Marketing during a crisis and a recession

Regardless of how your business has been impacted by current events, your customers are grappling with what’s happening, so your role in their lives will need to adjust.

With the global spread of COVID-19 we’re now in a recession and no one really knows how long this will last. We’re no doubt experiencing some uncertain and even fearful times that have left many marketers scrambling to adjust to a new normal that can change by the day or even hour. 

There’s no playbook for any of this. 

All of the disruptions will need to be met with some changes, regardless of how your business has been impacted by the current events. Your customers are no doubt grappling with what’s happening, so your role in their lives will need to adjust. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of where we are in this moment:

Advice for all brands

  • Be agile in the short term, while keeping the longer-term strategy alive. You may have to abandon certain campaigns for now or modify messaging and offers, but because we don’t know how long this situation will last, we need to be ready to pivot right back to our long term strategy. As quickly as this came on, it could go back to something closer to normal in just a few months. Be ready for the switch to flip back to what you had originally planned. 
  • Socialize internally what you are doing at a regular cadence. Because a lot of your marketing is changing, be sure to share what the new plans are and how your marketing is performing. Marketing will especially be scrutinized in the coming weeks, so be transparent and share what you are doing to rise to the occasion.  
  • Check on your messaging and communication streams. Ensure your current communication streams and messaging are still relevant and meet the current context. Corporate messaging may need to temporarily change for a period of time, so it doesn’t appear to be out of context and presents accurate information. 

Advice for brands that have slowed

If you’ve lost a considerable amount of business due to the current climate, I firstly want to tell you that I empathize with you during these challenging times. This is not easy. If your company has the cash flow to continue keeping the business going and staff intact, there are several things you can do to make the most of this time:

  • Focus on projects. Just as you may use downtime in your personal life to work on a home project, you can do the same with the extra time you may have at work. Maybe it’s time for a website redesign or a creative refresh. You may even need some tech stack updates to ensure you can optimize once all cylinders are firing again. Does the team need to uplevel some new skills? Marketing will need to work even harder once activities resume, so use this time wisely to get everything in order. 
  • Stay connected with your customers, but don’t over-communicate. If your core product or service isn’t as valuable in the current situation, slow the cadence of communications considerably. If you have editorial-like content, perhaps now is the time to let that shine, understanding that a lot of people are stuck at home and want to dream of a day that this will all be over. I.e. Travel content on a particular city that doesn’t try to sell a vacation package. 
  • Extend and expand loyalty and birthday offers. Make sure any loyalty points or birthday offers are available once people re-emerge. Don’t let them expire while people are sheltering in place. If some of your offers are only good in-store, open those up online in case customers want to enjoy them from home. 

Advice for brands that are busier than ever

If you’re a company that has a high amount of demand right now, I am sure you have very little time to devote to anything outside of staying above water. My recommendations are very short for you: 

  • Set expectations for your customers. Use communications to set expectations on changes to services such as delayed shipping, limited products, limited contact center hours, store hours, etc.
  • Help HR with hiring. Because marketers have special skills that can be used in recruitment efforts, help hiring managers optimize their flows for getting people hired and onboarded. This may not seem like an important activity for marketing, but getting critical roles filled to ensure customer experience disruptions are minimal will help build brand loyalty and long-term advocates. 

I wish you the best during this difficult time. No matter what your situation is, it’s tough. Stay healthy and know that we will see the other side of this.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

April Mullen is currently the Director of Strategic Insights at SparkPost. She has over 13 years working in email for brands, agencies and in martech. Outside of SparkPost, Mullen has been an Adjunct Professor of Digital Marketing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis since 2013. In June of 2016, Mullen co-founded Women of Email, an organization with over 4,000 members on six continents that is aimed at driving positive change for women in the email marketing niche.

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