The world has witnessed several global crises from the Great Depression to the 2008 Recession to the present pandemic COVID-19. Global emergencies create a difficult business environment, building extreme stress among markets and consumers. From the past epidemics and other global crises, it is clear that those businesses with strong brand equity have recovered quickly. So, businesses should focus on shaping and growing their brand image with effective digital marketing strategies.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, some businesses are cutting down their marketing efforts like laying off the entire marketing team etc. This is a conservative approach and businesses consider it as a safe option due to the uncertainty regarding how long the crisis will continue. However, some businesses are becoming more agile and coming with interesting ways to engage with their audience during the pandemic.
Why Businesses Should Continue Their SEO Efforts
- People continue their search online: People are always in need of essential goods and they search online more than ever during this global crisis. To be in front of targeted consumers and provide the required products or services, business websites must be search engine optimized. When consumers are connected to your brand, they are likely to look for your products and services. Implementing effective digital marketing measures ensures that your products and services are easily found in organic search results, and this helps to retain your brand image in the minds of the people.
- You Could Risk Your Ranking without SEO: When cutting down your investment in SEO and content marketing efforts, you may be risking your organic rankings. This is an opportunity for your competitors to surge past you. Even if you are experiencing decline in the overall sales of your product or service due to a global crisis such as the present pandemic, you can counterbalance some of your losses by investing in search engine marketing programs that would put your brand in front of those customers who are still in a buying frame of mind.
Due to COVID-19, the buying behavior of consumers is expected to change and business are expected to adjust their marketing strategies to meet the present needs. For example, ‘Nike’ came up with a campaign to encourage people to play inside due to social distancing.
So, following are some the marketing strategies that business could consider to retain their brand image in the minds of the people.
- Understand your audience: Know what your audience wants and what they value, and plan to reach out to them to satisfy those needs. This is because customers monitor how brands respond to their customers during difficult times. Purpose-based companies that show care and concern build stronger relationships and form bonds with their customers that are likely to endure for years. You can conduct a market and audience analysis to know what your customers want and assess their needs to find out what your brand can provide to satisfy their need. You can communicate with your customers and partners through live streaming or any other means to share facts in real time.
- Be empathetic to your audience: When there is a crisis, make sure that your brand is empathetic with the problems of your customers. Brands should first understand the concern of the customers and then come up with something creative that resolves your customer’s concern.
- Come up with an authentic Brand message: You should have a good value system that goes with the company’s vision statement. This provides the staffs as well as the customers a clear understanding of the need of the hour. Brands that have a clear and consistent voice encourages you and suggests methods to face any crisis. For example, Coca-Cola bought an ad in New York City’s Times Square and increased the space between the letters of the brand’s name to indicate social distancing, which is the need of the hour.
- Promote transparent brand communication: During a global crisis, people will be uncertain about several things, what is happening, what to expect etc. So communicating with your audience is vital to keep them informed. Similarly, communicating with the employees is also essential because businesses that take care of their employees is regarded as a trusted brand by the customers. Companies that show a lack of care or concern for their workers come under fire, and could even lose the brand image they have so painstakingly built up. For example, an article in Fabrikbrands mentions how British Airways warned their employees that are likely to be fired soon due to the pandemic and Virgin Atlantic also adopted a similar approach. These airlines were criticized publicly on social media. These examples show that the companies failed to live up to their standards during COVID 19.
- Introduce a story-telling pattern: Use a story-telling pattern to spread compelling campaigns that align with the value and personality of your brand. What your brand says and shows to the consumers show the trustworthiness of your brand. For example, brands like Budweiser and Burger King are focusing on social distancing and encouraging people to stay home. Similarly, Sam’s Club created a 60-second spot thanking its employees and calling them retail heroes. Along with the story telling concept, businesses should focus on taking time to provide value to the customers and communities.
- Consider whether pivoting is sensible: Many companies switch to pivot as a measure to survive the global crisis. It is important to assess the practicality of implementing a new plan. Find out whether the consumers will get disconnected between your new offering and your old one, if so it will harm your brand equity in the long run. For instance, with the outbreak of COVID-19, fashion brand Louis Vuitton halted its production of perfumes and replaced it with production of hand sanitizers that were distributed for free in hospitals. Similarly, popular brands such as Nike, Zara, Gap etc are using their factories to make masks, gowns and so on, catering to the current emergency needs.
- Build a community: It is important to strengthen your branding efforts but make sure to focus on customer care and explain the core message of your business. Brands that build community show authenticity and humanity and consumers tend to trust and connect with them. Such businesses are expected to outperform others during the time of crisis and beyond.
- Personalize your messages: When you have a global health crisis, it is important for brands to focus on the human factor rather than keyword or other personal data. Simplifying your message and positioning it in a way that is less keyword-driven would be ideal. When your website’s messages or Call to Action reach the target audience on a personal level will make the consumers feel that they are heard and the business is likely to get more leads.
- Monitor the crisis trend: During any emergency, it is essential for any brand to understand the market state, the current spending trends, the audience and any future projections. Today, COVID-19 has changed the spending habits i.e. the sales of luxury products have come down whereas those of essential goods have increased. So, knowing the changing buying pattern of consumers is vital for a business to know which items are must-have items.
- Your messaging must align with your brand: Having a short- and long-term crisis branding that aligns with the values of your brand is important. Consider asking customers their opinions and needs, and then you can develop relevant content that is true to your brand.
- Auditing is a must: A business may have several marketing programs that are programmed and automated. It helps to look at the technical infrastructure of the website and its performance to ensure long-term success of the website. It is important to audit all the programs at the time of a crisis so that your business doesn’t miss out on anything that is important. You can make some tweaks to your existing content to make it relevant to the present situation.
- Use SWOT Analysis: Find out potential concerns and identify functional leaders from across the organization to prioritize the problems that should be discussed with relevant stakeholders. Businesses should communicate relevant updates from human resources, supply chain, business operations etc. Identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) helps to prioritize issues of urgency and address the impact of the circumstances on the industry.
- Be the leader in your sector: Post content that is relevant and insightful because during a global crisis everyone starts looking for reliable and authoritative content, be it video, audio, written or live. Channel your message to your consumers through various social media channels. Social media is a vital source of information and over the years social media has matured in terms of their functionality. So, social media is one of the easiest ways to reach out to the audience. However, there are many fake news spreading across social media platform. So make sure that the content that you deliver is authentic and credible, and this helps to retain brand image among consumers.
- Be flexible to meet client needs: As mentioned earlier, during this time it is important to be authentic and credible, and at the same time it is important to be open and flexible to the needs of your consumers. This is important from a branding perspective.
- Look out for the impact of operational concerns on your brand: Functioning issues such as higher support volume with lesser resources and customer service reps, layoffs and closures need to be handled carefully and aligned with your missions, values and culture. Your brand reputation for the coming year depends on how you handle these operational realities. So, take one at a time and work your way through.
- Change the way how you communicate: With webinars and live sessions it is easier to connect with business partners, clients and educate your audience. Live streaming or online sessions using apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts etc helps to be in touch with your customers.
At the time of any global crisis, businesses should focus on adjusting their digital marketing strategies to meet the current needs of the consumers. With an efficient SEO marketing program, businesses can stay afloat during the global crisis. Moreover, it is the smartest way to protect your business from further loss and bounce back quickly once the market is back to normal. Businesses that embrace all the above-mentioned considerations will be able to build a robust relationship with the customer and thus retain a strong and enduring brand image.