TL;DR: COVID-19 taught me that my marketing approach should always be about people and not the bottom-line.
I remember when the first reports of COVID-19 in my city. While I was certainly concerned about the pandemic, it did not become real to me until I heard those reports. I recall sitting at my desk at work, wondering what life would look like during this and after. Trying hard not to feel too scared about the disabled mother I take care of or and how a promotional products company would fare in such a strange time. I also found myself trying to understand my place as a marketer, while people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. I needed to change my marketing approach.
So how do you perform your job when you do not know if it even matters? How do you develop marketing plans when uncertainty lurks around every corner? How do you juggle creating business opportunities for your company while remaining empathetic and, most importantly, useful? While these questions felt new and unanswerable to me, they are actually the core of marketing. Under the eye-catching designs and engaging campaigns, marketing is about connection. It exists to connect those with a need to those who can fulfill it. And when faced with new circumstances and needs, marketing must shift tactics to align itself with what matters. Realizing this, there are three key lessons I learned as Choice Premiums shifted focus:
Track behavior in micro-moments to guide decisions
Since the pandemic started, Choice Premiums has been adjusting strategies in the moment. We have based tactics on inquiries, market shifts, news reports, and, most importantly, responses, big or small, to any of our marketing efforts. We could no longer rely on trends and tested strategies but had to listen carefully to what our target demographics were saying in the moment. And what they weren’t saying. This type of listening (known as social monitoring for us in the biz), something that should always be practiced, is easy to forget when things are predictable. In the face of the unprecedented, we were forced to reexamine. For me, this meant looking for answers in micro-moments and centering who should always be centered: people. I thought more about how I would want my mom to be treated by a company during this time and worked hard to follow that.
Make decisions quickly, even if success is not guaranteed
Grasping the need to pay attention to small moments, I had to also adjust to making quick decisions based on limited information. Organizations needed solutions immediately, and we had to decide how to provide them. So, we began the search for what people needed most: medical supplies. We built a network with suppliers, developed new forms of distribution, and found consistent, personal ways to alert those who needed it. Given the great need for these products, acting quickly was also the only way we could secure supplies. There wasn’t time to think of a cute campaign or wait for better offers from suppliers. Some of the ideas which we thought would be perfect, like antimicrobial products, were met with a lukewarm response. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to make decisions, fast, in the interest of our clients, which brings me to my final lesson.
Make every decision about the people you want to serve; not your bottom-line
Although we, of course, made money from our ventures, we lost money as well. We also lost significant amounts of time, my colleagues working 12 hours days at times to ensure orders were placed and secured. I made sure that my marketing efforts skirted gimmicks and hard sales. I decreased the frequency of content with asks and increased content offering genuine support and concern. Again, these actions are not remarkable by any means. But it reminded me of why I wanted to be a marketer in the first place. It is easy to forget when lead generation and sales goals are breathing down your neck. While these things, of course, matter, when the focus is on serving people, it is rare that you do not see results. Being stripped down to the essentials helped me see where I had lost my way, and how to course-correct for the future.
So, while I am still plagued with the same worries, struggling to not have a full-on existential crisis about what is happening beyond my door, I at least have a better sense of my place in it. My role is to be the best daughter I can, the kindest friend possible, and the most compassionate and adaptable marketer that I am able. My marketing approach must include all my truths. And as long as that is the case, I can weather this storm and the many storms yet to come.