I recently overheard a marketer asking the question,
How should I be leveraging coronavirus in my marketing?
Now, before we start a chorus of “This is why we can’t have nice things,” I want to clarify that I actually have no problem with this question.
It’s not asking questions that’s usually the problem — it’s the failure to ask before you do something dumb that backfires in a spectacular way.
However, once the question is on the table, let’s get an answer that won’t make your business look like trash.
The short answer is, assuming you don’t manufacture hand sanitizer, you don’t “leverage” a global pandemic in your marketing.
One of my recurring bits of advice to clients and students is,
If someone died, don’t use it in your marketing.
So if nothing else, if I can spare you from fueling an epic Twitter trash fire, let’s take care of the most important piece of advice now:
COVID-19 is not fodder for your marketing campaigns
Resist the impulse to make any jokes, to fear-monger in order to build your business, or use any other form of emotional pressure around the virus. Just don’t. Any short-term benefit you might gain will be erased by a reputation hit that will take months or years to heal.
COVID-19 is an undeniable factor in how we’re connecting (or not connecting) to our clients, customers, and communities right now. And there are ways to empathize and strive to provide value, in a respectful way.
So here are some things I’ve been thinking about and advice I’ve been sharing with clients:
#1: Don’t get too hung up on WIIFY
Normally, I’m a big fan of making sure you’re covering WIIFY (what’s in it for you) with your business communication. Too much content marketing becomes general interest stuff that serves no business purpose.
But disasters are a pretty good time to set that aside and just strive to be useful.
If you have helpful resources for your community, go ahead and share them.
If you can lend a microphone to calm, informed points of view, go ahead and do that, too.
And (this one is difficult) if your business is materially affected by quarantines or similar issues, this is not the time to get into that.
You’ll have time later for a promotion plan for the business you lost at your restaurant or event or the ginormous party you paid for at SXSW.
There are two reasons to put those particular messages on hold.
First, it’s insensitive and creepy to talk about your problems when folks are dying.
And second (related to the first),
No one gives a damn.
#2: Everyone is thinking about themselves right now
All around you, you’re probably hearing conversations from people who are worried about how COVID-19 is going to affect them.
- Will my kid’s school close?
- Why isn’t my kid’s school closed?
- Will I be able to get to work?
- Do I have what I need if I have to stay home for three weeks?
- Will it be possible for me to get a test if I think I might have the virus?
- Is my mom going to be ok?
- Will I still be able to go on that vacation (that I already paid for) this summer?
- Will my job be ok?
- Will my business be ok?
- Will my family be ok?
In big ways and small, people don’t feel safe.
And when human beings don’t feel safe, we lash out or we freeze in place.
That means that anything coming out of your business’s mouth right now has to help people feel safer and/or actually become safer.
And finally, something I’ve said many times,
#3: It’s never “just business”
Business as usual is almost always an illusion.
Business is complex and fluid because it’s made up of people.
Your customers and clients, your vendors, your suppliers, your employees, your support system …
Right now we need reassurance, mutual support, and big doses of patience and kindness.
This is a great time to use your superpowers for good.
And when this virus has run its course … it will also be a great time to use your superpowers for good.
A few useful articles
I found these useful in thinking clearly about the virus.
My friend Sébastien wrote this specifically for business owners: Coronavirus: What to do for business owners
Sébastien’s article references this one, which I found helpful and neither cavalier nor overly alarmist: What to Say when a Pandemic Looks Imminent
Take care of yourselves, all!