Getting marketing right during the pandemic
By Deb Gabor
During this global crisis, retailers must, above all, show regard for humanity. Don’t try to overtly sell to people right now, especially if your brand is a “nice to have” vs. a “must have.” Since most retail sales are going to shift to online in the near term, remember that the people you are selling to are individual human beings, not clicks and conversions. It’s been said that you can’t improve what you can’t measure, but when you focus too much on metrics and leave thoughts about brand behind, marketing can become antagonistic. Focus your marketing efforts on helping people rather than bolstering sales during this crisis.
An email solicitation from a clothing retailer yesterday referenced being on a “Staycation,” highlighting the fact that shoppers aren’t able to travel right now. The email was pushing a 40% discount in their online store. While I appreciate that retailers are doing whatever it takes to make sales at this time, this was in very poor taste.
On the flip side, this is a time for retailers to use their brand value and assets to help other people. This is an especially difficult time for luxury brands and retailers. Brands like Giorgio Armani and LVMH (the parent company of Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands) have donated millions of dollars to help people affected by the virus or toward efforts that keep the virus at bay. Extending this kind of goodwill at a crucial time when the last thing on customers’ minds is their next expensive handbag or Italian suit will extend to when people are purchasing luxury items again.
Retailers who want to help must do something that’s both sincere and authentic to their brands. Even before the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic and issued guidance to hunker down in place and people were still moving freely about in shopping malls and grocery stores, a soap and cosmetic retailer invited customers into their stores to wash their hands for free. Since anyone can wash their hands anywhere for free, the gesture seemed to many to be a thinly veiled invitation to shop. A more sincere gesture might have been to donate hand soap to organizations who might have been struggling to get their hands on some.
If retailers don’t want to come across as insincere with their actions, they can be like UHaul: when colleges and universities announced that classes were ending for the spring semester, leaving thousands of students stranded, UHaul immediately offered up free storage space in their facilities to take one small worry off these students’ plates. Other retailers to emulate include Patagonia and REI, who were among the first to close their stores temporarily to help employees and customers stay safe.
Let common sense prevail. Now is not the time to be overly pushy with sales offers just because your competitors aren’t. Not only may your message be totally overlooked, but customers might find it offensive during a time when we all have anxieties about income and revenues. And remember to review your automated marketing activities like email campaigns and digital advertising. On the day after the WHO announced that COVID-19 had become a pandemic, I received an automated email from my mobile phone carrier inviting me to upgrade my international calling plan. FAIL.
Finally, treating employees well through the pandemic will benefit your brand in many ways. Sol sent our employees home for at least two weeks, and offered to buy them anything they need to make their work-from-home period comfortable and productive. Shopify is giving every employee $1,000 to purchase anything they need to support WFH. Customers often look to brands for cues on how to behave. When they see a brand treating their employees well, they get a glimpse into how that retailer might treat them as customers, and that’s always good for the brand.
Deb Gabor is CEO Of Sol Marketing and author of Irrational Loyalty: Building a Brand That Thrives in Turbulent Times.