19 emails are sitting in your inbox right now?

I’ll bet you a dollar you’ve got at least five messages with a subject line like, “Our response to coronavirus” or “Here’s what we’re doing about COVID-19.”

Do you owe me a dollar? I’ll let it slide.

The problem with these messages is that they’re flooding the world’s inboxes with the same lackluster pieces of information. Subject lines scream “IMPORTANT - PLEASE READ,” while clicking only reveals a message body with the same cookie-cutter “open letter” from the company’s CEO.

The corporate and retail conversation surrounding the pandemic is critical, but it’s just as important for businesses to know where to draw the line. In fact, I wondered whether I should be writing this at all. Aren’t I falling into the same trap as other businesses if I stand on my soapbox to talk about COVID marketing?

The thing is, I’ve had this exact conversation with every single one of my clients. And that made me realize how many other small business owners are struggling with the same question.

“How should I approach marketing during COVID-19?”

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All around the world, today’s business owners are struggling to find the right balance between making an appropriate response and over-stepping the bounds of their industries.

My answer to clients has been simple: If your business has nothing to do with COVID-19, do your best not to comment on it.

The only businesses that should be sharing coronavirus-specific updates are businesses that deal with medical equipment, that are changing their face-to-face interactions with customers, or that otherwise have a direct impact on their community’s health.

I know that seems harsh at face value, but hear me out.

We’re living through an unprecedented time. Medical professionals, first responders, and domestic workers are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and they need access to critical communication as quickly as possible. When retailers and corporations flood public inboxes with “an important message from the CEO,” that creates a communication deficit when it comes to finding the information that will truly keep us safe.

There’s also the question of safety.

Does that sale on jeans really play a role in improving public health, or is it better to leave inbox space for hospitals to reach out to patients, medical suppliers to announce product restocks, and first responders to share tips for public safety?

Many small businesses have made a drastic pivot—like restaurants adjusting to contactless take-out and delivery instead of dine-in options. To keep their communities informed, they put out simple, effective notices updating customers on new procedures without drumming up any unnecessary panic. This is an effective strategy!

But even if it feels like you can rationalize sending out a COVID-19 email “just because,” try to fight off that compulsion.

It’s worth noting that many consumers are so overwhelmed with COVID-19 information that “tune it all out” sometimes becomes the best method of defense. To that end, just the keyword popping up in a subject line can be enough to make someone click that “delete” button.

I can’t stress this next point enough—the last thing you want is for your company to look like it’s using a pandemic as a marketing opportunity.

(I won’t call out the retailer, but I received an email last week advertising a “19% off virus sale.” I don’t think I’ve ever clicked an “Unsubscribe” button faster or with more disgust in my life.)

Enough said? Let’s move on.

In my conversations with clients, I’ve heard this rationale as well: “My business has nothing to do with the medical industry, but I don’t want to look like I’m ignoring this, either.”

I get it! And there is a solution.

Don’t waste your time or energy spitting out a quick “message from the CEO” (because, let’s be real here, what is your reasoning for sending that email besides “everyone else is doing it”?).

Instead, be a part of the solution.

One way to do this is with a tactic I call “adjacent marketing.” Instead of overwhelming your audience with virus-related keywords, find topics that are “adjacent” to current events but are still relevant to your business.

Two of my clients in particular have had great success with this tactic. One, a managed IT services provider, switched all of their April blog topics away from computer information and toward resources that boost efficiency while working from home. A second, an online retailer specializing in children’s pajamas, shared blog and email content that focuses on keeping kids entertained and their brains active while schools are closed.

If you don’t have these “adjacent” topics handy, another option is to focus on positivity. Highlight the ways you’re connecting with and supporting your community during these difficult times.

For example, one of my favorite retail clients recently unveiled their Public Servants Discount Program, which offers 50% off specific products for first responders, military servicemembers, firefighters, and medical personnel. The program has been in the works for months, but finally launched about two weeks before COVID-19 really hit the international media.

This week, we crafted a tasteful email campaign to announce the discount program, highlight improvements to the client’s referral program, and show their support for first responders by highlighting some of the amazing work the client’s community members have been doing on Instagram.

The kicker? We never once mentioned the company’s CEO.

So, what is the proper business response to COVID-19?

At the end of the day, the only way forward is together. As business owners, we can use our platforms for good: spreading information, connecting with our communities, and reminding our audiences that when it comes down to it, we’re all in this together.

Believe me — I know it’s tough to find that balance! I went back and forth on whether to post this blog in the first place, but eventually, I made up my mind. I have a platform of my own, and this is my way I can use it for good.

These are truly unprecedented times. And in every way we can, the team at Get Mighty Creative is here to help.

Whether that means helping your business pivot to online retailing, promoting gift card sales or GoFundMe’s to support laid-off employees, or using this down time to boost traffic through your blog, we’ll help you find the way forward.

Every problem has a solution—we just have to get mighty creative about it.

Schedule a consultation with me today to see how I can help!

(Originally posted to Get Mighty Creative. View original blog post here.)

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