Marketing and brand purpose in Covid-19: Getting social media right while social distancing

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

Call it a ‘new normal’, an adjusted reality, or whatever you will; for many businesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the show has to go on. But with it comes extra nuance; the standard off-the-shelf marketing messages may not cut it right now.

Or could they? Tom Goodwin, of comms agency Publicis Groupe, recently wrote on LinkedIn that ‘by now, what [he] really wants in advertising is for [companies] to ignore the current crisis, rather than pretending to care about it.’ “I don’t need a disingenuous hug from an insurance company, or an empty gesture from a car maker,” he wrote.

Regardless, assuming the position of ‘business as usual’ is rather unwise. Writing for this publication last month, Claire Trimble, CMO of Lastline, outlined the importance of reassessing marketing goals.

“The risk of being seen as insensitive or tone deaf is very real,” wrote Trimble. “At the same time, the ability to offer your audience valuable solutions, experiences, and the expertise that is required in the short-term will have a lasting impact on company brand. It’s a fine line we’re going to have to walk when it comes to messaging.”

Niki Hall, CMO at Selligent, argued last month that while the climate was significantly different, many core marketing propositions remained. “In times like these, it is about using the power [of automation] and combining it with smart ideas for targeted campaigns based on real-time data,” Hall wrote.

“Today we have the tools to gain insights on what consumers need in the moment and respond with personal relevance at an unprecedented scale. Taking advantage of this will be key while consumers are distancing themselves physically, but remain connected digitally, perhaps closer than ever.”

Delivering value to customers will always be relevant, Trimble adds – it’s just a matter of how and when. “Companies should not ‘give to get’ in a crisis, nor should they blindly cold call into industries or contacts that are hurting,” she wrote. “Depending on the industry, it might make the most sense to hit ‘pause’ and redefine marketing goals.

“This doesn’t mean all marketing stops; it does mean that applying predictive analytics, valuable content, and experiences with a bit of common sense has never been so critical to success,” Trimble added.

Is this therefore the new normal?  Digitisation across enterprise has accelerated dramatically. Much as we had the capability, but not the conviction, to introduce mass remote working, coronavirus has forced our hand. It may be the same with digital marketing; companies moving ahead with their previous initiatives, just a little faster and better than before.

Nowhere can this be seen more starkly than with social media, the most outbound, the most public-facing of comms. Will Bonaddio, senior client partner at Electric House, spoke at DMWF Global last year on an expert panel around social best practices. Bonaddio spoke of the campaign McDonald’s put into place with adverts suggesting customers dip their fries into milkshakes. The press coverage duly noted the validation and unearthing of an ‘underground… gross eating habit.’ In reality, the fast food giant had spotted users talking about it, and based advertising around it.

While such conversations may not be happening right now, there will be other cues to pick up on, whether brands want to be nostalgic, informative, funny – or a mix of all three. As Bonaddio will put it in an exclusive DMWF Online powered by MarketingTech webinar on June 9, social media has changed in the time of social distancing, with a brand’s purpose being key to achieving success and cut-through now more than ever.

Social Media While Social Distancing, the first in a series of webinars by DMWF Powered By MarketingTech, is on June 9 at 1500 BST. Register your place by signing up here. If you can’t make the date, sign up and the webinar will be sent to you on-demand.

Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

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