The “What Now” Phase

It’s been an interesting ride the last few weeks, yes? KPS3 has been honored to have worked side-by-side with many wonderful clients through these times, advising and helping inform decision-making on crisis communications and often, marketing strategy adaptations as well.

It’s looked like this graph.

First of all, there comes the immediate spike in efforts on what, how and when to communicate what your organization is doing about the COVID-19 pandemic, reassure them, and shortly after, what it is doing about the related business shutdown/slowdown. 

For us we’ve worked with REMSA/Care Flight, our outstanding long-time emergency medical services client here in Northern Nevada, because their communications needs hit immediately and haven’t stopped yet. Because they are on the front line, we’d anticipate that the communications component of our work with them might go on for some time. Granted, we had some “non-COVID” projects in the works with them which are on hold because they have other, life-saving work to do.

For non-healthcare/front-line clients we’ve helped them with immediate messaging and approaches to their primary and secondary audiences. From retail to real estate to tourism to financial advisor services, there have been very critical messages to get out fast, but also get out with the right messaging and the right call to action, to the right people. As the country prepares for re-opening and businesses and organizations begin preparations, there will certainly be a need for another wave of communications to all key audiences.

Almost immediately after, came the phase of “what should we do to alter their marketing” which was so disconcerting given the uncertainty of the end point of the “stay-at-home/close most businesses” phase. Even our highest elected and appointed officials and their advisors are obviously struggling with this. For some of our clients it was a message change, altering the channel mix, halting existing marketing altogether due to the dire impact on their industry, and moving to channels where we know their audiences are hanging out now, in this case, digital and technology based channels. 

For example we helped one client move from brick-and-mortar sales only to quickly build an online shopping platform. This has helped supplement revenue dramatically over a phone call for orders and pick-up curbside. And their website traffic has doubled over the prior year. This new “habit” of ordering their products online will provide them with a new kind of shopper into the future.

Most clients that had more enterprise-level marketing budgets shifted all of their events and other budget allocations straight into digital. For folks who needed more short-term cash savings, we helped them cut Search Engine Marketing (SEM) / paid digital budgets and kept Search Engine Optimization (SEO)  the same, since SEO is a long-term strategy… like choosing to pay your mortgage, but also stop spending as much on eating out.

One client cut their SEM budget from in excess of $10,000/month to $1,500/month, but in doing so, went from a broader approach that was thinly promoting all of their products, to an extremely narrow strategy that promoted a feature of a single product; their cost-per-lead from those changes went from $200 to $10. So by being forced to be more lean, we’re also being a lot more specific and maximizing budgets.

Another medium we have reallocated to is TV (both traditional and digital/connected), since there are millions more people at home looking for entertainment and diversions.

For other clients,  it was a total rehaul of the strategy behind their entire marketing mix (including price and place/distribution),  for the short-term and foreseeable future.

Now, after the immediate communications and marketing strategy changes have occurred, we are entering the “What Now” phase. So much is dependent on when the economy starts to unfurl again, when people feel confident it is safe to resume prior activities (even if government or science is telling them they can, they may not do so out of fear) and what that timing looks like, for each individual industry. 

But it’s time now (if you haven’t already started) to do contingency work in overall business plans and, in marketing and communications plans to support the new business strategy. Our recommendation would be to develop strategies for multiple possible scenarios (start with at least these three), with a phased-in approach to the “new normal” of marketing. Try these: 

Scenario one: The COVID-19 crisis resolves more quickly than anticipated, and the economy opens back up for most industries sooner than economists predict (i.e third quarter or fourth quarter of 2020).

Scenario two: Many states or local jurisdictions start to open up, but in many cases the public or employers are very hesitant to fully do so because of either altruistic concerns about their employees and customers, or because there will be liability issues relating to opening too soon.

Scenario three: Many states and local jurisdictions start to open up, but it is too soon. The result of this premature release creates a second wave of COVID-19 infections in late 2020 and it’s as bad, or worse than the one we are experiencing now.

So, choose wisely, grasshopper.

As for messaging, you’ll need to include most of these, depending on your business/industry: 

  1. Your health and safety is our primary concern, and we are implementing proven effective actions to address it;
  2. Here is our plan to serve you differently during this uncertain time of reopening our community, our state, our nation, our world. Emphasize that you DO have a plan, and it may not have been informed by the perfect crystal ball, but you are going forward based upon research, sound business principles and also, sound principles of science;
  3. Here is how we used/are using our stimulus or other government funding (if you received any), to stay open, pay and keep our staff, and protect our customers.
  4. Here is how we remained and will remain committed to your customers, our communities, and our nation’s health and safety (i.e. what we did and are doing, to give back, pitch in). 

Advice on when and how to proceed if you own or manage a business or organization? 

  1. Gather and engage good advisors on a number of fronts who can help you wade through all of the research, business projections, marketing strategies, financial options, HR and legal issues,  and political machinations that affect your business.
  2. If you can’t afford those, try to find someone to help without charging you fees via a nonprofit or business organization such as your Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, the Small Business Administration, your professional associations, or other helpful and valid resources. Many other government agencies are also publishing excellent research and advice on the science and the economic aspects of the recovery. 
  3. Then study, read, and stay up to date on the latest scientific and economic news. Many of your trade or business associations have come up for air and are starting to do research with the target audiences that you’ll want to market to, including perceptions and attitudes about buying from companies in your industry in the short and medium term.

With all of those approaches, use what you find to inform the plan you create to help you out of this crazy mess. It won’t be perfect (because this situation certainly isn’t), but draft a plan that is based upon research, sound information and sage advice, not simply opinion or wishful thinking. KPS3 has been driven by this philosophy for years, and we have been so honored to help our clients do this as well… before COVID, during COVID, and we are confident… after COVID. 

Stay safe and healthy out there.

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