We are now weeks into the COVID-19 Crisis. This pandemic has seen the whole country and most of the world shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Death tolls from the disease vary depending on the source. We can be sure there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people who have died from this disease (perhaps millions if you believe some of the unofficial reports coming out of China) and it’s almost certain the final death toll will be well into the millions.
But it’s the impact it’s had on the lives of billions of people all around the world that should be of interest to marketers right now.
The first thing to say is that tens of millions of people, perhaps more, have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus shutdown. In the US 16 million people have already signed on and in the UK around one million people more than normally have signed on. And that was just the first wave of unemployment.
In the UK the government acted fast to help businesses, first by providing grants to those businesses paying business rates, then providing no-interest loans to small businesses that could be paid back in twelve months and then allowing businesses to furlough staff – with the government paying 80% of their salary – in order to prevent redundancies and layoffs.
There will be another wave of redundancies and layoffs, at least in the UK. Most businesses have a few months of cash reserves in the bank, so for the first few months, most businesses can absorb the cost of generating little to no business, they can cover their fixed costs and pay their furloughed staff their wages before claiming the 80% back from the government. But at some point, most businesses will experience a crunch.
Even with the interest-free loans, many businesses will have to make a call about how much debt they can manage and how many staff they’ll have to get rid of. And it’s going to be a judgement call.
In the UK there are estimates that up to ⅓ of all small businesses will go out of business because of the Coronavirus shutdown. I’m seeing this already. At GrowTraffic we’ve already furloughed most of the team because our customers have for the large part paused or cancelled their activity with us. In fact, a few of our customers have already decided to cut their losses and close their businesses for good. I’ve spoken with many business owners who are in the same boat. It’s painful out there and it’s likely that a lot of businesses aren’t going to make it.
Even when we come out of lockdown and confidence returns to the economy it will still take a long time, Businesses will have to recoup some of the losses they’ve made before they can start investing. Each month this goes on for will exponentially worsen an already difficult situation and it may be that we see businesses that have held on for months going bust in the coming year or so.
So the first thing to bear in mind is we’re going to exit the COVID-19 Crisis with high unemployment and fewer businesses. Fewer businesses and fewer employees aren’t great for businesses wanting to market their products and services. But, something else is going on as well. The world has changed.
As a marketer, I try to look for those opportunities to, directly and indirectly, sell products and services. To do this I’ve got to have a deep understanding of the consumers of the products and services I’m working on. I’ve got to understand what motivates them, what their desires, needs, wants and what the pain points are that are going to trigger them to find out more or start looking for a solution to their problems.
During this pandemic, our pace of life has slowed down to the point where we seemingly have fewer problems than we did in the previous era – except paying the mortgage or rent and making sure we don’t end up with COVID-19…
Think about it. Think how much your own life has slowed down in the last few weeks. We’ve proven that a huge proportion of the economy can function from home. Do you think the workforce is going to happily jump back on the bus or the train or get back in their car to queue at junctions for hours every week to go to the office in the middle of a city just to do the thing they’ve been doing at home for weeks? Some will but others will be determined to change their life after all of this is over.
So marketers are going to have to really go to town when all this is over. Because we’ve got to convince people they want to go out again. You may think that this will be easy, but we’ve lived through what is starting to be known as The Great Pause and in some way should be better called The Great Reset. We’ve been able to spend more time with our families and we’ve got used to living at home again and making do again. It will take a while for us to re-educate consumers to deal with their problems there and then.
My advice when all this started is now is the time to do more marketing, but I actually think now is the time to survive. If you can do some marketing in the meantime then great, but it’s perhaps best to do the long term types of marketing – such as content marketing – that will put the foundations in place for the recovery. Because before all this is over, there are going to be a lot of businesses that no longer exist and often with marketing you can’t spend your way out of a hole.
In these times, survival is the new success. No one knows what the future will hold, but you can be sure the world will have changed and there will be a time to start your marketing at full force again. But timing will be everything.
If you start too soon you risk not understanding the new world paradigm or you risk the customers not being ready to start buying again – even if they might be creating some of those usual buying signals. There again, if you start too late, you’ll be competing against all of those companies that have survived the COVID-19 Crisis and those that probably have bigger budgets than you who are going to try to brute force their marketing efforts until they understand the new paradigm. These guys – ie the big brands – are the most dangerous competitors to normal businesses because they will make the decision that return on investment doesn’t matter in the period following the end of the lockdown. This may make marketing more expensive in the medium term for most businesses.
I think now is a great time to continue to invest in content marketing. I expect there will be fewer competitors out there after all this, so if you’ve already been carrying out content marketing for SEO and inbound, you’ll probably be in a good position.
I think the messages will have to be subtler. The awareness phase content will perhaps become that bit more important as people spend longer working out what the different solutions are to their problems.
Ultimately though, after The Great Pause, we’re probably going to see The Great Surge of Marketing. You’re going to want to be sure your brand is in the mix communicating with customers and potential customers. If you leave it too long you can be sure one of the bigger brand – or the brands who understand that survival is the new success – could use this to take a considerable amount of audience share in your sector.