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Three COVID-19 Strategies to Navigate the New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people, businesses, and culture unlike anything we've experienced in most people’s lifetimes, and the full repercussions have yet to be realized. As people’s lifestyles rapidly change and businesses struggle to stay afloat with consumption at an all-time low, marketers are scrambling to find a way to provide value to their audiences in this new state of normal. While the coming months will bring clarity regarding the opportunities brands have to re-enter the marketplace, no one can predict the lasting impact COVID-19 will have on people and businesses alike. With this unforeseen adversity, brands must be opportunistic – agility is key.

Many brands, despite the shift in foundation upon which they were built, have been successful in their contingencies as they look to their limited resources to help keep traction and continue to grow. Strategies range from hyper-relevant content development around COVID-19 to shifting business models toward digital-centricity. Of course, certain strategies are more attainable than others depending on the resources that any given brand has available. Similarly, certain industries as a whole have more opportunity than others. These factors aside, several short-term strategies have proven highly valuable to brands in their effort to keep their doors open.

1. Short-term Contingency Planning

While many marketing plans develop and change over time, marketers no longer have time to let their strategies marinate and develop incrementally. Instead of putting out fires as they come, structure your approach to contingencies by taking this three-step approach:  plan, develop and communicate.


When planning for contingencies, prioritize the threats to your current strategy. Leverage any qualitative and quantitative insight you have at your disposal to understand where your biggest risks lie. Then, prioritize your risks in order of likelihood, vetting the chances of occurrence and overall severity of each. If you have trouble with your risk-mitigation approach, try to establish a single KPI and categorize risks around that, identifying what would stand in the way of your progress toward that goal. These categories might pertain to a lack of resources, technological factors, environmental factors, etc.


Once you've identified the most severe and probable risks to prepare for, begin to create response plans. These plans should include not only how your business will respond to the risk internally, but how your business will respond to the risk externally. Once you've ensured that your business' internal teams are aligned on your contingency recommendations, begin to craft the framework of your public response strategies for each risk. Developing corresponding content and media assets in advance will set you one step ahead when it comes time to execute on your contingency plans, enabling a rapid response to the publics.


Once you've tested your strategy and filled any holes, it's time to put your plan on paper. Communicate your strategy to the broader internal organization and establish a governance plan to clarify each team's specific role and action items. This can be in the form of a standing crisis packet to outline all crisis response procedures, or it can be specific to a single team or department, such as customer service. Be sure to identify a repository in which contingency plans will be stored and referenced.

2. Leverage Performance Marketing to Drive Short-Term Growth

Media has seen a drastic shift in consumers' and advertisers' behavior in response to COVID-19. While stay-at-home orders around the globe have driven people to the web in search of information, entertainment and solutions, some businesses aren't reaping the benefit of this added web traffic. Google's global marketing VP for media, Joshua Spanier, has provided 5 essential principles to guide media teams as they formulate their Google advertising strategy, which can be refined into three key ideas: context, creative and contribution.


While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is realized at a global scale, it's felt on a much more granular level within our communities. Spanier reminds Google advertisers that when the impact of the virus affects people on a local level, content must be contextualized to resonate with different audiences based on their geographic location (which, for many, doesn't span much further than their own front door).


In the face of a global pandemic, brands must pay close attention to their creative communications. "All kinds of creative elements need scrutiny right now," says Spanier. Consumers have their eyes peeled for brands who are making an earnest effort to help people during this crisis versus those who are profiteering or causing white noise. Any shortsightedness here could cause a mistake that tampers brand equity for years to come. Look to Merkle's own Allison Blackman and Abby Fox for insight on how best appeal to customers' needs and avoid insensitive, tone-deaf messaging.


Relevant creative and messaging are table stakes for advertisers, but with respect to the economic climate, it's especially important that creative is able to communicate a valuable offering to consumers. For e-commerce brands, now is the perfect time to offer discounts, coupons, and other monetary incentives. If a monetary value-based offering isn't feasible for brands, guiding consumers toward helpful resources and relevant content is another way to show brand value and stay top-of-mind.

3. Digital Optimization

As brands look to drive growth and connect with their audiences in the midst of COVID-19, streamlined digital communication channels have proven more essential than ever. It's crucial that brands ensure their channels are integrated, simplified, and personalized. Of course, this is easier said than done – especially in the short-term. This is where the contingency plan prioritization becomes so valuable. Upon identifying the greatest risks to prepare for and prioritizing communication plans accordingly, brands can leverage their CMS and any other personalization tools to prepare optimal, real-time digital experiences as the COVID-19 climate evolves by firing hyper-relevant messaging to their audiences and keeping them engaged.

Once platforms are integrated and necessary tools are applied to enable on-site personalization, continuous testing must be performed. Consumer needs will change as more information is uncovered about the COVID-19 virus, so it's important that brands leverage their data and personalization tools to keep up by pivoting their efforts accordingly. Site traffic data is highly valuable to help marketers understand where visitors are bouncing from the site and how they’re navigating the site in order to find information. Similarly, social listening can help marketers understand the sentiment of audiences and paint a clearer picture of consumers' dynamic attitudes and mindsets as this crisis evolves.

As difficult as it may be to withdraw from the reactive approach of putting out fires as they come, it's crucial that marketers set aside time and resources to create structure during this state of volatility. Short-term planning can enable long-term success for brands who are struggling to stay afloat. Ultimately, taking a proactive stance will help brands survive the coming months such that they can thrive in the future.

Want to learn more? Check out Merkle's COVID-19 resource page here.